Workshop Series: Daniel Moody
Designing notations that business stakeholders can understand is one of the most difficult practical problems and greatest research challenges in the IS field. The success of IS development depends critically on effective communication between developers and end users, yet empirical studies show that business stakeholders understand IS models very poorly. This paper proposes a radical new approach to designing diagramming notations that actively involves end users in the process. We use i*, one of the leading requirements engineering notations, to demonstrate the approach, but the same approach could be applied to any notation intended for communicating with non-experts. We present the results of 6 related empirical studies (4 experiments and 2 nonreactive studies) that conclusively show that novices consistently outperform experts in designing symbols that are comprehensible to novices. The differences are both statistically significant and practically meaningful, so have implications for IS theory and practice. Symbols designed by novices increased semantic transparency (their ability to be spontaneously interpreted by other novices) by almost 300% compared to the existing i* diagramming notation and reduced interpretation errors by a factor of 5. The results challenge the conventional wisdom about visual notation design, which has been accepted since the beginning of the IS field and is followed unquestioningly today by groups such as OMG: that it should be conducted by a small team of technical experts. Our research suggests that instead it should be conducted by large numbers of novices (members of the target audience). This approach is consistent with principles of Web 2.0, in that it harnesses the collective intelligence of end users and actively involves them as codevelopers ("prosumers") in the notation design process rather than as passive consumers of the end result. The theoretical contribution of this paper is that it provides a way of empirically measuring the user comprehensibility of IS notations, which is quantitative and practical to apply. The practical contribution is that it describes (and empirically tests) a novel approach to developing user comprehensible IS notations, which is generalised and repeatable. We believe this approach has the potential to revolutionise the practice of IS diagramming notation design and change the way that groups like OMG operate in the future. It also has potential interdisciplinary implications, as diagramming notations are used in almost all disciplines.
Dr Daniel Moody is Director of Ozemantics Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based information management consultancy firm and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business at the University of Twente (The Netherlands). He is recognised as one of Australia's leading experts in data modelling and data management and has an international reputation in these fields. He holds a PhD in Information Systems from the University of Melbourne and has held senior positions in some of Australia's leading corporations and consultancy firms. He has conducted consulting assignments in 12 different countries, covering a broad range of industries. He has also published over 100 scientific papers, been a keynote speaker 9 times and chaired several national and international conferences. He was the inaugural President of the Australian Data Management Association (DAMA), a former Vice-President on the DAMA International Board and is listed in Who's Who in Science and Engineering. He has lived and worked in 8 different countries, speaks fluent English and can say "hello", "thank you" and "cheers" in at least 10 different languages.