Modelling the context of information sys

IST-Africa 2010 Conference Proceedings
Paul Cunningham and Miriam Cunningham (Eds)
IIMC International Information Management Corporation, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-905824-15-1
Modelling the Context of Information
University of Eastern Finland, HIS R&D Unit, POB 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
Tel: +358 40 5755 932, Fax: + 358 17 16 2595, Email:,,
Abstract: Information systems are socio-technical systems consisting of people,
processes, information and technology. For successfully developing information
systems for organizations, the whole context where the system is to be used has to be
recognized and understood as well as possible. This is particularly pertinent when
developing information systems in developing countries (DCs), and even more so
when the systems developers come from a widely different context. Most commonly
used information systems development (ISD) approaches and methods do not
facilitate achieving the understanding of issues belonging to the wider scope, the
context of information systems. In this paper we present the LACASA (Levels of
Analysis, Scopes of Analysis, and Categories of Analysis) model which attempts to
cover the areas of contexts which are the most important in “doing ISD in DCs”. The
procedure of applying the model is described in general and illustrated by a case
between Finland and Nigeria.
Keywords: Modelling, Information Systems, Context
This research belongs to the discipline of Information Systems (IS) within Computing
Sciences. In contrast to Computer Science, Information Technology and Software
Engineering, Information Systems is an applied social science that focuses on ”integrating
information technology solutions and business processes to meet the information needs of
businesses and other enterprises, enabling them to achieve their objectives in an effective,
efficient way” [1]. In IS, a real-life information system is seen as a socio-technical system
of managing information within an organization; a purposeful systemic entity which
consists of people, processes, information and technologies (manual and computer-based
ones). Nowadays information systems are usually developed in information and
communication technology (ICT) projects with participants from the target organization
(host) and implementer (guest). In the early phases of information systems development
(ISD), the target domain and the needs of the users are analysed. Modelling is an important
means to facilitate the understanding on these issues, and the success of modelling has a
significant impact on the success of the whole project [2]. In successful projects the result is
an appropriate and sustainable IS with desired functionality, and which the users are
motivated to use. Then information systems serve as tools facilitating the work in
organizations in their contexts.
The context of an IS has an impact on the use of the IS, but most modelling approaches
ignore the context in a broad sense. ISD often starts by an analysis of the technical issues of
IS, e.g. software requirements, or the wider scope of the ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ use of the IS,
e.g. the business processes. There are lots of methods, notations and tools for that purpose.
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However, there are also some other issues which may affect the direction of design
decisions, and which can not be described with business models, requirements
specifications and such. Forces of the natural environment, circumstances or historical
events which have lead to the current situation and tacit knowledge of the workers, for
example, are such issues, and they are not easy to capture.
Differences between professional and organizational cultures of the guest and the host
may cause unsuccessful results in ICT projects. The challenges and the risk of inappropriate
IS grow when the guest comes from a widely different culture from another side of the
world, which often is the case particularly in developing countries with limited resources. It
is essential that the socio-technical context of the host is understood at least on an overview
level. In addition to that, the guest has often presumptions caused by his/her own context,
and some of these presumptions are unconscious. Due to that, also the context of the guest
should be analysed in order to make visible the unconscious presumptions the guest may
have, and issues which may be considered obvious. On the one hand, the analysis should be
as culture ignorant as possible in the sense that it is not based on one cultural view. On the
other hand, it should be extremely culture aware, a tool to pick the cultural issues existing
in the IS context. Is this really Mission impossible?
ISD is quite a risky area everywhere, but the developing countries (DCs), especially
rural areas, are seen to be the most difficult places for ISD [3]. The rural areas in DCs are
so different from Western engineering world, that the word “impossible” is often mentioned
within the discussions about “doing ID in DCs”. Infrastructure certainly is one of the major
problems, but many failures could have been avoided, if the different context, including e.g.
working conventions and culture, had been taken into account already in planning the IS.
Modelling facilitates understanding but may also oversimplify the target. Also, the
question ‘What should be modelled?’ should be kept in mind. From time to time one has to
take a step back, and assure that we are still on the right track, compare the deliverables
with the goal and purpose. It is important to understand the work and its environment, and
why and how the modelling is used: what to model (concepts) and how to use the models
(procedure) [4]. Lots of frameworks and notations have been developed for modelling, but
the procedures for using them are not so commonly described. Practical guidelines are
needed to help the modeller in the modelling activities and related decisions.
The LACASA (Levels of Analysis, Categories of Analysis, and Scopes of Analysis)
model attempts to cover the areas of contexts which are the most important in “doing ISD
in DCs”. Building the LACASA model started within the INDEHELA programme
(Informatics Development for Health in Africa) [5]. The first phase (INDEHELA-Methods)
produced knowledge about ISD practices mainly in Nigeria [6, 7]. The second phase
(INDEHELA-Context) was focused on IS as a socio-technical system, and the aim was to
develop a framework to be used as a tool when analyzing different IS contexts in IS use and
development. The conceptual basis of the LACASA model has been introduced before [8].
To be useful, the model needs also the procedure, a guidance, how to use the model. In this
paper we present the procedure of the analysis.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In section 2 we clarify the research
objectives. Section 3 summarizes some other models and frameworks for context analysis.
In section 4 we describe shortly the main components of LACASA and the procedure for
using them: the LACASA analysis. In section 5 we illustrate LACASA analysis with a case
study in Nigeria. Finally in section 6 we discuss the LACASA framework in general and
the experiences of using it, and draw conclusions about its usability.
Research Objectives
This research is intended to create a conceptual framework and practical tool that can be
used for analysing the broader societal and organizational context of a socio-technical
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information system to be developed, particularly when the systems developers come from a
widely different context from that of the host organization of the would-be information
system. The Levels of Analysis, Categories of Analysis, and Scopes of Analysis
(LACASA) framework offers context maps for the identification of context-specific issues
of ISD. Yet, how should the analysis be done, and what kinds of tools are needed for the
practical application of this framework? In order to answer these questions, we applied the
LACASA framework to the context of a case study.
Related Research
In this section we give a short overview to some related research on context modelling that
has contributed to LACASA: Landscape model [9], COCPIT [10], CATI model [11] and
Tedre’s list of IT challenges in developing countries [12].
The Landscape model of Korpela et al. [9] aims at providing an overview of the broad
socio-political and organizational landscape around information flows. The model
consists of five graphic diagrams: the canvas and four layers. Each diagram has a shared
notation for social formations, organizations, activities and people, and specific
notations for different flows between them. The canvas is used to depict the basic geopolitical and organizational structures in the case under study. The four layers are used
to depict the flows of services, authority, money and information in and between
organizations and activities.
The COCPIT [10] model addresses the problematic of outsourcing projects by
identifying the influence of tacit knowledge, informal information, and culture. The initials
stand for the six COCPIT dimensions: Coordination/control systems, Objectives and values,
Capabilities, Processes, Information, and Technology. The COCPIT model is based on the
idea that differences between the client and developer contexts on each of the six
dimensions lead to project problems: the greater the difference, the greater the problem.
CATI (Contextualize, Apply, Transfer, Import) [11] is a four-level model for ICT
planning, evaluation, and training in developing countries; defining four types of
implementation for technology developed in one country and then implemented in another
country. The model has been developed for the education domain. The four levels comprise
the following aspects in a particular socio cultural setting: representation, utilization, and
appropriation. Representation can be associated with conceptual and mental models, and
methods of teaching. Utilization includes issues related to the use of technologies, and
social attitudes towards technology. Appropriation embraces creative and innovative
aspects such as the use of technology for non-standard purposes, job-creation through
innovative business ideas, and the creation of ad hoc solutions to technological problems.
The model helps to identify ICT-related difficulties that occur in developing countries and
provides a method for analysing why they happen.
Tedre's list of challenges of IT projects in developing countries [12] is not actually a
model yet, but a checklist that covers very widely IT problems in developing countries.
Tedre's list covers altogether 100 items to consider in ICT projects in developing countries.
The items are grouped under the topics of Institutional (Bureaucracy, Customs and
shipping, Corruption, Economics, Politics), Technical (Equipment Failures, Power,
Maintenance, Local Purchase and Manufacturing, Manufacturer Policies, Scarcity of Basic
Hardware), Educational (Illiteracy, Staff and Training), Natural (Natural Disasters,
Tropical Diseases, Transportation, Geography and Climate, Ecology and Recycling) and
Other (Gender Roles, Cultural Conflicts, Tampering and Theft, Lax Standards) challenges.
The models mentioned above are intended to be used in international projects, and they
share the purpose of understanding the context of the information system to be developed.
However, they have different focuses and different types of models and tools. Especially
COCPIT concentrates on situations where solutions have been developed in one country
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and then used in another. Tedre’s list and CATI address ICT projects particularly in
developing countries. CATI has been developed for the education domain. Landscape
model can be used to grasp an overview of the context before zooming in to more detailed
studies in all ICT projects, and it includes graphical notations for actually modelling
different aspects of the context.
In business world some other tools are used for analyzing environmental factors, such
as PEST (Political, Economic, Socio-cultural, and Technological) for identifying national
differences [13] and SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
for strategic planning.
Using LACASA for Context Analysis
Context analysis using LACASA includes the following main components: context maps,
tools for analysis, and the procedure (Figure 1). The participants within the analysis are as
follows: (1) the host, i.e., the organization where the IS development takes place, (2) the
guest, i.e., the realizer of the development, (3) the analyst who guides the analysis, and (4)
the external expert who is familiar to the host’s domain. More than one host and/or guest
organization can possibly participate. The analyst may be a member of the host or guest
organization, but a better choice is a neutral analyst who comes from outside the analysed
organizations. The role of the external expert is both create neutrality, and act as a
supervisor of the analysis.
The three context maps that are used in this analysis are as follows: the analysis levels
of contexts, the scopes of contexts, and the categories within contexts (for a more detailed
explanation, see [8]). The maps are used to structure the different aspects of context and
locate different factors that might affect the IS or IS development. The analysis table is
based on the maps, and it is used as a concrete tool in the different phases of the analysis.
Figure 1: The LACASA Analysis Components
The procedure for the analysis has the following two main steps (Figure 1): 1) A
preliminary analysis by the analyst, i.e., the “Before Analysis,” where a question list is
created with the help of an analysis table, and 2) research inside the organization, i.e., the
“Inside Analysis,” where the question list is perfected. The outcome of the analysis is
referred to as the analysis results, which identify the issues that should be addressed during
the development process. The analysis results will occasionally be re-analysed by the host
in the Follow-up Phase.
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Three Context Maps
In this paper, the three maps are described very briefly; a more detailed description can be
found in [8]. The Levels of Analysis map is based on the 2x4 level model first presented by
Korpela et al. [14]. The original model was modified by adding a fifth level, i.e., global
level. The levels included in this modified version are as follows: global, societal,
organizational, group/activity, and individual. The Scopes of Analysis map is based on a
definition of three context scopes in anthropology: cultural, historical, and immediate
context [15]. The original model was modified by adding a fourth scope, i.e., nature. Within
the scope of nature, advantages and problems that can be attributed to the natural
environment, such as humidity, coldness, heat, dust, or animals, are considered.
Several factors have an influence on the context of IS. In the Categories of Analysis
map, they are classified into the following five main categories: socio-political
environment, infrastructure, organization (culture), economy, and human resources. The
selection of these categories was based on the findings in literature and experiences in
industry and research in information systems.
Analysis Procedure
As previously stated, the LACASA analysis uses the following two main steps: the Before
Analysis phase is conducted by the analyst and the Inside Analysis phase is conducted
collaboratively in a workshop with the host. The Follow-up Phase is conducted by the host.
The purpose of the Before Analysis phase is to build an outline of the overall picture, and
the purpose of Inside Analysis phase is to gather more detailed and organization-specific
relevant information. In the Follow-up Phase, the current status of the most important
issues in the host organization as identified by the analysis will be re-checked and, if
necessary, re-analyzed. Figure 2 illustrates the procedure and participants of the analysis.
Figure 2: The LACASA analysis procedure.
When the overall picture of the context is outlined by the analyst, the challenges can be
further focused using the question list developed in the workshop with the personnel of the
host organization. The Before Analysis should be conducted considering all hosts and
guests, and the Inside Analysis should include participants from all organizations.
Analysis Tables: The material is gathered and sorted into a LACASA table(s).
Basically, this table has the following three main sections: 1) what is wanted, 2) what
resources are needed, and 3) are resources available? The first section, i.e., “what is
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wanted”, is used in both the Before and Inside Analyses. The second and the third sections
are only used in the Inside Analysis. The view of the Before Analysis is on the current
situation, and the discussion typically smoothly leads to the first section, i.e., what is
wanted. The second part of the table is used for mapping what resources are needed, and the
third part of the table determines if the resources are available. A simplified version with
only the main headlines for a LACASA table is presented in Table 1. This table also
presents some examples from the case analysis as presented in section 5.
Table 1: The LACASA Analysis Table. Some examples from the OAU-UEF analysis in italics.
1.What is wanted – current situation (Scopes
and levels of analysis)
Before Analysis
Inside Analysis
Scopes, Landscape:
The organization and its environment
Population statistics
About 155 million
Unequal infrastructure,
difficulties with
electricity and internet
5,3 million
Relatively reliable
Hot temperature,
humidity, dust
At the moment stable,
always risk of
Organizational level,
even societal level
Cold winter, freezing
Human resources
2.What resources are
needed?(Categories of
Limited resources
Economy, Financial resources
Funding from outside
Infrastructure, technological resources
More stable
connections and power
Risk of instability
3. Are the resources
available? (Scopes and
categories of analysis)
Training and education
with the help of
international partners
Proposals to different
e.g. solar panels
Categories, challenges:
Nature, Culture and history, Moment
Natural challenges
Analysis levels: On which level of the context should
the analysis be targeted
Inside analysis (Host):
Socio-political environment
Plans for risk
From these sections, the relevant parts are used in the Before Analysis. Even after a
critical choice is made related to appropriate information sources, the amount of
information that is available, especially from the Internet, is enormous; as such, the analyst
must determine what information is truly relevant. The analysis is intended to guide the
decision making process; needed information is case-specific. For instance, if the
organization under investigation is a local public organization and can directly affect the
local citizens (e.g., a school or university), the specific focus should be on the hierarchy and
politics on the regional/national level to define the structure of the decision making process.
Focus should also be aimed at the local area (e.g., nature, culture, history, socio-political
environment, and technology). Specifically, the analysis should consider the relationship to
and influence of the organization on the local area and citizens and the effect by the
organization on the area and local citizens. Then again, if the analyzed organization is a
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national/international private for-profit company, the main focus should be on
national/international policies, the socio-political environment, and the culture and history
in the nation where the organization is and the nations that work with the organization.
Details for the Completion of Each Analysis
Step 1 – Before Analysis: First, the analyst has to gather background information on the
organization’s environment. It should delve deeper into the background of the host, but the
guest organization should be examined on a societal context level. The easiest way to
conduct this background research is to use the Internet. The sources that are used should be
as neutral as possible; for example, suitable information sources might include some news
agencies (i.e., they strive to be neutral while usually still maintaining a western viewpoint),
official governmental and organizational web pages (not very neutral in character, but the
statistics are usually very reliable and up-to-date), and Wikipedia (not very reliable, but
usually contains a very wide range of information). Also in some specific cases, some other
types of sources, such as travel reports, might be used when available. However, the analyst
should be very critical when choosing the sources. This phase should not include reaching
any conclusions or presumptions done; rather, stick as closely as possible to the data.
Step 2 – The Inside analysis: For the inside analysis, no special preparations are
required from the organization under analysis; in fact, this organization only needs to
supply the office space to be used during the completion of the analysis and the personnel
who will participate in it. Also, one or more outside experts familiar with the domain of the
host can have a positive and objective influence on the analysis.
The Analysis Table will be reviewed in detail, and every issue will be discussed.
Depending on the available technology, the table can be projected onto a large screen, and
the notes can be written onto the table as the discussion progresses, thereby allowing
everyone to follow the analysis and participate. If the technology necessary for this type of
presentation is not available, every participant will be given a printed copy of the LACASA
table, and the analyst can use other means, e.g., a flip chart or a blackboard, to help the
participants track the discussion. In this case, two persons should be available to take
notes; one should transcribe the comments onto the table, while another individual types the
comments into computer to ensure that no information is lost. Also, using a voice recorder
would be a good idea to allow certain details to be reviewed. However, all things
considered, this analysis can be done with nothing more than paper, pencil, and a room
where the analysis can be conducted properly.
After the inside analysis is completed, the analyst will study the context from the
perspective of the host-guest comments to determine which issues seem to be okay, which
are not, and what can be done to correct the situation. Based on the results, a more detailed
analysis might be needed, e.g. using Activity Analysis and Development [16].
Case study in Nigeria
To illustrate the procedure, we present an analysis on an educational capacity building
project between the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the Obafemi
Awolowo University (OAU), Nigeria, and the Healthcare Information Systems Research
and Development (HIS R&D) Unit of the University of Eastern Finland (UEF). The
objective of this project is to strengthen the IS education capacity at OAU in terms of both
curriculum, skills and infrastructure with the help of UEF and other universities; e.g., the
Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) from South Africa.
Regarding the roles within LACASA, OAU is the host organization, UEF is the guest,
the analyst came from UEF, and an external expert came from CPUT. The Before Analysis
was conducted in October 2009 in Finland and the Inside Analysis in November 2009 at
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OAU. Currently, the analysis results are being finalized for being utilized in planning the
OAU capacity development project. An overview of the case study is provided in Figure 3.
Figure 3: The case study in Nigeria.
Step 1 – Before Analysis: The analyst from UEF did the Before Analysis to obtain the
question list using data from the web pages of BBC [17, 18], OAU [19], University of
Kuopio (currently UEF) [20] and Embassy of Finland in Nigeria [21], as well as from
Wikipedia (“Finland”, “Nigeria”) [22, 23]. The Before Analysis investigated the
environments of both the OAU and UEF organizations at the national, regional, and
organizational level. This investigation was not too detailed; it included the following rather
general information: statistics (e.g., population), natural challenges, geography, political
environment, law, education, historical facts, technology, culture (e.g., language, religion,
nationality), and economy. The resulting table contained 36 different items altogether. With
this basic information the Before Analysis was complete, and the investigation progressed
to step 2. The actual table with the question list is not presented here, but Table 1 presents
some of the items as examples.
Step 2 – Inside Analysis: In this case, the whole LACASA table with the question list
was delivered to the participants of a workshop in advance so that they could familiarize
themselves beforehand. The workshop took place at the OAU Department of Computer
Science and Engineering meeting room and lasted for three hours. Ten people participated
in this part of the analysis, i.e., seven from OAU, two from UEF, and one from CPUT. The
capacity development project’s leading coordinator from OAU and six other participants
representing both students and personnel at OAU played the role of hosts. The project’s
administrative coordinator from UEF played the analyst role and a technical coordinator
from UEF was also present. A software expert from CPUT acted as the external expert.
All 36 items in the tables were discussed, and nine of them were recognized as needing
further analysis; also, 4 new items were brought up. The analysis was conducted in a room
that contained the necessary technology to show the analysis table on a screen, and every
line of the table was discussed in detail. The analyst wrote down the comments using
different colors to indicate comments by the host and the guest. In this analysis, the external
expert from CPUT also participated in the discussion, and the analyst used a different color
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to indicate his comments. Also, the analysis was recorded on a voice recorder, but because
of a noisy generator, the recording was not useful.
The data gathered in the Before Analysis phase raised a lot of interesting opinions, such
as discussions about law, corruption, relations between tribes and languages, and religions.
Many of these items would not have been noticed or understood at all at least from the
guest (UEF) point of view if the Before Analysis has not been done. Clearly, data collected
from general sources can never fully reflect the real situation in organizations. Additionally,
these sources were not viewed as objective. For example, for the first half of the last
century, Nigeria was a colony of the United Kingdom, and the information from the BBC
news site was still seen as being very subjective, i.e., “the old master of us” view.
As an example, we highlighted two issues in Table 1. The first issue, which was
important mainly to the host, was the difference in population numbers, which also reflects
the size of the countries involved, i.e., Finland and Nigeria. “The more people, the bigger
the country, the more complex it will be”. This really is something that must be understood
at the societal level. About the natural environment, humidity and dust were accepted as
facts that could not be changed, but the issue of high temperature was identified as very
important to the functionality of OAU. Specifically, people get tired more easily in the
heat, and a reliable air conditioning system should be employed where people work, to
increase OAU’s effectiveness in terms of benefitting the general public. This question
introduced an infrastructure problem; i.e., when there is no power, there is no means to cool
the air regardless of the fancy equipment available. At the end of the day, many of the
challenges that were discussed had roots in the unreliable infrastructure. Within this limited
project, not much can be done to the infrastructure of the whole society, but at least some
limited solutions were discussed, such as the use of solar panels. As the project continues,
we will try to find more solutions, e.g., to the problem of the poor Internet connection.
After this analysis, we mapped the current situation and defined what is needed. At the
moment, we are studying our available resources to determine if we have what we need to
accomplish the goals.
Discussion and Conclusion
Compared with the other models reviewed in section 3, LACASA seems to be the only
model which focuses on the immediate context, the use moment. Furthermore, the other
models do not seem to have clear procedures on how the analysis should be done. However,
all the other models can complement LACASA in different aspects of detailed analysis.
The background in our Nigeria case was not very typical; we have a history of 20 years
of Europe-Africa collaboration, and trust between each others. In a typical ISD situation,
the host and guest may be totally strangers to each other, and the host as the paying
participant is usually at least to some extent suspicious towards the guest, which makes the
analysis more difficult. In such a situation an analyst from outside of both organizations
might be more acceptable.
In the Nigeria case, LACASA analysis highlighted some issues that have been
unnoticed despite our long collaboration. Particularly, when both the organizations were on
the screen side by side, we could find similarities and differences we had never realized.
We do not yet have sufficient experience on using LACASA in different cases to draw
general conclusions about its applicability. However, the model is free to use for anyone
interested. We would particularly suggest it to development cooperation projects and
commercial projects in which the socio-technical system of managing and using
information in a developing-country organization is being affected by the actions of a
“Western” organization.
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[17] BBC Country profile: Nigeria
[18] BBC Country profile: Finland
[19] Obafemi Awolowo University web pages
[20] University of Kuopio web pages
[21] Embassy of Finland, Abuja
[22] Wikipedia “Nigeria”
[23] Wikipedia “Finland”
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