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Information Systems Approach

Explanation of Theory:

Weick uses General Systems Theory to explain the interconnectedness of individuals in an organization.  Organizing uses the process of enactment, selection, and retention.People working in loosely coupled systems utilize the double interact to reduce equivocality and make sense of the information they receive from others in order to accomplish goals.

Theorist: KarlWeick

Date:  1969

Primary Article:

Weick, K. E. (1969). The social psychology of 
organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Individual Interpretations:

  Although the Information Sytems Approach uses a somewhat mathematical model, it is a humanistic theory.  It displays these interpretive tendencies in its efforts to use the "double interact" when individuals communicate in an organization.  The double interact model involves an act, a response, and an adjustment between two people.  This occurs between individuals in an organization, helping to illustrate that people in an organization create multiple realities. 

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumption:
The ontological assumptions of the Information Systems Approach show us that the individual's will is exposed in his/her interactions with the organization or with other individuals within it.  This ontology illustrates that people do make real choices in their act, response or adjustments to one another; and these choices are not pre-determined by our genes.  These choices are socially constructed. 

Epistemological Assumption:
Epistemologically speaking, Weick believes that the organization is not defined by a few individuals, rather the many individuals that interact in an organization. 

Axiological Assumption:
The axiological assumptions of Information Systems Approach show how an individual's values do play a role in accomplishing an organization's goals.  While one's values may not completely control their decisions, they play a little more than a conscious role in inquiry.


Borrowing a little from Shannon and Weaver's Information Theory in its attempt to reduce uncertainty (here called equivocal information), Weick displays the power of this theory's Analytic Consistency.  Although Shannon and Weaver's mathematical model does not quite cover Weick's ideas in regards to the individual's role in an organization, Information Systems Approach is a more in depth look at equivocal information.  The methodological rigor of this theory is good.  By this we mean that Weick illustrates his definitions of loosely coupled systems very clearly.  It's ideas are a little fuzzy until they are applied.  Information Systems Approach makes up for it in its Intuitive Credibility.  We know that individuals that interact in an effort to accomplish a common goal requires cooperation on both or all parts.  The way that people select, enact, and retain information is a key element in an organization's success.  This theory does have Heuristic Value.  Even C. Berger's Uncertainty Reduction Theory discusses the reduction of entropy/uncertainty/equivocal information.  This idea of reaching mutual understanding through the reduction of ambiguity in the messages we send to one another has produced a great deal of inquiries into this process by other communications scholars.

Ideas and Implications:

 Although Weick uses an "act now, plan later" approach in this theory, his use of the double interact shows us how reationships in an organization play an important role in accomplishing goals.  Weick believes that any action taken by an individual in an organization is a strength.  More emphasis is placed on the actions taken by people, rather than on the planning of the actions in a systematic way.  By using the word "Enactment' Weick looks at something close to "corporate culture."  In the environment of the workplace he believes we cannot make sense of equivocal information unless we act on it.  In using "Selection" we look back on our words and actions and try to make sense out of what happened (retrospective sensemaking).  Finally, Weick urges us to treat equivocal information as new, even if we may see the same thing again and again.  He believes that the "Retention" of past information reduces our ability to be flexible at work.  Similar to psychologist's "collective unconscious"  the things remembered by long-term employees may not always be constructive.


  John has joined a family owned and operated business.  John was hired by the patriarch, but must work with the four children at the company as well.  When he was first hired, the "kids" refused to cooperate with him.  Rather than sitting down and making a plan for his course of action, John reacted (as Weick calls this:  Enactment), went into the offices of each of the four children and attempted to communicate his personal goals to them. In doing this, he made use of the "double interact" model (act, response, adjustment).  After speaking with each of the four adult children he went back to his office to think about the things they had said.  By consciously using "Selection" or "retrospective sensemaking" he put together a plan that everyone could agree with. 
     One of the problems that the children had was with the comfort factor.  They liked things the way they had always been and were resistent to change in their workplace.  This memory "Retention" of the past hindered the future of the company.  John tried to help the children to see this in a new light.  We do not know if the questions by one of the adult children was the same as the questions of another.  But the use of the double interacts--each occurring with a different person help to illustrate that an organization can be either "loosely coupled" or tightly bound. In this situation, John's company is in between.  For example, his answers to one person may not directly effect the way another sees the issues.  Similarly, this example may have occurred at the home office, while the salesmen in the satellite office may not know anything about it (more loosely coupled).

Relevant Research:

  Kreps, G. (1990).  Organizational communication:  Theory and practice.  New York: Longman.

   Kreps, G. (1980).  A field experimental test and reevaluation of Weick's model of organizing.  In D. Nimmo (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 4, 389-98.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

   Putnam, L., & Sorenson, R. (1982).  Equivocal messages in organizations.  Human Communication Research 8, 114-132.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 249-50.

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 237-247.

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 261-271.

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 343-48.

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. 246-257.

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A.