Standards – A Critical Frontier for Research

The esteemed scholary journal MIS Quarterly has issued a Special Issue on Standard Making.

The introductory article by the editors Kalle Lyytinen and John Leslie King, Standard Making: A Critical Research Frontier For Information Systems Research, is freely available, as are abstracts for all articles, but you need access to a research database to get online access to full-text articles.

It is great to see the emerging scholary interest in standards. Kudos to Lyytinen and King for the initiative to the special issue, which I understand has been underway for several years.

The seven articles in the special issue cover a range of issues. In Lyytinen and King’s words:

… the accepted papers embody a rich variety of approaches to account for standardization processes and outcomes. Studies focusing on standard creation draw mainly upon institutional analyses, power analyses or collective action theory and associated action dilemmas (e.g. prisoner’s dilemma). Standards choice draws from economic theories of network effects, path dependency and switching costs. Standards impact embodies theories of how firms at the industry level can mitigate against increased transparency and lower barriers to entry created by open standards, as well as sociological analyses that try to explain why expected benefits of standardization orders did not emerge. The papers overall exhibit a significant variation in levels and unit of analysis, from individual firms to industries to types of standards or standardization outcome, and research methodology, from modeling and simulation to ethnographic studies of standardization processes. This shows how IS standardization research is likely to benefit from multiple research methodologies that also promote cross-pollination of ideas.

I found the paper by Jeffrey Nickerson and Michael zur Muehlen, The Ecology of Standards Processes: Insights from Internet Standard Making, particularly interesting. Nickerson and zur Muehlen analyze the emergence of new web service choreography standards, and trace a decade of workflow standardization processes as “a set of legitimizing moves where actors, ideas, and institutions constantly and randomly collide to create a standard, which is technically acceptable and institutionally ‘forceful’ for future adoption”. The analysis shows that “institutional ecologies associated with Internet standards are not driven solely by economic calculus but that other norms and values, like elegance, design spirit, or technical wizardry, count in making ecologies viable”.

Standard-making in the IS field involves at least 400 standards bodies and consortia, and many thousands standard-makers. In itself a huge ecosystem with many “species”. As the recent years’ developments around XML-based document formats show, there is a lot of competition within the ecosystem, or between various ecosystems.

information systems research, open standards, Openization, research frontier, standardization, Web services
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  • John,

    I’m interested in the social interactions in that huge standard-setting ecosystem. Is anybody writing about “ecosoystems” and “species” at a more detailed level? For example, using those metaphors, do you think that the species are different kinds of communities of practice, or are they the MEMBERS of communities?

  • John,

    I caught on using the “ecosystem” concept when I participated in the Open ePolicy Group’s work with the Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems:
    I now use it all the time …

    I’m not really sure about the species metaphor, but clearly standard making is at its core a question about community: Those that create the standard constitute a rule-based CoP; memberships are both individual and institutional, lot’s of politics. And the interesting thing with standard making is of course that there is a wider ecosystem around the users of standards, where there are also a lot of CoPs.

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