Applying complex adaptive systems theory to understand distributed participatory design in contemporary, crowdsourced information systems development

Karlheinz Kautz, Gro Bjerknes, Julie Fisher, Tomas Jensen

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Contemporary information systems development (ISD) takes place in a dynamic environment; it is generally acknowledged as a complex activity. It has been proposed that ISD projects should be viewed as a complex adaptive system (CAS) and that these projects are better understood through the application of CAS. Distributed participatory design (DPD) is an approach to contemporary ISD where different, geographically dispersed stakeholders, often called the crowd, participate voluntarily and typically unaffiliated with the development organisation in the development and design of information systems in distributed design teams which are mostly online on Internet, web-based, and social media platforms. Going beyond individual methods, techniques, and practices, the objective of this research is twofold as we answer the two research questions: how are DPD projects in crowdsourced ISD managed and performed in their entirety and how does CAS theory provide plausible explanations and contribute to an understanding of contemporary ISD? For this purpose, we present a case of DPD in crowdsourced ISD in an intergovernmental, not-for-profit environment in the context of a DPD project which engaged Pacific Youth in the development of a digital game where we applied CAS theory to better understand and gain insights for ISD theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2225
Number of pages24
JournalAustralasian Journal of Information Systems
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2020
EventAustralasian Conference on Information Systems 2018 - University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 3 Dec 20185 Dec 2018
Conference number: 29th (Proceedings)


  • Complex adaptive systems theory
  • Contemporary information systems development
  • Distributed participatory design

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