Information systems as representations: a review of the theory and evidence

Jan Recker, Marta Indulska, Peter F. Green, Andrew Burton-Jones, Ron Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Representation theory proposes that the basic purpose of an information system (IS) is to faithfully represent certain real-world phenomena, allowing users to reason about these phenomena more cost-effectively than if they were observed directly. Over the past three decades, the theory has underpinned much research on conceptual modeling in IS analysis and design and, increasingly, research on other IS phenomena such as data quality, system alignment, IS security, and system use. The original theory has also inspired further development of its core premises and advances in methodological guidelines to improve its use and evaluation. Nonetheless, the theory has attracted repeated criticisms regarding its validity, relevance, usefulness, and robustness. Given the burgeoning literature on the theory over time, both positive and negative, the time is ripe for a narrative, developmental review. We review representation theory, examine how it has been used, and critically evaluate its contributions and limitations. Based on our findings, we articulate a set of recommendations for improving its application, development, testing, and evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-786
Number of pages52
JournalJournal of the Association for Information Systems
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual Modeling
  • Good-Decomposition Model
  • Grammar Expressiveness
  • Information Systems Analysis and Design
  • Literature Review
  • Ontology
  • Representation Model
  • Representation Theory
  • State-Tracking Model

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