Mapping representations in qualitative case studies: can we adapt Boisot’s I-Space model?




Spinuzzi, Clay

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Journal of Workplace Learning


Purpose – This paper aims to consider ways to visually model data generated by qualitative case studies, pointing out a need for visualizations that depict both synchronic relations across representations and how those relations change diachronically. To develop an appropriate modeling approach, the paper critically examines Max Boisot’s I-Space model, a conceptual model for understanding the interplay among knowledge assets used by a population. I-Space maps information in three dimensions (abstraction, codification and diffusion). It is not directly adoptable for case study methodology due to three fundamental disjunctures: in theory, methodology and unit of analysis. However, it can be adapted for qualitative research by substituting analogues for abstraction, codification and diffusion. Design/methodology/approach – Using an example from early-stage technology entrepreneurship, this paper first reviews network, flow and matrix models used to systematically visualize case study data. It then presents Boisot’s I-Space model and critiques it from the perspective of qualitative workplace studies. Finally, it adapts the model using measures that have been used in qualitative case studies. Findings – This paper notes three limitations of the I-Space model when applied to empirical cases of workplace learning. Its theory of information does not account well for how people use representations synchronically for learning. It is a conceptual framework, and the tentative attempts to use it for mapping representations have been used in workshops, not for systematically collected data. It does not adequately bound a case for analysis. Thus, it can be applied analogically but not directly for mapping representations in qualitative case studies. Practical implications – This paper identifies a possible way to develop I-Space for strategically mapping representations in qualitative case studies, using measures analogous to the I-Space axes to reflect observable behavior. Originality/value – In providing a methodological critique for one model of knowledge management, this paper also develops criteria for appropriate modeling of meaningful artifacts in the context of qualitative studies of workplaces.



Final published version: Spinuzzi, C. (2023), "Mapping representations in qualitative case studies: can we adapt Boisot’s I-Space model?", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

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