A Frame-Based Theory of Information Behavior: A Grounded Theory Study
Naumer, Charles M
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Information needs is a difficult phenomenon to understand as well as to define (Case, 2012). Understanding the way people identify their information needs is considered very difficult to assess given that they exist in someone's head (Belkin & Vickery, 1985). Indeed, Wilson (1981) suggests "it may be advisable to remove the term `information needs' from our professional vocabulary and to speak instead of information seeking towards the satisfaction of needs" (p. 9). Leading in this direction, Taylor's (1968) foundational theory of information need has been criticized for its receipt of little empirical validation (Nicolaisen, 2009). Therefore, the question is how does one study information need and where does it fit within the field's theoretical understanding of information behavior. This question leads to a primary research objective directed at exploring the relationship between the way people frame a problem and the way they define their information needs. The concept of framing - used in many cognate fields - has not been widely applied in information science. The use of framing as a knowledge representation construct is explored in terms of how it might relate to information needs and inherent concepts of information seeking and use. A multi-dimensional, in-depth, long-term case study methodology was employed to collect data. The complex problem environment chosen was parents' sensemaking behavior when choosing a school for their child. As part of this methodology, software was developed to capture or surface participants' mental activity associated with framing the problem and defining their information needs. Participants used the software for a seven to ten week period as they attempted to make sense of the issue of school choice. Participants also kept journals documenting their thought processes and were interviewed every other week throughout the study. As a result, data supporting the study consisted of software usage logs, journal entries, user generated knowledge maps, and extensive interview data. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to guide data collection and analysis, and theory development. Using this approach the frame-based theory of information behavior emerged. This theory explains information behavior in terms of four key concepts: frames, information needs, information and context. These four concepts are described as continually evolving through processes of development and reflection. The proposed frame-based theory identifies frames as knowledge representation constructs that offer a way of understanding information needs in the context of making sense of complex problems. Key implications of this research include: 1) frames as a key concept for understanding information behavior, 2) the definition of information needs as a filter between a person's framing of an issue and the information environment, 3) integration of the concept of context into our understanding of information behavior, 4) development and reflection loops as a means of describing the interaction between the four key elements of the model, 5) a way of connecting and extending information science to other disciplines through the construct of a frame, and 6) an approach to informing the development of systems and resources that support sensemaking.
- Information science