Information systems for marine protected areas: How do users interpret desirable data attributes?

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The purpose of this paper is to provide empirical evidence on how various user groups related to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) interpret desirable data attributes, whether their interpretations differ and to what extent. Moreover, this study aims to make a methodological contribution to the interpretive information systems (IS) literature by showing the potential of Spradley's (1979) ethnographic methods for understanding the human context in IS research and practice. Semi-structured interviews of MPA managers, academics, government officials, and environmentalists were analysed in four steps. Our findings show that each of the five data attributes studied encompassed more than one and often partly overlapping meanings. Commonalities and differences in interpretations between groups were observed. Users' organisational background helped to explain these differences; cross-cutting themes that seemed to guide users' interpretations and actions were perceived legitimacy and accountability of practices along the data value chain. Systematic use of ethnographically-informed methods allowed the detection of subtle differences in how users constructed meaning. As these different interpretations may lead to misunderstandings during requirements engineering, Spradley's approach could prove useful as a tool not only to elicit and analyse requirements, but also to facilitate unambiguous communication to reach mutual understanding among participants. This may help to improve IS development and thus enhance IS use for participatory governance and management in MPAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-198
JournalEnvironmental Modelling & Software
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • great-barrier-reef
  • requirements elicitation
  • integrated coastal
  • scientific-information
  • spatial information
  • soft systems
  • management
  • decision
  • science
  • technology


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