During the design of an information system, a significant task that is sometimes undertaken is conceptual modeling. It involves designers building a representation called a conceptual schema that captures application domain features to be included in the information system. For five reasons, conceptual modeling has become increasingly important: (1) conceptual schemas help clarify different assumptions that stakeholders hold about the domain being modeled; (2) integrating conceptual schemas is critical to organizations effectively re-engineering their business processes; (3) the quality of conceptual schemas affects the quality of database schemas that can be generated automatically; (4) the quality of conceptual schemas affects the usability of databases; and (5) stakeholders working with distributed, heterogeneous databases cannot effectively transcend boundaries without high-quality conceptual schemas. While researchers have expended substantial effort on developing conceptual modeling methodologies, little empirical work has been done on stakeholder experiences with conceptual modeling. The meager results obtained suggest that organizations have found few benefits from conceptual modeling and that often it has fallen into disuse. Laboratory work indicates, however, that improved design outcomes occur when conceptual modeling is undertaken. For two reasons, we expect that stakeholders will experience problems with using conceptual modeling in practice. First, we believe that many designers approach conceptual modeling with a functionalist view of the world. We believe that a social relativist view more accurately describes how stakeholders conceive the world. Second, many conceptual modeling tools provide only incomplete representations of the application domain to be modeled. We are currently undertaking case-study research to document the conceptual modeling practices engaged in by a large public-sector organization. We are also seeking to identify the problems that stakeholders experi- ence when they participate in conceptual modeling exercises. Our goal is to provide a taxonomy of problems that the stakeholders face and ultimately to develop theory to account for why these problems occur.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/ron_weber/10/