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From Representation to Mediation: A New Agenda for Conceptual
Modeling Research in a Digital World
MIS Quarterly (2021), Vol. 45, Iss. 1, DOI: 10.25300/MISQ/2021/16027
Jan Recker, Roman Lukyanenko, Mohammad Jabbari, Binny Samuel, Arturo Castellanos
Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Next generation conceptual modeling
scholars https://sigsand.com/
Roman Lukyanenko
• CM of user‐generated content
• Instance‐based CM
• CM and citizen science
Mohammad Jabbari
• CM with multiple models
• CM and eye‐tracking
• CM and hyper‐automation
Binny Samuel
• CM in agile environments
• CM and business analytics
Arturo Castellanos
• CM and AI
• CM and business analytics
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Two stories in this paper
1. Reviewing conceptual modeling work since Wand and Weber (2002).
2. Developing new theory about conceptual modeling in a digital world.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Our motivation to start this work.
“The topic of conceptual modeling lacks the appeal of research on emerging technologies
(because it is deemed to be an old-technology problem)…. Thus, young scholars, in
particular, have shied away from the topic.”
Wand, Y., & Weber, R. (2017). Thirty Years Later: Some Reflections on Ontological Analysis in Conceptual Modeling. Journal of Database
Management, 28(1), 1-17.
 Atzeni, P., Jensen, C. S., Orsi, G., Ram, S., Tanca, L., & Torlone, R. (2013). The Relational Model
is Dead, SQL is Dead, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself. ACM Sigmod Record, 42(2), 64-68.
 Recker, J. (2015). Research on Conceptual Modelling: Less Known Knowns and More
Unknown Unknowns, Please. 11th Asia-Pacific Conference on Conceptual Modelling, Sydney,
Australia.
 Baskerville, R., Myers, M. D., & Yoo, Y. (2020). Digital First: The Ontological Reversal and New
Challenges for IS Research. MIS Quarterly, 44(2), 509-523.
Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Background: A path-setting paper
Wand, Y., & Weber, R. (2002). Research Commentary: Information Systems and Conceptual
Modeling - A Research Agenda. Information Systems Research, 13(4), 363-376.
Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Our starting point: We simply wanted to
evalute the impact of WW2002.
 In 2017, it was 15 years since its
publication. It amassed about 800
citations by then (> 1000 now).
 We started by reviewing all CM
work in the Basket-of-8 journals
plus JDM
 105 papers on conceptual modeling
(out of 3,546)
 56 papers in SSB, 49 in JDM
 By the end of the review process
we added Inf. Systems and IEEE
TSE.
Journals
Initial 
search 
results
Papers 
retained 
after 
screening
Papers 
included 
in review
Journal of the Association for Information Systems 500 18 18
European Journal of Information Systems 527 19 15
Information Systems Research 261 18 9
MIS Quarterly 659 6 6
Information Systems Journal 360 8 5
Journal of Strategic Information Systems 199 3 2
Journal of Management Information Systems 582 6 1
Journal of Information Technology 265 2 1
IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering 416 58 54
Journal of Database Management 326 53 49
Information Systems 127 46 37
Total 4,222 237 197
Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Some summative findings
CM Element in Focus Papers
# %
Grammar 20 10.15
Method 41 20.81
Script 11 5.58
Context 14 7.11
Grammar and Method 8 4.06
Grammar and Script 7 3.55
Grammar and Context 4 2.03
Method and Script 10 5.08
Method and Context 16 8.12
Script and Context 7 3.55
Grammar, Method, and Script 1 0.51
Method, Script, and Context 2 1.02
Grammar, Script, and Context 4 2.03
Elements other than those highlighted by Wand and Weber (2002). 52 26.40
Total 197 100.00
Grammar # Grammar #
UML 38 ER  28
Specific UML grammar 32 Petri nets 13
 Class 15 BPMN 12
 Use Case 7 EPC 8
 Activity 7 Extended ER 7
 State Machine 5 Workflow  4
 Sequence 4 ANSI Flowchart  3
 Collaboration 2 DFD  2
 Profile 2 YAWL  2
MibML, ISO TC87, Merise, ebXML, BPML, WSCL, WS‐BPEL, DEMO, 
ProH, REA, ORM, IFO, FDM, SDM, NIAM, OMT, OML
1
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Most Popular Research Topics
Code Topic
Number 
of papers 
S1
Evaluating competing scripts generated via the same grammar to describe 
some phenomenon 21
M2
Developing procedures to assist users of a grammar in identifying and 
classifying phenomena according to the grammar's constructs 19
CI2
Predicting which cognitive and personality variables bear on a user's ability to 
undertake conceptual‐ modeling work 15
G7
Empirically testing the predicted implications of construct deficit and overload 
in grammars 10
M1
Evaluating how well different methods allow users to elicit and model critical 
domain knowledge 9
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Research on CM is stable but the world is
not.
 Movements like Agile Development (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001) and DevOps
(Wiedemann et al., 2019) have changed modeling and documentation practices during
systems analysis and design.
 Technological developments like NoSQL databases, machine learning, and business
analytics challenge the form, function, and utility of relational databases (Storey & Song,
2017).
 The ongoing infusion of digital technologies into economic goods and everyday artifacts
blurs the boundaries among the surface, physical, and deep structures of IS.
 Actions and decisions taken in a digital reality increasingly influence those in physical
reality (Baskerville et al., 2020).
 Collective action movements like open source development (Bagozzi & Dholakia, 2006),
citizen science (Levy & Germonprez, 2017), and crowdsourcing (Majchrzak & Markus,
2013) increasingly involve non-specialist users in IS development.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/26/us/politics/trump‐contacts‐
russians‐wikileaks.html
https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/10/17/75285/ai‐fairer‐than‐
judge‐criminal‐risk‐assessment‐algorithm/
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
To generate new theory, we identified prevaent
field assumptions and contrasted them to
challenges from the current IS landscape.
Type of assumption Traditional assumption Challenge to assumption
The representation 
assumption
Scripts represent physical reality. Human experience is increasingly, at least partially, computed. 
IS increasingly not only represents but also creates, shapes, and 
governs physical reality. 
The structure assumption Scripts represent the deep structure of IS. Human experience increasingly involves digital objects, which blur 
the distinctions between physical, deep, and surface structures of 
IS.
The agency assumption Scripts are produced and consumed by 
humans.
Digital objects increasingly have material agency. 
The context assumption CM is a professional activity that occurs in 
organizational work settings.
IS are increasingly developed and deployed not only in 
organizational work but also in the non‐work settings of everyday 
life.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Time
Gap between 
assumptions
Emergent 
assumptions about 
IS reality
Historically grown field 
assumptions in 
conceptual modeling
CM represent 
physical reality
CM are developed and 
used in organizations
CM focuses on the deep 
structure meaning of IS
1990 2007 2010 2019
…
Professional 
analysts use CM
2013
The widening 
schism between 
the assumptions
A graph that reviewers did not like.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
To generate new theory, we identified prevaent
field assumptions and contrasted them to
challenges from the current IS landscape.
Type of assumption Traditional assumption Challenge to assumption New assumption
The representation 
assumption
Scripts represent physical reality. Human experience is increasingly, at least partially, computed. 
IS increasingly not only represents but also creates, shapes, and 
governs physical reality. 
Scripts represent both physical and digital realities, 
and mediate transitions between the two.
The structure assumption Scripts represent the deep structure of IS. Human experience increasingly involves digital objects, which blur 
the distinctions between physical, deep, and surface structures of 
IS.
Scripts represent deep structure and its couplings 
with physical and/or surface structure of digital 
objects.
The agency assumption Scripts are produced and consumed by 
humans.
Digital objects increasingly have material agency.  Scripts are produced and consumed by both human 
and digital agents.
The context assumption CM is a professional activity that occurs in 
organizational work settings.
IS are increasingly developed and deployed not only in 
organizational work but also in the non‐work settings of everyday 
life.
CM occurs inside and outside of organizational work 
settings.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Developing new theory
Construct  Wand and Weber’s(2002) definition Updated definition
CM Script
A statement generated in the language of a CM grammar that provides a 
description of the real‐world phenomena that an IS is intended to 
represent.
A generated statement that is suitable for purposes of mediation and 
provides a description of the phenomena of a physical and/or digital 
reality.
CM Method
The procedures by which a CM grammar can be used. Same
CM Grammar
A set of constructs and rules that shows how to combine the constructs 
to model real‐world domains.
A set of constructs and rules that shows how to combine the constructs to 
model physical or digital domains of reality.
CM Agent
Not explicitly defined. Implicitly assumed to be a human agent that 
produces and/or consumes CM scripts
A human or digital agent that produces and/or consumes CM scripts.
CM Context
The setting in which CM occurs and scripts are used, including individual 
difference, task, and social agenda factors.
The intertwined physical and digital reality setting in which CM occurs and 
scripts are produced and consumed.
Physical Reality
The aggregation of constituent material and socially constructed things 
and their properties that exist in the real world.
Same
Digital Reality
‐ The aggregation of logical and non‐material things and their properties that 
exist in the computed, digital realm.
Mediation
‐ Activities related to facilitating representation, translation, execution, and 
change between aspects of physical and digital realities.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
CM Method
- Rules and principles
- Tools and techniques
CM Grammar
- Syntax
- Semantics
CM Script
- Representation
- Translation
- Execution
- Change
CM Agent
- Objectives
- Ability and training
uses
CM Context
- Co-existent physical and digital objects and events
- Objects with coupled surface, deep, and physical structures
- Blurred boundaries between organizational, digital, and social life
changes
translates
executes
represents
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
So what?
 We propose four key changes in thinking about CM:
1. The CM script is the focal CM artifact, not the grammar.
• Scripts can be ungrammatical (do not have a meta model)
2. The CM script do more than represent a reality.
• Representation remains important but CM scripts also change reality,
translate between realities, execute within a reality.
3. We need to think more about the CM agents.
• Human agents do not have to be professionals.
• We know digital agents exist but we have no way to conceptualize them.
4. The CM context is situated in intertwined physical and digital realities.
• We need to study digital contexts and also intertwined contexts (e.g.
augmented reality)
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Some implications for CM research:
 A renewed focus on CM design research. This was the
original focus but since the 90‘s the focus shifted to evaluation.
 We need to research new dependent variables beyond
comprehension and domain understanding.
 Opportunities exist for more collaborations between CM
scholarship and other research communities.
Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
Prof. Dr. Jan Recker, PhD
Chaired Professor for Information Systems and Systems
Development
Cologne Institute for Information Systems
University of Cologne
email jan.recker@wiso.uni-koeln.de
web www.janrecker.com, www.is4.uni-koeln.de
twitter janrecker
youtube Jan Recker

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From Representation to Mediation: A New Agenda for Conceptual Modeling Research in a Digital World

  • 1. From Representation to Mediation: A New Agenda for Conceptual Modeling Research in a Digital World MIS Quarterly (2021), Vol. 45, Iss. 1, DOI: 10.25300/MISQ/2021/16027 Jan Recker, Roman Lukyanenko, Mohammad Jabbari, Binny Samuel, Arturo Castellanos
  • 2. Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Next generation conceptual modeling scholars https://sigsand.com/ Roman Lukyanenko • CM of user‐generated content • Instance‐based CM • CM and citizen science Mohammad Jabbari • CM with multiple models • CM and eye‐tracking • CM and hyper‐automation Binny Samuel • CM in agile environments • CM and business analytics Arturo Castellanos • CM and AI • CM and business analytics
  • 3. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Two stories in this paper 1. Reviewing conceptual modeling work since Wand and Weber (2002). 2. Developing new theory about conceptual modeling in a digital world.
  • 4. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Our motivation to start this work. “The topic of conceptual modeling lacks the appeal of research on emerging technologies (because it is deemed to be an old-technology problem)…. Thus, young scholars, in particular, have shied away from the topic.” Wand, Y., & Weber, R. (2017). Thirty Years Later: Some Reflections on Ontological Analysis in Conceptual Modeling. Journal of Database Management, 28(1), 1-17.  Atzeni, P., Jensen, C. S., Orsi, G., Ram, S., Tanca, L., & Torlone, R. (2013). The Relational Model is Dead, SQL is Dead, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself. ACM Sigmod Record, 42(2), 64-68.  Recker, J. (2015). Research on Conceptual Modelling: Less Known Knowns and More Unknown Unknowns, Please. 11th Asia-Pacific Conference on Conceptual Modelling, Sydney, Australia.  Baskerville, R., Myers, M. D., & Yoo, Y. (2020). Digital First: The Ontological Reversal and New Challenges for IS Research. MIS Quarterly, 44(2), 509-523.
  • 5. Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Background: A path-setting paper Wand, Y., & Weber, R. (2002). Research Commentary: Information Systems and Conceptual Modeling - A Research Agenda. Information Systems Research, 13(4), 363-376.
  • 6. Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Our starting point: We simply wanted to evalute the impact of WW2002.  In 2017, it was 15 years since its publication. It amassed about 800 citations by then (> 1000 now).  We started by reviewing all CM work in the Basket-of-8 journals plus JDM  105 papers on conceptual modeling (out of 3,546)  56 papers in SSB, 49 in JDM  By the end of the review process we added Inf. Systems and IEEE TSE. Journals Initial  search  results Papers  retained  after  screening Papers  included  in review Journal of the Association for Information Systems 500 18 18 European Journal of Information Systems 527 19 15 Information Systems Research 261 18 9 MIS Quarterly 659 6 6 Information Systems Journal 360 8 5 Journal of Strategic Information Systems 199 3 2 Journal of Management Information Systems 582 6 1 Journal of Information Technology 265 2 1 IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering 416 58 54 Journal of Database Management 326 53 49 Information Systems 127 46 37 Total 4,222 237 197
  • 7. Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Some summative findings CM Element in Focus Papers # % Grammar 20 10.15 Method 41 20.81 Script 11 5.58 Context 14 7.11 Grammar and Method 8 4.06 Grammar and Script 7 3.55 Grammar and Context 4 2.03 Method and Script 10 5.08 Method and Context 16 8.12 Script and Context 7 3.55 Grammar, Method, and Script 1 0.51 Method, Script, and Context 2 1.02 Grammar, Script, and Context 4 2.03 Elements other than those highlighted by Wand and Weber (2002). 52 26.40 Total 197 100.00 Grammar # Grammar # UML 38 ER  28 Specific UML grammar 32 Petri nets 13  Class 15 BPMN 12  Use Case 7 EPC 8  Activity 7 Extended ER 7  State Machine 5 Workflow  4  Sequence 4 ANSI Flowchart  3  Collaboration 2 DFD  2  Profile 2 YAWL  2 MibML, ISO TC87, Merise, ebXML, BPML, WSCL, WS‐BPEL, DEMO,  ProH, REA, ORM, IFO, FDM, SDM, NIAM, OMT, OML 1
  • 8. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Most Popular Research Topics Code Topic Number  of papers  S1 Evaluating competing scripts generated via the same grammar to describe  some phenomenon 21 M2 Developing procedures to assist users of a grammar in identifying and  classifying phenomena according to the grammar's constructs 19 CI2 Predicting which cognitive and personality variables bear on a user's ability to  undertake conceptual‐ modeling work 15 G7 Empirically testing the predicted implications of construct deficit and overload  in grammars 10 M1 Evaluating how well different methods allow users to elicit and model critical  domain knowledge 9
  • 9. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Research on CM is stable but the world is not.  Movements like Agile Development (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001) and DevOps (Wiedemann et al., 2019) have changed modeling and documentation practices during systems analysis and design.  Technological developments like NoSQL databases, machine learning, and business analytics challenge the form, function, and utility of relational databases (Storey & Song, 2017).  The ongoing infusion of digital technologies into economic goods and everyday artifacts blurs the boundaries among the surface, physical, and deep structures of IS.  Actions and decisions taken in a digital reality increasingly influence those in physical reality (Baskerville et al., 2020).  Collective action movements like open source development (Bagozzi & Dholakia, 2006), citizen science (Levy & Germonprez, 2017), and crowdsourcing (Majchrzak & Markus, 2013) increasingly involve non-specialist users in IS development.
  • 10. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker
  • 11.
  • 12. Cologne Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/26/us/politics/trump‐contacts‐ russians‐wikileaks.html https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/10/17/75285/ai‐fairer‐than‐ judge‐criminal‐risk‐assessment‐algorithm/
  • 13. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker To generate new theory, we identified prevaent field assumptions and contrasted them to challenges from the current IS landscape. Type of assumption Traditional assumption Challenge to assumption The representation  assumption Scripts represent physical reality. Human experience is increasingly, at least partially, computed.  IS increasingly not only represents but also creates, shapes, and  governs physical reality.  The structure assumption Scripts represent the deep structure of IS. Human experience increasingly involves digital objects, which blur  the distinctions between physical, deep, and surface structures of  IS. The agency assumption Scripts are produced and consumed by  humans. Digital objects increasingly have material agency.  The context assumption CM is a professional activity that occurs in  organizational work settings. IS are increasingly developed and deployed not only in  organizational work but also in the non‐work settings of everyday  life.
  • 14. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Time Gap between  assumptions Emergent  assumptions about  IS reality Historically grown field  assumptions in  conceptual modeling CM represent  physical reality CM are developed and  used in organizations CM focuses on the deep  structure meaning of IS 1990 2007 2010 2019 … Professional  analysts use CM 2013 The widening  schism between  the assumptions A graph that reviewers did not like.
  • 15. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker To generate new theory, we identified prevaent field assumptions and contrasted them to challenges from the current IS landscape. Type of assumption Traditional assumption Challenge to assumption New assumption The representation  assumption Scripts represent physical reality. Human experience is increasingly, at least partially, computed.  IS increasingly not only represents but also creates, shapes, and  governs physical reality.  Scripts represent both physical and digital realities,  and mediate transitions between the two. The structure assumption Scripts represent the deep structure of IS. Human experience increasingly involves digital objects, which blur  the distinctions between physical, deep, and surface structures of  IS. Scripts represent deep structure and its couplings  with physical and/or surface structure of digital  objects. The agency assumption Scripts are produced and consumed by  humans. Digital objects increasingly have material agency.  Scripts are produced and consumed by both human  and digital agents. The context assumption CM is a professional activity that occurs in  organizational work settings. IS are increasingly developed and deployed not only in  organizational work but also in the non‐work settings of everyday  life. CM occurs inside and outside of organizational work  settings.
  • 16. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Developing new theory Construct  Wand and Weber’s(2002) definition Updated definition CM Script A statement generated in the language of a CM grammar that provides a  description of the real‐world phenomena that an IS is intended to  represent. A generated statement that is suitable for purposes of mediation and  provides a description of the phenomena of a physical and/or digital  reality. CM Method The procedures by which a CM grammar can be used. Same CM Grammar A set of constructs and rules that shows how to combine the constructs  to model real‐world domains. A set of constructs and rules that shows how to combine the constructs to  model physical or digital domains of reality. CM Agent Not explicitly defined. Implicitly assumed to be a human agent that  produces and/or consumes CM scripts A human or digital agent that produces and/or consumes CM scripts. CM Context The setting in which CM occurs and scripts are used, including individual  difference, task, and social agenda factors. The intertwined physical and digital reality setting in which CM occurs and  scripts are produced and consumed. Physical Reality The aggregation of constituent material and socially constructed things  and their properties that exist in the real world. Same Digital Reality ‐ The aggregation of logical and non‐material things and their properties that  exist in the computed, digital realm. Mediation ‐ Activities related to facilitating representation, translation, execution, and  change between aspects of physical and digital realities.
  • 17. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker CM Method - Rules and principles - Tools and techniques CM Grammar - Syntax - Semantics CM Script - Representation - Translation - Execution - Change CM Agent - Objectives - Ability and training uses CM Context - Co-existent physical and digital objects and events - Objects with coupled surface, deep, and physical structures - Blurred boundaries between organizational, digital, and social life changes translates executes represents
  • 18. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker So what?  We propose four key changes in thinking about CM: 1. The CM script is the focal CM artifact, not the grammar. • Scripts can be ungrammatical (do not have a meta model) 2. The CM script do more than represent a reality. • Representation remains important but CM scripts also change reality, translate between realities, execute within a reality. 3. We need to think more about the CM agents. • Human agents do not have to be professionals. • We know digital agents exist but we have no way to conceptualize them. 4. The CM context is situated in intertwined physical and digital realities. • We need to study digital contexts and also intertwined contexts (e.g. augmented reality)
  • 19. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Some implications for CM research:  A renewed focus on CM design research. This was the original focus but since the 90‘s the focus shifted to evaluation.  We need to research new dependent variables beyond comprehension and domain understanding.  Opportunities exist for more collaborations between CM scholarship and other research communities.
  • 20. Institute for Information Systems | Chair for Information Systems and Systems Development | Prof. Dr. Jan Recker Prof. Dr. Jan Recker, PhD Chaired Professor for Information Systems and Systems Development Cologne Institute for Information Systems University of Cologne email jan.recker@wiso.uni-koeln.de web www.janrecker.com, www.is4.uni-koeln.de twitter janrecker youtube Jan Recker