What might a Theory of Modeling be good for?

Just read: Yair Wand and Ron Weber (2002) Research Commentary: Information Systems and Conceptual Modelling – a Research Agenda. Although I appreciate the article very much for structuring sources and directions of the subject, I might not agree to their research framework in a quite fundamental way:

Their Framework for Research on Conceptual Modelling comprises four elements:
1. A conceptual-modeling grammar provides a set of constructs and rules that show how to combine the constructs to model real-world domains. For example, the entity-relationship grammar has the constructs “entity” and “relationship”. A rule in the grammar specifies that two entities can be associated only via a relationship.
2. A conceptual-modeling method provides procedures by which a grammar can be used. Usually one major aspect of a method prescribes how to map observations of a domain into a model of the domain. Ideally methods provide procedures to identify instances of all phenomena that can be modeled via a grammar.
3. A conceptual-modeling script is the product of the conceptual-modeling process. For example, the scripts generated by the entity-relationship grammar are entity-relationship diagrams (ERDs). Each script is a statement in the language generated by the grammar.
4. The context is the setting in which conceptual modeling occurs and scripts are used. … [e.g. stakeholders] see the complete paper here.

Let me explain my view by referring to economics. On one hand there is the macro economical perspective, mainly analyzing “the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services” of economies empirically. On the other hand micro economics takes a structural approach, by studying models of game theory and others.

Analyzing production etc. of goods and services alone is ‘just’ some social science. What makes it economics, is that they are exchanged in a ‘cooperative’ way, as defined structurally by micro economical theory. Similarly, analysing grammars and behaviour alone is ‘just’ some (still valuable) research on engineering. However only based on a >structural< theory of modeling it will become research on modeling.

How might such a modeling theory look like? What might be its formal foundation, corresponding to game theory in economics? Perhaps Finite model theory? (as it has already done quite a good job as foundation of database theory)

To be precised further …

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Modeling Theory and Abstraction Awareness in strive for scientific rigour and relevance to information systems engineering.
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8 Responses to What might a Theory of Modeling be good for?

  1. TY says:

    I have been very confused for the concept of Coceptual Modeling/Models, and recent years, IMHO, the ontologies seems a better concept then Coceptual-Models …

    • Hi TY!

      Think they’re doing quite well with their notion of conceptual modelling – up to a certain point.
      As you see, I’m mainly concerned about the missing structural view (in the meaning of ‘structural science’)
      Do you think taking an ‘ontological approach’ could be supportive here in some way?

      Have fun

  2. vhanniet says:

    Taking the framework description resumed by you (I won’t read the paper), I think that the more difficult problem (which deserves research) is in the “Context” part. Here it seems appearing only as a parameters set for applying the theory. The conceptual-modeling grammar, method and script seem to be abstract constructs and I wouldn’t say they have so much value for the subject (“IS & Modeling Theory”). My opinion is that in IS domain there is probably more value in modeling what an IS is. And I’m not sure that a theory of modeling is required to do that.

    Your analogy with economics points out that we would have: a macro perspective as a “material world” domain (goods and services life-cycle) and a micro perspective as a “game” domain (game theory) which is not material. For what I know, the main engine behind economics is human wants and needs. These macro and micro perspectives are comfortable for scientists but what purpose do they serve? Can we really predicts non trivial behaviors with them? There should probably be much predictive value in an economics part of a social theory coming from “social science”, if only it would exist ;D (cf. http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_social-science.html). And it’s funny in itself to see Economics described as a social science ! (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics).

    Back to the main topic: modeling Information Systems is a very good topic. And the main property of IS is probably to be finite.So a “Finite model theory” would probably do the job well. But, do we really need a whole theory to model something finite? And, again, what do we intend to do with such a model? I think the “modeling way” to model something should be chosen according to what kind of information we expect from this model in itself…

    • Hi Vincent!
      Thanks for the link to the article. The mag isn’t bad either.

      For example, compare the reasoning of physicists on the moon landing in 1969 and say 1869. Even if in both cases the opinion would have been 50-50, the quality of reasoning in 1969 was definitely a higher one, since it was backed with a much deeper understanding of physics. To me this is already a substantial progress. *

      “… what do we intend to do with such a model?”

      yes, I think exactly this is the challenge. Modelling is obviously not trivial – why? If it is just a question of skill or context, then a modelling theory in the above sense would be ’empty’, i.e. modelling had no inner structure that can be studied, as if the were no game theory in economics. I don’t know by now, but from my practical experience I might say “there is something” – for now.

      Have fun

      * I think one of the main lessons from the 20th century is that it is harder to feed the world than to land on the moon. In other words, in social sciences (of all kind) better results are (even|just) harder to obtain.

  3. vhanniet says:

    After a good night:
    – a Theory of Modeling beyond trivial aspects (E/R) should very useful for Model-Driven Engineering
    – a Theory of Information Systems should be very good for studying IS architectures, and very useful if using modeling as description media (see a very nice sample here: http://www.infoq.com/news/2011/08/SOARA#.Tl0HbsY401k.twitter)
    That’s two different points.

    • Hi Vincent!

      Probably the most interesting area for a modelling theory to come to the rescue, is the mapping from ‘natural’ world to model. Think, this should in principle correspond to your MDE/ IS separation above.

      Thx and have fun

  4. TY says:

    I’m sorry I missed this thread …
    I think ontology is a continuation of conceptual modeling (such as E-R, etc.), ontology combining with DSL may be an important point to a general theory for modeling. It may be also a real way to the development of the traditional concept of Information Systems (for example, Information Engineering), and another important thing to ontology, of course, so-called meta-modeling.

    • Yes, I read your thread on MDSN with Andreas Leue, discussing the role of ontologies. Recently I read Thalheim “Towards a Theory of Conceptual Modelling”, what is mainly about modelling from the Conceptual/ Ontological perspective. Contained many interesting points, but somehow didn’t hit the core problem.


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