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What's in a model? Computer simulations and the management of ignorance

Cacciatori, E. ORCID: 0000-0001-6229-7266, Jarzabkowski, P. ORCID: 0000-0001-8674-6628, Bednarek, R. and Chalkias, K. (2019). What's in a model? Computer simulations and the management of ignorance. Proceedings of the Seventy-ninth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management,


There is growing interest in how material objects mediate organizational activities (Carlile, Nicolini, Langley, & Tsoukas, 2013; Leonardi, Nardi, & Kallinikos, 2012). Much of this interest centers on how artifacts represent knowledge and the effects of this representation on the creation, sharing, and use of knowledge as well as the coordination of action (e.g. D'Adderio, 2001; Carlile, 2002; Bechky, 2003; Cacciatori, 2012; Jarzabkowski, Bednarek and Spee, 2015). In this paper, we suggest that this focus on knowledge can be usefully complemented by a focus on ignorance, namely how artifacts mediate organizing in the face of what is not known, or of knowledge that cannot be shared. We pursue this line of enquiry by looking at the development and use of a specific type of artifact, computer simulations, in the context of terrorism insurance. Simulations are mathematical models embedded in computer programmes that calculate numerical solutions under a wide range of conditions (e.g. Sundberg, 2009; Winsberg, 2003), providing summaries of these results in various ways (e.g., charts, graphs, tables, pictures and animations). They extend the reach of traditional models to cases in which analytical solutions cannot be easily calculated or interpreted; act partly as substitute of physical experiments (Morrison, 2009; Bailey, Leonardi, & Chong, 2010; Becker, Salvatore & Zirpoli, 2005); and also mediate stakeholder interactions (e.g., Galison, 1996; Dodgson, Gann & Salter, 2007). This focus on ignorance provides a new insight into how artifacts, and in particular simulations, can aid decision making both within (e.g., Bailey et al., 2012) and between (e.g., Dodgson et al., 2007) organizations, and ultimately how they affect the wider organizational processes within which they are used (Bailey et. al., 2010).

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©AOM, 2019.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: Cass Business School > Management
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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