Tuesday, October 24, 2006

If there are Services Sciences, where are the services arts?

Last Thursday I participated in a workshop on Services Science at London Business School, hosted by Chris Voss (LBS) with Aleda Roth (Clemson University), both working within the fields of operations management. The aim of the event was to reflect on a development led by people working at IBM, who since 2004 have been trying to articulate a need and scope for a new multidisciplinary academic discipline of Services Sciences, Management and Engineering. Voss and Roth drew on papers published by the IBM researchers. Afternoon speakers were Richard Taylor, from Hewlett Packard, and Paul Tasker, from Cambridge University's Institute for Manufacturing. Many others are also working to define an area, such as Hewlett Packard which hosted a recent event at its Centre for Systems and Services Sciences.
Two things struck me: the first concerning who is currently contributing to, and leading, conversations about the designing of services; and second, the missing art in Services Sciences.
Based on my reading of the attendees list, the majority of participants were academic researchers working with a management discipline, others with a background in engineering or computer science, and some policy makers and advisers: this was an interdisciplinary and practitioner-academic event. But there were, for example, no (obvious) participants from design backgrounds (meaning design rooted in arts traditions) other than myself - a hybrid, being a designer in a business school - demonstrating the gulf between these communities. Similarly, an International Service Design Conference held in Gateshead earlier this year included speakers almost exclusively from organizations working within the field of design grounded in arts-based education and practices, rather than systems engineering or IT (although IDEO does have an engineering design background); there were no operations managers, no innovation studies researchers, no strategy researchers, no social scientists. I was unable to attend that event but suspect the attendees came from similar backgrounds. I think this gap matters for these reasons: because it must impact on how practitioners and researchers learn from other modes of engaging with the world, knowing the world and practicing on the world; and to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
This disconnection perhaps contributes to the second thing I noticed. Aleda Roth's presentation of IBM's work included a diagram produced by one of the IBM researchers (Jim Spohrer, director of Services Research at IBM Almaden Research Center) which listed which academic disciplines Services Science drew on. That list included management, engineering and social sciences but as far as I could tell, nothing that is part of the humanities. As Roth pointed out in her analysis of the IBM work, "What's missing is the art, the soul, the artistic and creative disciplines." (This lead to a - thankfully brief - discussion by offended engineers who do not like to be thought of as not being creative.)
While I am wary of ascribing to designers and artists the term 'creative' to characterise their distinctive contributions, I am left wondering what it means if an emerging, self-described science (led by a technology company) ignores the contributions to culture, society, technology and economies from work in the humanities, whether that be literature or visual art or anything else in which poetics matter and aesthetics matter. IBM, in its quest to identify the tools needed by future services scientists, might benefit from wondering where the services arts are in its conception of services science.


Joao said...

I suppose that for most academic researchers Michel Serres' "passages" between the sciences and the humanities are still one of the worst kinds of post-modern "smorgasbord"!

Lucy Kimbell said...

I was reminded by sociologist Nina Wakeford, director of the INCITE research centre, of Jeanette Blomberg of the People and Practices research group within IBM, who was previously at Sapient and also has a PhD in anthropology. My comments above are not meant to suggest that there's no designing (drawing on arts and humanitites) within the IBM organization, but rather that in the two events I have attended where that organization's ideas about Services Sciences are discussed (one at Saïd Business School in May and one at London Business School in October), these practices and positions are not a significant part of the discussion.