An ASIS&T 2020 workshop for practitioners and researchers studying conceptual models in sociotechnical systems. We hope to use this workshop as a jumping off point for a special issue of JASIST on the same topic. Contributions to the workshop can be works-in-progress that participants may be interested in submitting to the special issue. Abstracts are due October 1st (see submission directions below). Keynote speakers will include Dr. Amelia Acker (University of Texas) and Dr. Ryan Shaw (University of North Carolina). Registration information for ASIS&T 2020 can be found here


Information Science has long worked at the intersection of technology development and the critical study of technologies in particular places, serving particular people, at particular points in time. Conceptual models – the representation of how a system works, as well as the information objects they process and transmit – are fundamental to the construction, maintenance, and use of digital infrastructures that mutually constitute people and technology (the sociotechnical) (Kling, 1980; Agre, 1994; Selbst et al, 2019). Although conceptual models are critical to sociotechnical systems, they are often overlooked or under-described in information science research (Weber et al, 2019).

We argue that current social, political, and economic conditions require a renewed attention to how conceptual models have been implemented in sociotechnical systems. There are numerous examples of sociotechnical systems that are fundamentally shaped by the conceptual models that they enact: for instance, the governance of data access through APIs (Asad et al, 2018); the affordances and limitations to standardization in online social networks (Brubaker et al, 2016); the use of encoding schemes like UTF that impact – and sometimes, limit – the representation of knowledge systems (Lampland and Star, 2009), etc. Each of these interventions shape and are shaped by conceptual models of information and its appropriate use. Further, the affordances and limitations of a conceptual model impact the ways in which a user can become informed, can operate with autonomy, and can produce new knowledge (Sovacool & Hess, 2017)

Without a critical interrogation of conceptual models in practice we risk overlooking the negative impacts they may have - such as alienating, disenfranchising, or significantly restricting the liberties that a sociotechnical approach seeks to engender (Fuenfschilling & Binz, 2018).

This workshop is meant to convene researchers in information science interested in critical, careful examination of how we model information in sociotechnical systems. We have proposed a special issue of JASIST on this topic, which has been tentatively accepted; we hope that this workshop will act as a jumping off point for this special issue. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to how we perceive of users, construct use cases, and develop technologies that facilitate accurate discovery, retrieval, and interaction with information objects. By interrogating the conceptual models underpinning sociotechnical systems we believe there is a unique and important contribution to be made by information scientists in combating misinformation, reducing bias, promoting fairness, and producing the types of information systems that allow communities of practice to flourish.

Call for Contributions

Because we’d truly like to truly use this as a workshop for papers, we are open to contributions in any state of completion. Initial submissions should consist of - at minimum - a 350 word abstract. We then ask that participants share their works-in-progress a week before the workshop so we can circulate drafts with participants. Only abstracts will be published; drafts will not be shared publicly.

Research papers might address (but are not limited to) the following topics:

  • Critique of conceptual models in practice (e.g. in databases, digital libraries, retrieval systems, and in many other information systems).
  • Design and construction of conceptual models in any domain, particularly with regard to sociotechnical implications.
  • Consideration of models for curation, preservation, and sustainability of information objects embedded in sociotechnical systems.
  • The impact of conceptual models on public knowledge, research, and scholarship.
  • Methods for and applications of the critical study of conceptual models in sociotechnical systems: deconstructing an API; conducting algorithmic or other technology audits; close readings of standards and their implementation; critical histories of standards; evaluations of use, implementation, and impact; etc.


  • Abstract submission deadline is October 1st
  • Notifications of acceptance will be sent to authors no later than October 8th
  • Accepted submissions can be revised anytime before October 15th. At the time we will post citations of all contributions to a workshop website. Contributions will be shared privately with registered workshop participants.
  • Workshop will be held across Oct 22 and 23, 1-5pm EST.

Instructions for Submission
Please submit a PDF, DOC, Markdown, or TXT document to by October 1st. You may use any format or citation style that you prefer.

All Submissions will be reviewed by the organizing committee, and feedback (regardless of acceptance) will be provided to authors. If you have any questions please feel to contact an organizer in advance of the deadline for submissions.

Submissions will be non-archival, and the workshop is designed to support authors in developing and iterating their papers toward journal publication.

Organizing Committee

  • Katrina Fenlon ( University of Maryland
  • Peter Organisciak ( University of Denver
  • Andrea K. Thomer ( University of Michigan
  • Nic Weber ( University of Washington

Workshop Format

The workshop will follow a mini-conference format, with an agenda focused on presenting and workshopping research papers. The workshop will take place across two days - October 22nd and 23rd (1-5pm EST) and include keynote talks from two experts in the field: Dr. Amelia Acker, and Dr. Ryan Shaw.


Below are a list of the accepted papers and talks that will appear at the workshop. We will post any additional drafts or slides to this agenda so check back as the workshop continues.

(Note: All times EDT - for a handy time conversion based on your location see here)

Date Time Title (abstracts) Presenter Discussant Slides
October 22nd 1:00 - 1:10 Welcome Weber    
  1:10 - 1:55 Conceptual Structuration of Census Data Tennis Thomer Slides
  1:55 - 2:40 Towards a Conceptual Model of Layered Temporality Hodges Weber Slides
  2:40 - 3:25 The Fate of Three Billion Friends Halpin Organisciak Slides
  3:25 - 3:45 What and Where is Ambiguity in Categorization? Rajan Fenlon Slides
  3:45 - 4:05 Community Values in the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative Bennett and Peterson Fenlon Slides
  4:05 - 5:00 Keynote 1: What do Models Want? Acker Thomer Slides
October 23rd 1:00 - 1:10 Welcome Weber    
  1:10 - 1:55 Methods as an Organizing Structure for Science Schneider Organisciak  
  1:55 - 2:40 Standardization, Semantic Violence,and Equifinal Closure in Semantic Interoperability Work Hoffman Thomer  
  2:40 - 3:25 The Basic Representation Model for Digital Preservation and Information Organization - For copy of paper please contact author Wickett Fenlon  
  3:25 - 3:45 Formally representing uncertainty with scholarly claims Chan, Fenlon, and Lutters Weber  
  3:45 - 4:05 Conceptualizing academic storage for collaborative science production Cragin and Nunez-Corrales Weber  
  4:05 - 5:00 Keynote 2: Conceptual Models as Diplomatic Languages Shaw Organisciak  

Keynote Abstracts

Each day will culminate with an invited keynote talk and discussion. Below are abstracts for the two keynotes:

Day 1: What Do Models Want? - Amelia Acker

Models abound in the information sciences. We use them to represent what we know—from digital objects, to systems, to processes, to markets, to information behaviors, amongst many other things. Conceptual models help us think through problems in our research, our theories, and even our teaching. As such, models possess power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, maybe even lead us in the wrong direction. But what do models want? In this talk I will argue that if we want to deeply understand the sociotechnical gaps between abstractions and our messy world, we need to rethink some assumptions about conceptual models in our practice, research, and pedagogy.

Day 2: Conceptual Models as Diplomatic Languages - Ryan Shaw

Conceptual modeling is often treated as an obscure technical subfield of information science. One reason for this is that it is difficult to identify a unified tradition of conceptual modeling; instead there is a complex web of partially overlapping traditions of representing, modeling, and organizing data, information, and knowledge, each with its own preferred terminology, tools, and techniques. Despite this complexity, it is possible to conceive of conceptual modeling in a more coherent way. Understood in this way, conceptual modeling is not a subfield of information science or professional practice, but the very heart of both. Coming to understand conceptual modeling in this way requires knitting together two views of conceptual modeling found in differing proportions throughout its fragmented genealogy: modeling as description and modeling as design. Conceptual modeling is communication about communication, and as such it involves both the description of distinctions recognized by participants in particular discourses, and the design of better languages for expressing those distinctions. But the goals of conceptual modeling should not be limited to more precise description of specific discourses, or better design to meet the needs of participants in those discourses. The broader challenge for conceptual modeling, I will argue, is to construct diplomatic languages for negotiating compromises across disparate discourses and modes of communication.