Information Management and Decision Behaviour


Organisers: Ingo Köhler, Louis Pahlow, Verena Rassow

10-11 March 2017

Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt a. M.


This workshop, organised by Louis Pahlow (Frankfurt a. M.) and Ingo Köhler (Göttingen), brought together researchers of the PP 1859 as well as external speakers to formulate a first theoretical and empirical approach to the question of how economic actors generate expectations within organizational frameworks. Participants asked how expectations are formed by and within organizations. What is the relationship between experience and expectations in business enterprises, supranational organizations, and regulation authorities? How did formal and informal rules and procedures emerge that guided organizations' and actors' decisions? How did institutions and individuals within these institutions select, evaluate, and disseminate information?

Organised by the Prinicipal Investigators of two projects that explore normative expectations and information processing in organizations, the workshop was divided into two sections: first, a series of interdisciplinary lectures by experts from the fields of legal history, sociology, economic history, and economics, and second, a hands-on seminar for researchers. The participants were therefore above all concerned with gaining an understanding of institutional strategies to coordinate the flow of information and to use established competences, skills, and rules as a basis for generating acting knowledge from the assembled information.

Starting with Arnold Windeler (Berlin), four speakers presented theoretical approaches from sociology, economics, and history to the subject. Using structuration theory and the sociological term of the field, Windeler provided the workshop with a perspective that accounts for institutional transformation as a basis of expectation formation and decision processes putting the economic actor, rather than efficiency as an ahistorical category, in its centre of explanation. As ‘knowledgeable agents’, economic actors constantly observe and reflect the social fields they are affiliated with to revaluate their respective institutional frameworks.

Kilian Bizer (Göttingen) offered a perspective that reflected on information management and politics with the example of the European Union’s regulation of chemical products. Here, inverting the information asymmetry between corporations and regulatory authorities proved to be extremely effective as an incentive for companies to lower the barriers to information of customers. Thus, market failure was prevented by increasing market transparency and improving risk management.

Jan-Otmar Hesse’s (Bayreuth) presentation reflected on corporate decision-making as a problem of legitimation. Referring to Luhmann’s systems theory that discusses the interrelation of decision-making and uncertainty about the future, Hesse focussed on routines and everyday processes within corporations as means of reducing uncertainty and complexity.

Michael Schneider (Düsseldorf) showed learning processes in the historical genesis of statistics. With the example of Prussian demography, Schneider pointed out that the process of translating the world into numbers is heavily dependent on epistemological assumptions and subsequently puts the statisticians’ wish for clear-cut categories and for depicting social change into conflict with the complexities of the observed reality as well as revealing previously unrecognized assumptions and expectations.

This first part of the workshop was followed by five project reports of the Priority Programme, which were discussed in view of the workshop subject. Volker Daniel (Halle-Wittenberg) discussed the possibility of politically spread rumors as a contributing factor to inflation expectations in early 1930s Germany. Verena Rassow (Frankfurt a. M.) highlighted the process of negotiation in West Germany in the 1980s between corporations and regulatory and authorities that resolved information asymmetry for the latter. In contrast, referring to systems theory Daniel Wylegala (Düsseldorf) discussed the effect of information deficits and disruptions on expectation formation in the steel industry and the difference of interpretations depending on specific social fields that experts are part of. Friederike Sattler (Frankfurt a. M.) reflected on information management from a business history perspective. Contrasting theories of rational information processing and intuitive-adaptive expectation formation, Sattler stressed the significance of specific occasions and established procedures in businesses on decision making. Christian Laukien (Aachen) introduced a model that allows businesses to analyze path dependences that might reduce opportunities of action. The model is therefore designed to help predicting wrong decisions.

In sum, the workshop highlighted a historical narrative that seems to suggest the professionalization and the intensification of information management in companies, regulatory authorities, and supranational organizations. Nevertheless, the participants stressed the non-linear character of this process, discussing gradual tendencies of development within an environment of increasingly complex markets. Specific periodizations, moreover, will remain a task for the future, as the workshop was foremost concerned with gaining a theoretical approach towards the subject of information management, decision making, and expectation formation.

Download the conference flyer with the full schedule and additional information here.

The workshop summary (German, PDF) is available for download here.


Workshop Overview:

Friday 10 March 2017

Welcome and introduction

External perspectives:
Arnold Windeler (TU Berlin)
Kilian Bizer (University of Göttingen)
Jan-Otmar Hesse (University of Bayreuth)

Project research perspectives:
Michael C. Schneider (University of Düsseldorf)
Volker Daniel (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Saturday 11 March 2017

Project research perspectives (cont.)
Verena Rassow (University of Frankfurt)
Daniel Wylegala (University of Düsseldorf)
Friedrike Sattler ((University of Frankfurt)
Christian Laukien (RWTH Aachen)

Concluding discussion