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‘Funding is essential’

Business prof wins two major national grants


By Kate Scarth

It’s not every day that a researcher secures major grants from two of Canada’s main funding agencies. But this is just what Dr. Jeffrey Parsons has accomplished.

Dr. Parsons, University Research Professor and professor of information systems in the Faculty of Business Administration, has secured funding from both the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in the same year.

“I am delighted and humbled to receive both awards,” said Dr. Parsons. “It is getting harder to obtain funding; at the same time, funding is essential for supporting students and undertaking substantive research. It will require a lot of effort to move both projects forward simultaneously, and I am grateful to have excellent students and colleagues who will be working with me on aspects of both research programs.”

“I am grateful to have excellent students and colleagues who will be working with me on aspects of both research programs.” — Dr. Jeffrey Parsons

Dr. Parsons’s research tackles a radically changing information landscape, in which the explosion of interest in the cloud, big data, crowdsourcing and open data highlight transformations in the ways we obtain and use information. Traditional information management doesn’t allow individuals and organizations to fully benefit from these developments. This is where Dr. Parsons’s SSHRC-funded project, Open Information Environments – Challenges, Opportunities and Principles, comes in. Open information environments (OIEs) support the realities of today’s information landscape in which organizations are dealing with unknown and emerging users and data from diverse sources, Dr. Parsons says.

“Individuals and organizations increasingly face the difficult task of making sense of an exploding volume of user-generated content from social media and other sources. This research will contribute to understanding how the quality of such information can be improved at the point of collection and how it can be used for purposes not anticipated when the data were collected.”

This research benefits anyone using information, whether they are individuals or organizations, creators or consumers, experts or non-experts. One of the practical outcomes of the research is to create guidelines for effectively interacting with open information environments.

Meanwhile, Dr. Parsons’s NSERC grant, Using Concept Lattices to Reconcile Semantic Heterogeneity in Data, focuses on a more technical topic in information systems.

To enable organizations to take full advantage of the evolving, increasingly diverse information landscape, Dr. Parsons has introduced the idea of the “concept lattice.”

“This research proposes the idea of a concept lattice as a means to integrate heterogeneous data, and will evaluate how concept lattices can be used to support information retrieval and analysis for decision-making.”

This helps organizations to make effective decisions by allowing them to effectively collect, analyze and manage data coming from different places.

“Organizations increasingly need to bring together data from difference sources. For example, a university may have data from student records about performance, from surveys about student satisfaction, and from social media about students’ experiences with the institution. Making effective use of the variety of data generated from independent heterogeneous sources is an important, but challenging, problem — for example, for a university in making decisions about student recruitment or to enhance retention.”

Dr. Parsons shares the SSHRC funding with co-applicant Dr. Yair Wand, professor, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia; collaborator Dr. Yolanda Wiersma, associate professor, Department of Biology, Memorial University; and collaborator Dr. Roman Lukyanenko, assistant professor, College of Business, Florida International University. Dr. Parsons has, with Drs. Wiersma and Lukyanenko, co-authored a publication key to the SSHRC project, The IQ of the Crowd: Understanding and Improving Information Quality in Structured User-Generated Content, in Information Systems Research (December 2014).

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