This paper seeks to present a conceptual framework to analyze and improve the quality of empirical databases throughout time – with operational results which are measurable in terms of cost‐benefit.
Basing themselves on the general approach of hermeneutics and, more specifically, on Fernand Braudel's concept of “temporalités étagées” and Norbert Elias's “evolutive continuum”, the authors develop a temporal framework consisting of three stratified time levels in order to interpret shifts in the quality of databases. The soundness of the framework and its capability of delivering operational results are demonstrated by the development of a case study focusing on social security databases. A second case study in the context of digital cultural heritage is also developed to illustrate the general applicability of this interdisciplinary approach in the context of empirical information systems.
Contrary to the assertions of common theories that postulate a permanent bijective relationship between records in a database and the corresponding reality, this paper provides insights which demonstrate that a database evolves over time along with the interpretation of the values that it allows one to determine. These interdisciplinary insights, when applied practically to concrete case studies, give rise to original operational results in the ICT field of data quality.
The framework helps both the managers and the users of empirical databases to understand the necessity to integrate unforeseen observations, neglected a priori by virtue of the closed world assumption, and to develop operational recommendations to enhance the quality of databases.
This paper is the first to show the potential of hermeneutics for the task of understanding the evolution of an empirical information system, and also the first to deliver operational outcomes.
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