Consensus in Software Engineering: A Cognitive Mapping Study

by   Pontus Johnson, et al.

Background: Philosophers of science including Collins, Feyerabend, Kuhn and Latour have all emphasized the importance of consensus within scientific communities of practice. Consensus is important for maintaining legitimacy with outsiders, orchestrating future research, developing educational curricula and agreeing industry standards. Low consensus contrastingly undermines a field's reputation and hinders peer review. Aim: This paper aims to investigate the degree of consensus within the software engineering academic community concerning members' implicit theories of software engineering. Method: A convenience sample of 60 software engineering researchers produced diagrams describing their personal understanding of causal relationships between core software engineering constructs. The diagrams were then analyzed for patterns and clusters. Results: At least three schools of thought may be forming; however, their interpretation is unclear since they do not correspond to known divisions within the community (e.g. Agile vs. Plan-Driven methods). Furthermore, over one third of participants do not belong to any cluster. Conclusion: Although low consensus is common in social sciences, the rapid pace of innovation observed in software engineering suggests that high consensus is achievable given renewed commitment to empiricism and evidence-based practice.



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