Continuing previous posts looking at/summarising recent design research literature this post gives a summary of the following paper
William Kuechler, Vijay Vaishnavi, The emergence of design research in information systems in North America, Journal of Design Research, 7(1), 2008, pp 1-16
As with previous posts, this is not intended to be a generally useful post for anyone but me.
This paper is published in a journal associated with the broader design research discipline. It attempts to explain the origins of Information Systems Design Research (ISDR) to that broader audience and identifies constraints/limitations of that practice and suggests ways forward.
Origin of IS and emergence of ISDR
IS origins in the raise of computers in the 1950s and the academic Management Science communities move into studying management information systems. Design not initially considered a relevant topic.
Greater significant of MIS arose with failures in 1960s. An early key paper (Ackoff, 1967) on MIS’s primary criticism was of the design and design criteria for the systems. Early MIS program arose…..continues with brief history of the IS field.
Suggests that the rise of design as a research direction in MIS was due to limited numbers of MIS academics in the 1980s. Moves to “boot strap” academics from other fields (e.g. computer science and engineering) brought new folk into the field who came with a strong design tradition.
A quote that attracts my attention
Perhaps more importantly, during that time research about design, built on the conceptual basis set forth in Nunamaker et al. (1991), Walls et al. (1992), and others, continued to formalise the distinctions between design research and empirical research as practiced in the natural and management sciences (March and Smith, 1995). Following Nunamaker et al. (1991), the DR theory papers were ecumenical, suggesting that IS research in total was a multi-methodological endeavour and proposing an important place for design research alongside traditional empirical studies.
The on-going positioning of design research as separate from “traditional” research is something I’m not sure about. I wonder if the origins of design research, as having to battle an established pre-dominant “paradigm”. A paradigm, which in turn, was constrained by a limited view of research that only allowed the development of a separate paradigm. If this limited view of research is rejected, then the “separation” of design and “traditional” research disappears.
It’s description of Hevner et al (2004) is
The paper expresses the view of the nature and place of IS design research that we believe is currently held by a majority of those practicing in the field; this view is self-consciously pre-paradigmatic and so Hevner et al. have chosen to present its core concepts as guidelines that circumscribe the domain without fully explicating it.
Current state of ISDR
Another interesting quote, which connects to some of my reservations about ISDR, is
many of the earliest advocates for and most widely published proponents of design in IS research have backgrounds in computer science and engineering. It is no surprise then that the current majority view of IS design research closely adheres to the engineering model (Eekels and Roozenburg, 1991).
I wonder if this emphasis limits the perspectives enshrined in current ISDR.
They describe the current ISDR worldview as including the following
- IS aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations. IS research aims to improve the ability of information systems to achieve their goal.
I have some qualms about the potential “efficiency” emphasis that this embodies. I can see this coming through in some of the practices of IS within organisations.
- IS research looks at the confluence of people, organisations and technology and thus needs to distinct and complementary paradigms to improve information systems: behavioural (natural) science and design research
This seems a big leap. There is certainly a need for a broad array of knowledge, but that this necessarily means distinct and complementary paradigms…
- Design involves the building and evaluation of artefacts intended to meet business needs identified during behavioural research.
- Design research is different from design because it addressed “important unsolved problems in unique or innovative ways” or “development of more effective and efficient solutions to previously solved problems”. Design research addressed wicked problems.
Does this mean that the design of ISes in organisations does not include addressing wicked problems? I tend to feel most do.
- Explaining the theoretical basis for design may lag implementation.
ISDR is explained as having
- epistemology – “obviously pragmatist”
- implicit axiology – utilitarian and pragmatic – “methodologies do not describe any external reality . . .their scientific merit should be evaluated on the basis of their practical value” (Iivari, 1986)
I wonder in what context this Iivari quote was made.
Does it imply that all ISDR does connect with these views. Are there strengths/weaknesses of this view? What are the alternatives? Who’s arguing an alternative?
Mentions Hevner et al’s (2004) 7 guidelines which “are strongly bound to commonsense notions of business utility and forcefully promote the strongly felt need of the entire IS academic cohort for legitimacy through
The 7 in a quick summary are
- Design research in IS (ISDR) produces artefacts
- ISDR must be relevant.
- The design of the ISDR artefact must be rigorously evaluated.
- ISDR must provide a novel contribution.
- ISDR must balance rigour and relevance.
- An ISDR contribution must be functional.
- Design research results must be communicated to both technical and management oriented audiences.
Again mentions that ISDR is pre-paradigmatic – meaning a “lack of common understanding of the definition and scope of design research in IS”
The lack of a common understanding of the definition and scope of design research in IS was patently evident at the most recent IS design research conference (DESRIST, 2007).
Discussion was whether or not ISDR was research with
- design as a topic of investigation
A broader topic and can include a range of any topics including psychological attributes of good designers or design education.
- design as a method of investigation
More narrowly defined to the use of IS design techniques to construct an improved IS artefact. Many experience IS design researchers focus on this
Authors express a concern about the premature convergence on the definition of ISDR to be on the “constructivst” design research methodology. The aim to change this and suggest that ISDR should be expanded to include the other aspects while retaining a focus on relevant IT artefacts.
This view seems to have the broader IS research field, within which ISDR sits. They are then wanting to make ISDR encompass all aspects of design.
An alternate view is that the aim of IS research is to improve the design and use of information technology in society. To do this research seeks to generate knowledge which answers/solves important questions/problems. One of the important classes of questions/problems to solve is those associated with design knowledge – i.e. how to do something. This knowledge is expressed in design theory.
They mention something like this further down the paper
That fundamental design issues within IS – what an information system design is and how best to effect one, and to understand, represent and teach the design process – are a topic of current interest is well brought out in Bajaj et al. (2005), ‘Systems analysis and design: should we be researching what we teach?’
The case for brodening ISDR
The nature of IS
Define IS as a broad discipline “that takes responsibility for the effective implementation and management of ICTs within organisations”. Divides implementation (development of systems) from management (responsibility for day-to-day operations). Does recognise that the latter includes a strong design component.
I have a couple of problems with this
- Limits IS to just organisations, not broader societal uses.
- Not comfortable with the artificial separation between implementation and management – makes me think of Snowden’s distinction.
Talks about the impact of social/organisational issues on the implementation/operation of IS and how this affects design and also differentiates it, somewhat from computer science.
Many important design decisions are made based on socially constructed notions of cost, effectiveness, need, organisational culture, etc. and so the ‘designerly’ (non-scientific in the sense of being difficult to derive logically and rigorously from first principles) aspect in IS is more influential than in computer science and many engineering disciplines.
Distinguishes between two broad “schools” of design work
- US based – which due to its orgins within business schools has been separate from other design literatures and focuses more on design as rigourous, objective, formal and somewhat detached.
- European – broader recognition of subjective aspects of multi-stakeholder views of projects (e.g. soft systems methodology) and with a greater emphasis on the business environment and client interactions in IS design.
A survey of other design fields suggests to them
- All design practices share a large common grounding – a meta level
- Much IS can learn from all of those
- Each field stresses different topics and there are different details in the material aspects of the designed artefacts
- Each field has unique elements that are important only to that field
The differences in IS are
- relative invisibility of the effects of its artefacts until after deployment
- mutability of the organisational environments in which its artefacts are deployed.
Interestingly, it appears that it is the mutability of the IT artifact that many of the IS researchers are currently quoting, at least the ones I’m hearing. This is different from the organisational environment – it’s possibly more the fact that the organisational environment requires mutability and the IT artifact can, increasingly, deliver this.
Open issues on ISDR
Sees the requirement that ISDR requires artefacts be designed, built and evaluated as major limit. Should move to the broader conception of design.
Positions the emergence of this view with
- current IS-wide perceived need for increased relevance in IS research (Benbasat and Zmud, 1999; Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001).
- The desire to distinguish ISDR from behavioural research
- An over-reaction to the denigration of artefact-related research in IS
- Call from organisational researchers in IS to distinguish the IS academic field from other forms of organisational studies.
Illustrate breadth of design research by looking at articles from two broad design research journals, two design area specific journals and a few others.
Develop a table listing representative (not exhaustive) topic areas, outputs of research in those topic areas and references. Would be illustrative to look at this list and determine whether or not it can be mapped to Gregor’s five types of theory (assuming that design is common enough that it can be applied to Gregor which is specific to information systems).
A summary of the table
- user-designer communication – group communication, effects on requirements gathering and system design
Output is study results and methodologies. It isn’t clear what study results are. However, methodologies would probably fit with a design theory.
- Training of effective designers
Study results and course curricula – does this become design theory?
- Design project management
Case studies, principles and techniques – design theory
- The nature of reliable designs
Study results, taxonomies – Type 1 theory
- Adoption and adaptation of design ideas from other design disciplines
Case studies, principles, frameworks – Type 1 theory
Much of it appears to be able to go into the different types of theory.
They suggest that the above outputs are not IT artefacts, and are hence evidence of a need to move beyond the IT artefact emphasis of design research. Of course, I’d suggest this comes back to Gregor’s theory of theories.
The talk about resistance to the broadening of design research from IS design researchers for fear of losing the progress made in its acceptance.
This can be accomplished simply by redefining ISDR outputs as ‘IS design practice relevant artefacts or knowledge directly useful in the construction of IS design practice relevant artefacts’. This position is similar to but expands on Iivari’s proposals for IS research as the exploration of ‘meta-artefacts’ (Iivari, 2002, 2007).
Appears to have some connections to the idea of connecting this with the theory of theories.
Expanding the allowable outputs will allow the richness from other areas while retaining the focus.
Quote Whinston and Geng (2004) as arguing the case for IS being inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Hevner et al (2004) give a solid definitional base point from which to evolve. But it lacks any notion of a grounding meta-level. It is still a work in progress.
They wish it to expand in scope to provide the IS field with the full range of benefits that DR has provided for older design-based fields. Suggest ISDR can mature more quickly be taking relevant research and philosophical discussion of older design fields – especially
- relation to theory in design fields
- relevance of ‘scientific’ methodologies, ontologies and epistemologies to design (Cross, 2006; Cross et al, 1981)
If the core of information systems is the artefact then surely its heart is increasing understanding of every aspect of the design process by which these artefacts are brought into being.
Bajaj, A., Batra, D., Hevner, A., Parsons, J. and Siau, K. (2005) ‘Systems analysis and design: should we be researching what we teach?’, Communication of the AIS, Vol. 15, pp.478–493.
Cross, N. (2006) Designerly Ways of Knowing, London: Springer.
Cross, N., Naughton, J. and Walker, D. (1981) ‘Design method and scientific method’, in R. Jacques and J.A. Powell (Eds), Design: Science: Method, Guilford, UK: Westbury House, pp.18–29.
Whinston, A. and Geng, X. (2004) ‘Operationalizing the essential role of the information technology artifact in information systems research: grey area, pitfalls and the importance of strategic ambiguity’, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp.149–159.