Understanding Ontology and Epistemology in Information Systems Research

Understanding Ontology and Epistemology in Information Systems Research

Francis Chia Cua (University of Otago, New Zealand and Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand) and Tony C. Garrett (Korea University, Republic of Korea)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-040-0.ch002
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This chapter introduces ontological and epistemological elements in information systems research. It argues that ontology, epistemology, and methodology intertwine in a dynamic way. Ontology, as well as epistemology, is both an antecedent and a consequence of methodology. This complex relationship has an impact on the methodology which will affect the outcome later on. Understanding how these three elements can be related to each other can help researchers develop better methodologies for information systems research.
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A thorough understanding of the research process is needed in any study. One approach consists of three hierarchical steps. It involves using a specific framework (theory, ontology), identifying the research questions (epistemology), and determining the research strategy (methodology; Burrell & Morgan, 2005; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005b; Grix, 2002, Hay, 2002; Nelson, Treichler, & Grossberg, 1992).

Researchers should at least have a good grasp of the philosophical assumptions of the complex phenomenon they want to study as well as the methods of investigating it. That discipline mandates explicit articulation of the research process by thoroughly understanding, acknowledging, and defending their ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions (Burrell & Morgan, 2005; Grix 2002). It is that explicit articulation that will infuse quality into the research process and interpret them in the context of the phenomenon under study. Therefore, all research is interpretive, according to Denzin and Lincoln (2005b).

The contextual setting or the natural setting makes the case study a distinct research methodology. The richness of the context generates the particulars and complexities of the experiential knowledge and legitimises the case study (Benbasat, Goldstein, & Mead, 2002; Flyvbjerg, 2001; Franz & Robey, 1984; Patton, 1990; Snow & Anderson, 1991; Stake, 1995, 2005; Yin, 1993, 1994).

The understanding of ontology and epistemology in this chapter will be in the context of a large public sector entity. The complex phenomenon concerns the replacement of enterprise systems.

The research problem theory is the Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) theory of Rogers (2003). Like the philosophical assumptions that is composed of certain basic beliefs, a paradigm is a set of assumptions that can never be absolute true knowledge (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005c, p 183; Guba, 1990). It guides and interprets the study. “Each interpretive paradigm makes particular demands on the researcher, including the questions the researcher asks and the interpretations he or she brings to them,” explain Denzin and Lincoln (2005b, p 22). The paradigm provides a means for the theory to meet the practice. Information systems research relies heavily on theories derived from complementary disciplines including Accounting, Computer Science, Economics, Innovation, Management, Marketing, Psychology, Sociology, and Mathematics. Information systems research utilises theories to examine themes like the adoption and implementation of enterprise systems, communications, strategy, and political, economic and environmental, social, and technological (PEST) factors. One of the 56 theories used in the information systems research in www.istheory.yorku.ca is the DOI Theory.

In the DOI, a process model (Rogers, 2003) consists of an initiation phase and an implementation phase. The initiation phase is composed of the awareness stage, the matchmaking stage, and the business case stage. Rogers calls the third stage the decision stage. For a large public sector entity, it is more appropriate to call it the business case stage. Here, the executive sponsor makes a business case to sell the innovation (e.g., the replacement of enterprise systems) to upper management. This ends in an accept-reject decision which takes place after initiation phase and before the implementation phase. If the accept-reject decision is favourable,then the implementation phase will follow this stage.

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Richard Baskerville
Aileen Cater-Steel, Latif Al-Hakim
Chapter 1
Panagiotis Kanellis, Thanos Papadopoulos
This chapter offers a journey through the spectrum of epistemological and ontological perspectives in IS (IS), offering the necessary background to... Sample PDF
Conducting Research in Information Systems: An Epistemological Journey
Chapter 2
Francis Chia Cua, Tony C. Garrett
This chapter introduces ontological and epistemological elements in information systems research. It argues that ontology, epistemology, and... Sample PDF
Understanding Ontology and Epistemology in Information Systems Research
Chapter 3
John Loonam, Joe McDonagh
Enterprise systems (ES) promise to integrate all information flowing across the organisation. They claim to lay redundant many of the integration... Sample PDF
A Grounded Theory Study of Enterprise Systems Implementation: Lessons Learned from the Irish Health Services
Chapter 4
Khalid Al-Mabrouk
This chapter reviews some of the existing Information Technology Transfer (ITT) literature and suggests that it has fallen victim to the well-known... Sample PDF
A Critical Theory Approach to Information Technology Transfer to the Developing World and a Critique of Maintained Assumptions in the Literature
Chapter 5
João Porto de Albuquerque, Edouard J. Simon, Jan-Hendrik Wahoff, Arno Rolf
Research in the Information Systems (IS) field has been characterised by the use of a variety of methods and theoretical underpinnings. This fact... Sample PDF
The Challenge of Transdisciplinarity in Information Systems Research: Towards an Integrative Platform
Chapter 6
Paul D. Witman
This chapter provides a set of guidelines to assist information systems researchers in creating, negotiating, and reviewing nondisclosure... Sample PDF
A Guide to Non-Disclosure Agreements for Researchers Using Public and Private Sector Sources
Chapter 7
Slinger Jansen
Even though information systems is a maturing research area, information systems case study reports generally lack extensive method descriptions... Sample PDF
Applied Multi-Case Research in a Mixed-Method Research Project: Customer Configuration Updating Improvement
Chapter 8
Erja Mustonen-Ollila, Jukka Heikkonen
This chapter gives important methodological, theoretical, and practical guidelines to the information system (IS) researchers to carry out a... Sample PDF
Historical Research in Information System Field: From Data Collection to Theory Creation
Chapter 9
Paivi Ovaska
Large-scale systems development is a complex activity involving number of dependencies that people working together face. Only a few studies... Sample PDF
A Multi-Methodological Approach to Study Systems Development in a Software Organization
Chapter 10
Judith Symonds
Usability Evaluation Methods (UEM) are plentiful in the literature. However, there appears to be a new interest in usability testing from the... Sample PDF
Usability Evaluation Meets Design: The Case of bisco Office™
Chapter 11
Ivan Ka-Wai Lai, Joseph M. Mula
Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) has been employed to increase the effectiveness of organizational requirement analysis in Information Systems (IS)... Sample PDF
An Analysis-Form of Soft Systems Methodology for Information Systems Maintenance
Chapter 12
Raul Valverde, Mark Toleman, Aileen Cater-Steel
Recently, many organisations have become aware of the limitations of their legacy systems to adapt to new technical requirements. Trends towards... Sample PDF
Design Science: A Case Study in Information Systems Re-Engineering
Chapter 13
Shaligram Pokharel
Information and communication technology (ICT) refer to a family of technologies that facilitate information capturing, storing, processing... Sample PDF
Analyzing the Use of Information Systems in Logistics Industry
Chapter 14
William Yeoh
Engineering asset management organisations (EAMOs) are increasingly motivated to implement business intelligence (BI) systems in response to... Sample PDF
Empirical Investigation of Critical Success Factors for Implementing Business Intelligence Systems in Multiple Engineering Asset Management Organisations
Chapter 15
Ping Li, Joseph M. Mula
A review of the literature showed that there appears to be very little research undertaken on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) adoption by small to... Sample PDF
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Adoption: A Study of SMEs in Singapore
Chapter 16
Hatem F. Halaoui
Using geographical information systems (GIS) has been of great interest lately. A lot of GIS applications are being introduced to regular and... Sample PDF
Towards Google Earth: A History of Earth Geography
Chapter 17
Sergio Di Martino, Filomena Ferrucci, Carmine Gravino
Web technologies are being even more adopted for the development of public and private applications, due to the many intrinsic advantages. Due to... Sample PDF
Empirical Studies for Web Effort Estimation
Chapter 18
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Recently, cellular phones capable of accessing the Internet are prevailing rapidly in Japan. First, their functions and features are examined... Sample PDF
Mobile Marketing
Chapter 19
Ross A. Malaga
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