Design-Type Research in Information Systems

Design-Type Research in Information Systems

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0131-4.ch005
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Information systems are socio-technical artifacts whose design should fit to serve the needs of organizations as well as the individuals who employ them. The central purpose of this chapter is to argue that design of new IS concepts can be regarded as a scientific research activity. To this end, several important questions need to be tackled, including the following ones: What is the meaning of observation in design-type research? Is there a notion of a theory in design-type research that corresponds to that in traditional science? If so, what are its building blocks? How does design-type research relate to the issues of truth and discovery? This chapter makes an attempt to provide the answers to these and other related questions.
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The Rise Of Design-Type Research In Information Systems

Chapter 3 discussed the alarming issues concerning the identity and relevance of research in Information Systems. Apparently, IS as a scientific applied discipline has a weak impact on practice in the related professional communities. The overly emphasis on rigor in the empirical studies of IS while promoting the quality in disseminating scientific outputs seems to jeopardize the very content of these outputs in terms of their interest to the practitioner.

Perhaps, it wouldn’t be a shocking presumption to suggest that information systems viewed as an interface between the information technology and the organizational environments should be in the focus of research in the corresponding scientific field. Understandably, the inner and outer environments of IS also represent important possibilities for research in their relation to the IS. However, the literature analysis suggests that the center of gravity of scientific interest in the field had shifted much into the outer environment (individuals, organizations, markets, etc.). This loss of the focus had led to the identity problem and it threatens to lead to the disintegration of the discipline. In light of the above concerns, some researchers have proposed that design-type of research can contribute towards improving the identity of the field (Iivari, 2007), as well as the relevance of its findings to its target professional domains (Carlsson, 2005; Cole, Purao, Rossi, & Sein, 2005).

Here, it is important to avoid the possible confusion in regard with the terminology used to refer to the design kind of activities, which would at the same time qualify as research. The terms such as “design science,” “design research,” and “design science research” are used to refer to somewhat different traditions by various researchers (Cole, et al., 2005; Piirainen, Gonzalez, & Kolfschoten, 2010). This could potentially perplex the newcomers to the design-oriented research community, the IS research community at large, the members of the allied disciplines, as well as the practitioners and the students of the field.

Cole et al. note that the terms such as “design research” and “design science” have long been adopted by the scientific community whose purpose is studying the principles of design. This community had produced valuable insights into the nature, process, and outputs of design in general, which were discussed earlier in the book. Thus, a distinction needs to be made between studying design and doing design. Cole et al. note that design research in IS and IT means design as research, i.e. doing design (Purao, et al., 2008). Design as research is concerned with the creation of innovative artifacts. It is different from researching design in several respects, notably due to the former placing emphasis on the domain where design is carried out, while the latter focuses on designing in general, largely disregarding the domain of design activity.

Vaishnavi & Kuechler have also used the term “improvement research” to stress that it is always directed towards introducing improvements through novel artifact concepts (Vaishnavi & Kuechler Jr., 2008). The term however is not currently widely adopted. Occasionally the expression “constructive research” is also used to refer to the very nature of the kind of work done by the researchers (Iivari, 2008; Kasanen, Lukha, & Siitonen, 1993). In this book the term “design-type research” is preferred to distinguish it from the efforts in design studies. However, the other forms of expression will also be used as they are more readily recognizable by the design-oriented community in IS.

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