ACPHIS Medal 2014 Winner - Dr Ahmad Alturki
Dr Ahmad Alturki was awarded the 2014 ACPHIS Medal after completing his PhD thesis titled "DSR-Roadmap – A Design Science Research Methodology: Harmonizing, Extending and Validating Contemporary Methodological Thought" at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Prof Guy Gable (QUT)
Dr Wasana Bandara (QUT)
Prof Shirley Gregor (ANU)
About the award winning thesis
Information Systems (IS) has long lacked a discipline-specific research methodology for its raison d’être, Design Science. In his seminal work, The Sciences of the Artificial, Simon (1996, p. 55) urges the development of Design Science Research (DSR), which he defines as “attempts to create things that serve human purposes” that entails “devising artifacts to attain goals” (Simon, 1996, p. 55). DSR “creates and evaluates IT artifacts intended to solve identified organizational problems” (Hevner et al., 2004, p. 77) and can be seen as a third major form of science, artificial science, in addition to the natural and human sciences (Gregor, 2009).
The scope of the IS research discipline has widened significantly over time and now seeks understanding of diverse phenomena in all three forms of science. The research reported in this thesis, however, proceeds from the view that IS as a discipline is centrally concerned with the process of design (Purao, 2002; Venable, 2006b; Walls et al., 1992) and that design is at its core. As Benbasat and Zmud (2003) propose, the focus of the IS discipline “should be on how to best design IT artifacts and IS systems to increase their usefulness” (pp. 191-192).
In recent years, DSR has become an accepted approach for research in IS (Iivari, 2007; Kuechler & Vaishnavi, 2008a) and its importance is well established (Gregor, 2002; Gregor & Jones, 2007; Hevner et al., 2004; Iivari, 2007; Peffers et al., 2007; Vaishnavi & Kuechler, 2004). Yet consensus on a common DSR methodology has not been achieved (Winter, 2008) and there are no detailed, actionable guidelines for the conduct of DSR. Rather, the main research paradigms in IS have been borrowed from the social and behavioural or natural sciences (Carlsson, 2006, 2007; Peffers et al., 2007; Purao, 2002) and theoretical development in DSR is at an early stage (Iivari & Venable, 2009; Kuechler & Vaishnavi, 2008a). Coupled with the widely held view of IS as a broad discipline, the lack of an IS-specific research methodology has led to the adoption of methodologies from other disciplines that are better suited to researching the environment within which design operates, rather than design itself. This in turn diminishes the core effort of IS design science, while encouraging expansion at the periphery.
This research proceeds from the belief that the ‘internal view’ and, more specifically, ‘deep structure’, are centrally relevant to IS DSR. This position has been argued by Wand and Weber (1993; 1995), who believe that the primary purpose of IS is “to represent or to mirror, or to simulate phenomena in the real world [… to provide] a representation of some real-world system as perceived by someone or some group of people” (Weber, 1997, pp. 66-67). In this approach, representation is the key element of IS. They identify two views of IS. The ‘external view’ focuses on individuals and organisations that use, implement, and deploy IS; while important, this is not the core of the IS discipline (Wand & Weber, 1990b, 1993, 1995; Weber, 1997) and is more akin to behavioural science than DSR. The internal view of IS comprises surface structure phenomena, deep structure phenomena, and physical structure phenomena. ‘Surface structure’ describes the facilities that allow users to interact with the IS. This phenomenon is mainly the concern of psychology and sociology rather than the IS discipline. ‘Deep structure’ describes the characteristics of the real-world phenomena the IS is intended to represent. ‘Physical structure’ describes the choices that designers make in mapping surface and deep structure onto the underlying technology. Wand and Weber believe that deep structure phenomena are core to the IS discipline because they are a representation of the real-world system and the meaning (logic) embodied in the IS, and that this representation is the essence and raison d’être of the IS discipline.
Despite considerable effort to establish a DSR methodology (e.g. Hevner et al., 2004; Peffers et al., 2007), a comprehensive, validated and widely accepted approach for its conduct has to yet be be developed. Such guidelines as do exist (e.g. Baskerville et al., 2009; Hevner, 2007; Järvinen, 2007a; Nunamaker et al., 1991; March & Smith, 1995; March & Storey, 2008; Peffers et al., 2007; Rossi & Sein, 2003; Vaishnavi & Kuechler, 2004; Venable, 2006a) tend not to be followed, which suggests that they may be insufficiently clear, not comprehensive, or inadequately operationalised, being at too high a level of abstraction. Winter (2008) has observed the “lack of a commonly accepted reference process model for design research” (p. 470), while Walls et al. (2004) suggest that their own, frequently cited, Information System Design Theory (ISTD) (Walls et al., 1992) is seldom actually applied. Documentary analysis of papers that purport to conform to the Hevner et al. (2004) guidelines reveals few instances of their actual application (Indulska & Recker, 2008). Venable’s (2010) investigation of the opinions of IS scholars on the importance of the Hevner et al. (2004) guidelines revealed “extensive disagreement on what guideline areas should be used as criteria and standards for evaluation” (p. 121) of DSR. Limitations and deficiencies in four dominant IS DSR methodologies have also been noted (Fischer & Gregor, 2011). Consequently, direct and indirect calls for a comprehensive methodology for DSR have been getting louder (Peffers et al., 2007; Purao et al., 2008; Winter, 2008).
The main aim of the present study is to develop a DSR methodology for the conduct of DSR. Its specific objective is to develop a detailed, structured, integrated, comprehensive, rigorous and empirically validated DSR methodology that harmonises and extends existing DSR methodological guidelines and concepts, and spans the full DSR lifecycle from the early spark of a design idea through to final publication. The final outcome of the study is known as the DSR-Roadmap.
As Venable and Baskerville (2012) argue, “research methods are designed artefacts” (p. 141). They call for the use of DSR in the development of research methodology. Hence this study conceives the DSR-Roadmap as a designed artifact, the development and validation of which employed a DSR approach. It is believed to be the first research methodology to be developed using a formal DSR approach. The DSR-Roadmap was built through two main alternating phases: build (and refine) and evaluate. The study’s design had four key conceptual underpinnings: 1) the contextual distinction between discovery and justification involving various forms of reasoning; 2) the distinction between process and product evaluation; 3) the distinction between formative and summative evaluation; and 4) triangulation as a methodological process.
The first version of the DSR-Roadmap was developed through content analysis of an extensive, up-to-date body of DSR methodological literature and researcher creativity. As part of its formative evaluation, this version was retrospectively applied to two DSR cases using the illustrative scenario evaluation method (Peffers et al., 2012).
It was further formatively evaluated from both product and process perspectives through the lens of the Idealized Model for Theory Development (IM4TD) proposed by Fischer and Gregor (2011). This analysis demonstrated that the DSR-Roadmap overcomes common shortcomings in other IS DSR methodologies and adheres to the IM4TD, thereby establishing its robustness and theoretical grounding. Valuable enhancements were also identified during this process.
During the final formative evaluation, two focus groups were conducted to evaluate the revised DSR-Roadmap using the expert evaluation method (Peffers et al., 2012). The goal of the first focus group was to evaluate the DSR-Roadmap from a construction or process perspective. The aim of the second focus group was to evaluate the DSR-Roadmap itself from a product perspective.
Finally, the DSR-Roadmap was evaluated summatively using three different methods. First, again using the illustrative scenario evaluation method, the processes followed in a recognised DSR case authored by DSR experts were analysed (Kuechler & Vaishnavi, 2008b). The goal here was to assess the final DSR-Roadmap against an exemplar DSR case and ensure that its detailed activities were comprehensive and consistent with those described in the selected case. Secondly, a self-test was conducted, in which the final DSR-Roadmap was applied retrospectively to itself, since it is a DSR output. This constituted a further case study to validate the DSR-Roadmap. Finally, a formal comparison was conducted between the DSR-Roadmap and the Design Science Research Methodology (DSRM) proposed by Peffers et al. (2007). An important aim here was to evaluate the novelty of the DSR-Roadmap and demonstrate its contribution to the knowledge base of DSR methodology.
Although not central to the primary objective of this study, the thesis also seeks to position DSR methodology in IS research. It argues also that there is compatibility between DSR and deep structure phenomena and that there is potential to employ the ontology of deep structure phenomena in the methodology of DSR. The final formative evaluation identified a key difficulty faced by DSR researchers in relation to the abstracting process, which aims to develop design theory from a design. It was suggested that there was value in more standardised structuring of emergent DSR knowledge, and this led to adoption of an IS deep structure ontology (BWW ontology) (Wand & Weber, 1990b, 1993, 1995; Weber, 1997) as the schema for the Central Design Repository component of the Roadmap. Given the close alignment between the BWW ontology and the elements of Gregor’s and Jones’s (2007) Information System Design Theory (ISDT), which is adopted in the DSR-Roadmap, this means that design knowledge structured around the ontology can more readily be abstracted to the ISDT elements. This shows how the DSR-Roadmap can be implemented in, and adapted to the specific features of an area, such as the ontology of IS.
The main output of this study is the DSR-Roadmap. The DSR-Roadmap is a structured and detailed methodology for conducting DSR which spans the full DSR lifecycle. Throughout the study, a number of foundational concepts, representing its underlying assumptions, beliefs, and values, were developed. Each of these is grounded either deductively in literature or inductively from empirical work. Structurally, the DSR-Roadmap consists of two levels, high and low. The low level elaborates the core components of the high level. The core components are DSR Activities & Cycles, Central Design Repository (CDR), and DSR output―the adopted Information System Design Theory (ISDT). The DSR-Roadmap can be seen as an abstract and general process (i.e. a blueprint) that is applicable to any DSR, yet it is described in a very specific and detailed way (i.e a step-by-step guide). It gives a holistic view of what researchers should be aware of and what they should do during the DSR journey, alerting them to most possible pathways. Researchers who use the DSR-Roadmap are learning DSR, and the DSR-Roadmap itself is a means of facilitating DSR understanding.