Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Design Theories in Information Systems - a Need for Multi-Grounding

Academic journal article JITTA : Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application

Design Theories in Information Systems - a Need for Multi-Grounding

Article excerpt


Within the information systems community there is growing interest in design theories. These theories are aimed to give knowledge support to design activities. Design theories are considered as theorized practical knowledge. This paper is an inquiry into the epistemology of design theories. It is an inquiry in how to justify such knowledge; the need to ground and how to ground a design theory. A distinction is made between empirical, theoretical and internal grounding. The empirical grounding has to do with the effectiveness of the application of knowledge. External theoretical grounding relates design theory to other theories. One part of this is the grounding of the design knowledge in general explanatory theories. Internal grounding means an investigation of internal warrants (e.g. as values and categories) and internal cohesion of the knowledge. Together, these different grounding processes form a coherent approach for the multi-grounding of design theory (MGDT). As illustrations some examples of design theories in IS are discussed. These are design theories concerning business interaction which are based on language action theories.


Background and purpose

Information systems (IS) as a discipline is concerned with designed artefacts. The practice of information systems is an interplay between design and usage of such systems. Design as process (the IS development) and design as product (the developed IS) need to be addressed in IS research (Orlikowski & Iacono, 2001; Benbasat & Zmud, 2003). The design dimensions of IS can, however, be addressed in different ways. Much IS research may deal with design issues without explicitly using the notion of design, but using other conceptual labels. Much of traditional MIS and DSS research seems to describe and analyse IS features in relation to managerial and behavioural aspects in the context. Such research is seldom explicitly design oriented. However, explanatory studies of this kind may explain effects of design decisions made and then serve as basis for the design of new information systems. As said, this is however often implicit in the pursued research.

As a reaction towards this lack of explicit design orientation in IS research, several scholars have argued for IS as a design science and for the development and use of design theories in IS (Walls et al, 1992; March & Smith, 1995; Gregor & Jones, 2003; Hevner et al, 2004). Walls et al (1992) present an important contribution. They define information systems design theory "to be a prescriptive theory which integrate normative and descriptive theories into design paths intended to produce more effective information systems" (ibid p 36). They specify the contents of a design theory. The scope of such a theory is both the design product and the design process. There are theory elements for both the design product and the design process. Walls et al use this conception of design theory when developing a theory for vigilant executive IS (ibid). Their approach to design theory has also been used by Markus et al (2002) and Jones et al (2003). Following Simon (1969) they integrate explanatory kernel theories into the design theory. Explanatory kernel theories are thus considered to be parts of design theories.

The works by Walls et al (1992), Gregor & Jones (2003) and Hevner et al (2004) are all important contributions to our understanding of design theories in IS research. What seems to be lacking are however clear epistemological relations between design theory and other knowledge elements. This paper is an inquiry into the epistemology of design theory, i.e. into codified and justified knowledge governing people's design work concerning IS. It is an inquiry in justification of such knowledge, which includes relations to other knowledge sources. My main concept is the grounding of knowledge. Grounding means justifying knowledge by claiming its validities. …

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