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For this activity, you will be evidencing your understanding of research paradigms and modes of thinking. You must find 3 scholarly, peer-reviewed research articles on any topic. You must attach each article here in PDF. DO NOT SUBMIT IN ZIP. Along with the articles, submit your analysis. For each article, you will write:Minimum 250 wordsIdentify research paradigmPositivist/Interpretive/Critical EpistemologyWhat is their method?What is their desired outcome/impact of their work?Is this paradigm appropriate to the investigation? If so, why is it better than the alternatives? If not, what would be ideal?

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Association for Information Systems
AIS Electronic Library (AISeL)
AMCIS 2010 Proceedings
Americas Conference on Information Systems
Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
Sven Weber
Goethe University Frankfurt, [email protected]
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Recommended Citation
Weber, Sven, “Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?” (2010). AMCIS 2010 Proceedings. 214.
This material is brought to you by the Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) at AIS Electronic Library (AISeL). It has been accepted
for inclusion in AMCIS 2010 Proceedings by an authorized administrator of AIS Electronic Library (AISeL). For more information, please contact
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Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
Design Science Research:
Paradigm or Approach?
Sven Weber
Goethe University Frankfurt
[email protected]
Due to the significant increase of theoretical evaluation of software prototypes, design science research (DSR) as a new
research direction has emerged in recent years with the aim to ensure for both, rigor and relevance in prototyping research
projects. On the one hand, a theoretical background ensures a usable and professional software prototype and on the other
hand, new and innovative software prototypes provide rich data for theory testing and evaluating. DSR has proven to produce
practically relevant research results but unfortunately it is still not a fully accepted research approach since it has somehow
failed to develop theoretical contributions. Nevertheless, we believe that design science research is an important key factor
for a new and innovative research paradigm. This paper provides an overview of DSR and tries to combine both, rigor and
relevance, in a unified perception.
Design Science Research, Research Paradigms, Literature Review.
The challenge that IS researchers often face is to generate scientifically sound new knowledge while producing relevant
research results that can be used by practitioners at the same time, e.g., in form of an IT artifact. DSR (March and Smith,
1995; Walls et al., 1992) has proven to produce practically relevant research results but is still not a fully accepted research
approach since it has somehow failed to develop theoretical contributions (Hevner et al., 2004). Moreover, discussions about
a DSR driven paradigm have occurred in the last decades to strengthen the theoretical underpinning of DSR (Gregg et al.,
2001). DSR was derived from the engineering discipline and has therefore much older roots than the discussion itself. The
emerging question is whether DSR depicts a separated paradigm or DSR is an approach that can be combined with other
ones? In the light of this discussion several attempts have been made to combine both the original roots of DSR and the
development of theoretical contributions. However, the methods literature in this area is still in its infancy. For instance, DSR
has been combined in the past with action research (e.g., Allen et al., 2000) and with ethnography (e.g., Baskerville and
Stage, 2001) in order to enhance the value and theoretical contribution of those projects. Other researchers combined DSR
with behavioral science (e.g., Goldkuhl, 2004; Holmström et al., 2009) in order to create a theoretical contribution to the
domain of study. Goldkuhl (2004) offers an approach how to use techniques of behavioral science in a DSR project. He
presents three different types of grounding: internal, empirical, and theoretical, that can enhance a DSR project to generate
grounded practical knowledge. Another study finds that both research strategies complement each other well (Holmström et
al., 2009). In particular, they developed a framework how DSR as an exploratory research approach can be complemented by
a second research cycle including the development of substantive and formal theory in order to make a contribution to the
knowledge base besides focusing entirely on the problem solution and the IT artifact.
These examples show the potential of DSR to be combined with other research approaches. The research question of this
paper is if DSR has the potential to become a new and independent paradigm or if it is an approach that fits into existing
paradigms. Therefore we conducted a literature review about the most important DSR articles from recent years and analyzed
the core characteristics of DSR.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows: The next section outlines DSR as a research approach and thereby
provides the basic characteristics of it. The following section describes the contrary position and outlines the potential of
DSR to create an independent paradigm. Section 4 provides a literature overview about the most important DSR articles and
their impacts on the ongoing discussion. Finally, the paper summarizes the insights and provides a recommendation for the
DSR usage.
Proceedings of the Sixteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru, August 12-15, 2010.
Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
DSR has its roots in the architecture and engineering discipline. Hence, DSR attempts to create things that serve human
purposes and thereby creates utility for the stakeholders (March and Smith, 1995). In contrast, natural and social science try
to understand the reality and do not primarily focus on usefulness or direct applicability of their findings. Scientists using the
DSR approach build IT artifacts to consider the relevance of the IT artifact for business requirements and thereby aim to
define a problem solution (Au, 2001; Hevner et al., 2004). From this point of view, DSR can be seen as another research
approach to solve practically relevant problems (McKay and Marshall, 2005).
IT artifacts are naturally occurring and always embedded in some place, time and community (Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001).
As a result, they are highly dynamic within the environment. DSR concentrates on IT artifacts which are encompassing
implementations, algorithms, mathematical equations etc. (Alter, 2008; Benbasat and Zmund, 2003; Hevner et al., 2004). The
focus of an IT artifact lies on the problem itself. It is finished when it satisfies the requirements of all stakeholders and solves
the relevant problem. On the one hand, it is necessary to understand why an IT artifact works or does not work while on the
other hand it is necessary to understand how the IT artifact was created (Hevner et al., 2004).
To understand how an IT artifact was created we have to understand the underlying kernel theories of the IT artifact. Those
kernel theories are defined by the evaluation and modification of the natural and social science theories. Moreover, they are
created by the experience and creativity of the researcher (Hevner et al., 2004; Markus et al., 2002; Walls et al., 1992).
Therefore, DSR is both: developing new solutions of IT artifacts to existing but unsolved problems and/or matching solutions
to new and unsolved problems (Holmström et al., 2009).
Figure 1 depicts a possible DSR approach which is a combined framework drawn from existing approaches in DSR literature
(Table 1). According to March and Smith (1995) as well as Walls et al. (1992) DSR encompasses processes and products
which are both derived from kernel theories (Hevner et al., 2004; Markus et al., 2002; Walls et al., 1992). These kernel
theories are influenced and influencing the requirements of the IT artifact and therewith the problem solution. The connection
between the evaluation and instantiation ensures a high utility of the IT artifact while the requirements are satisfied at the
same time.
Figure 1. DSR framework according to Hevner et al. (2004), March and Smith (1995) as well as Walls et al. (1992)
Processes are distinguished into two basic elements: the building and evaluation of the IT artifact (Baskerville et al., 2009;
Hevner and March, 2003; March and Smith, 1995). Building an IT artifact is a sequence of activities to produce ‘something
new’; an innovative product that solves a real world problem. The evaluation of an IT artifact provides feedback to the design
process and generates new knowledge about the problem at hand. The newly generated insights serve to improve both the
quality of the IT artifact and the design process itself (Hevner et al., 2004). The build and evaluate elements are conducted
partly in parallel and involve multiple iterations. Through these multiple iterations, the IT artifact is fully generated to the
Proceedings of the Sixteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru, August 12-15, 2010.
Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
satisfaction of the researchers and practitioners that later make use of it (Markus et al., 2002). Thereby, DSR creates utility
and a meaningful contribution to practice (Hevner et al., 2004; March and Smith, 1995; McKay and Marshall, 2005; Walls et
al., 1992). However, as Hevner et al. (2004) criticize, DSR frequently fails to make a scholarly contribution to the knowledge
base in the domain of study.
According to March & Smith (1995) the relevant end products (i.e. IT artifacts) are either constructs, models, methods,
instantiations, or a combination thereof. This end product is developed from the design cycle (Takeda et al., 1990). Figure 2
depicts constructs as basic elements of instantiations. These constructs can be seen as the vocabulary of a domain. They
constitute a conceptualization to describe problems within the domain to specify their solution. Analyzing relationships
between constructs form the basis for the construction of models. Models are sets of propositions or statements that depict
these relationships between constructs. By the construction of a model, representing a kind of automata theory (Hopcroft and
Ullman, 1979), a representation of the real-world is created. Moreover, with such a real-world representation, new constructs
can be created or old ones can be improved. A method is a set of steps (algorithm or guideline) to solve a defined problem.
More precisely, a method is a formal implementation of constructs as well as models and at the same time a representation of
the solution space. An instantiation is the realization of an IT artifact in its environment, e.g. a prototype.
real world
Figure 2. IT artifact instantiation.
Due to the presented framework, new IT artifacts can be created from kernel theories. Thereby these IT artifacts are theorized
to contribute to the existing knowledge base (Carroll and Kellogg, 1989; Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001). In addition, these IT
artifacts can be improved by several evaluation steps until the postulated requirements are reached. Summing up so far, the
DSR framework can be regarded as an approach to create and evaluate an IT artifact that provides a real world problem
solution. The depicted procedure of constant improvement can be seen on a higher level of abstraction as we will illustrate in
the next section where we will discuss research paradigms.
According to Filstead (1979), a research paradigm is defined by a ‘set of interrelated assumptions about the social world
which provide a philosophical and conceptual framework for the organized study of that world’. In the context of this
definition, the following section provides a brief overview over the most important research paradigms according to Gregg et
al. (2001), Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) as well as Robey (1996).
IS Research Paradigms
The supporters of the interpretive paradigm see the world as a social process (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). Social systems
cannot be regarded independently and without the influence of their members. Individuals, organizations or groups construct
the social systems because every user has special requirements that must be addressed by the system. These researchers seek
to understand and interpret the social process. The methodologies used in this paradigm are mainly qualitative research and
the exposure of special sets of constructs to social effects (Gregg et al., 2001; Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991).
The positivistic paradigm is the leading philosophical strand in today’s IS research (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). This
paradigm is primarily based on an empirical world-view seeking to obtain knowledge through quantitative methods. The
reason for this procedure is the notion that reality is existent only in one reality (Gregg et al., 2001). This reality is not
disrupted by the action of humans, and social worlds are not influenced by the actions of their members. It consists of a social
world that is controlled by nature and therefore can be regarded analogous to the natural world. The research efforts are
independent from the analyzed object. Hence, the researcher plays only a passive role (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991).
These two research paradigms are able to embrace many research concepts of the IS research discipline. However, in our
opinion they are not able to cover DSR completely.
Proceedings of the Sixteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru, August 12-15, 2010.
Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
Gregg et al. (2001) recommended to introduce a third paradigm that exists in harmony with the positivistic and interpretive
paradigm. This paradigm is called the socio-technologist or developmentalist paradigm and is able to give an answer to the
missing theoretical contribution of DSR. In most other cases the technology and software development is seen as a value
which is present or not. In this paradigm, a high responsibility lies on the construction and evaluation phase of technology
and software. Hence, when this software is missing some important issues within organizations cannot be solved. The sociotechnologist or developmentalist paradigm focuses on the creation of technology and the technology itself to affect individual
and organizational experience in a positive manner. Moreover, the IS environment can be seen as a social implemented
system. According to Gregg et al. (2001), this paradigm is equivalent with DSR because of its developmental nature.
Similarities and Differences between the Three IS Research Paradigms
IS research is quite an academic discipline and uses a theoretical founded base to improve and promote knowledge (Gregg et
al., 2001). In contrast, IS development by itself is quite a practical discipline and does not necessarily need research (Gregg et
al., 2001; Mantei and Teorey, 1989; Nunamaker et al., 1991). However, a wide stream of literature has assumed those
definitions and explored that IS research and IS development have lots of similarities (Gregg et al., 2001; Holmström et al.,
2009). According to Nunmaker et al. (1991) research is represented by its objectives and methods, whereby the objectives
require a multi methodological approach to integrate theory building, system development, and experimentation. In contrast,
IS development is defined as ‘the art of building software’ but also as the corner stone for research methodology (Nunamaker
et al., 1991). Subsequently, the research methodologies can be subdivided and classified as part of a certain research
paradigm (Figure 3).
formulative and
verificational research
scientific and engineering
basic and applied
interpretive or
constructivist paradigm
evaluative and
development research
positivist or postpositivist
socio‐technologist or
Figure 3. Perceptions of research objectives and methods.
Figure 3 is derived from Nunmaker et al. (1991). The different perceptions are organized on a theoretical scale. The scale
illustrates the degree of theoretical importance on the one side versus practical relevance on the other side. The most
theoretical perception is the ‘formulative and verificational research’ according to Nunmaker et al. (1991). Its goal is to gain
insights and improve the understanding of the problem area. Subsequently, the ‘basic and applied research’ develops and
tests for theoretical goals/reasons, theories and hypotheses. These two perceptions are combined in the interpretive or
constructivist paradigm (Gregg et al., 2001).
Starting from the other side the ‘development’ perception represents the most practical methodology. According to
Nunmaker et al. (1991), it provides ‘the systematic use of scientific knowledge’ to build, evaluate and develop new
technologies or prototypes. Whereby, it is not only determined to the creation process but also it ‘improves the effectiveness
and efficiency of processes at the individual and organizational level’ (Gregg et al., 2001). The ‘evaluative and development
research’ is located closely to the ‘development’ and includes both: the evaluative (more theoretical) and the developmental
(more practical) approach. Both form the socio-technologist or developmentalist paradigm (Gregg et al., 2001).
At last the ‘scientific and engineering research’ represents the connection between the theoretical and practical approaches.
This perception and the linking perceptions ‘basic and applied research’ and ‘evaluative and development research’ are
represented by the positivist or postpositivist paradigm.
The example of Nunmaker et al. (1991) and especially Figure 3 outlines that the IS research paradigms cannot be completely
separated by their methodologies and approaches. On the one hand, the major part of these methodologies and approaches
encompass an interdisciplinary process that fits to more than one paradigm. On the other hand, each paradigm inhibits a key
Proceedings of the Sixteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru, August 12-15, 2010.
Design Science Research: Paradigm or Approach?
approach which depicts its core research direction. For instance, basic and applied research with a data collection related to
interviews and a strict focus on theory-building goals can be clearly sorted into the interpretive paradigm.
In the second section we discussed that DSR is derived from the engineering discipline and depicts the science of the
artificial (March and Smith, 1995; Simon, 1969). Thereby, the major goals of DSR are the building and evaluation of an IT
artifact to solve a real world problem (Hevner et al., 2004). As a consequence, DSR can be sorted into the socio-technologist
or developmentalist paradigm (Gregg et al., 2001). In our opinion, this conclusion is true but DSR is not equal to this
paradigm. DSR is not matured enough to represent the whole developmentalist paradigm but has the potential to support it.
We conclude that DSR is one possible approach of the socio-technologist or developmentalist paradigm but is not limited to
it. DSR is most effective when the researcher and practitioners shift between pragmatic and critical realist perspectives
(Bunge, 1984). Thereby, an important step of DSR is the evaluation of the IT artifact. Hence, DSR can also encompass
elements of a positivist paradigm (e.g. for the evaluation) or an interpretive paradigm (e.g. for the identification of the initial
requirements). These directions depend on the researcher’s point of view and his aspired goals.
This section provides a brief overview of the cited articles in this paper. As mentioned before, DSR has …
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