Alan R. Hevner, Salvatore
March, Jinsoo Park & Sudha Ram talk with
ScienceWatch.com and answer a few questions about
this month's Emerging Research Front Paper in the field of
Economics & Business.
Article: Design science in Information Systems
AR;March, ST;Park, J;Ram, S
Journal: MIS QUART, 28 (1): 75-105 MAR 2004
Addresses: Univ S Florida, Coll Business Adm, Tampa, FL
Univ S Florida, Coll Business Adm, Tampa, FL 33620
Vanderbilt Univ, Owen Grad Sch Management, Nashville, TN
Korea Univ, Coll Business Adm, Seoul 136701, South
Univ Arizona, Eller Coll Business & Publ Adm, Tucson,
AZ 85721 USA.
In October 2005, this paper was featured as a Fast Breaking paper with
comments provided by
Alan Hevner. Three years later, we now have the
opportunity to reflect on the previous comments and evaluate the paper's
further impacts. All co-authors of the paper have contributed to the
Why do you think your paper is highly
The broad impact of the 2004 MISQ paper continues to be strong as
researchers in the Information Systems field recognize the value design
science brings to a research project. Design science offers an effective
means of addressing the relevancy gap that has plagued academic research,
particularly in the management and information systems disciplines.
Natural science research methods are appropriate for the study of existing
and emergent phenomena; however, they are insufficient for the study of
"wicked organizational problems," the type of problems that require
creative, novel, and innovate solutions. Such problems are more effectively
addressed using the type of paradigm shift offered by design science.
Researchers in application domains as disparate as health care, E-commerce,
biology, transportation, and the arts identify the key role of designed
artifacts in improving domain-specific systems and processes. The models
and guidelines of our paper support researchers in bringing a rigorous
design science research process into projects that heretofore had not
clearly described how new ideas become embedded in purposeful artifacts and
then how those artifacts are field-tested in real-world environments.
As another far-reaching consequence of the article, the design science
guidelines described in this paper have provided a structured path for
doctoral students interested in using this methodology in their research;
structuring, and legitimizing of their research.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
As previously described, our goal in the paper is to position design
science research in the IS field as an equal, complementary partner to the
more prevalent behavioral science research paradigm. The key contribution
is a new way of thinking about what makes IS research relevant to its
various audiences of managers, practitioners, and peer researchers in
related fields. Design must be informed by appropriate theories that
explain or predict human behavior; however, these may be insufficient to
enable the development and adaptation of effective organizational
Scientific theories may explain existing or emergent organizational
phenomena related to extant organizational forms and artifacts but they
cannot account for the qualitative novelty achieved by human intention,
creativity, and innovation in the design and appropriation of such
artifacts. That is, science, the process of understanding "what is," may be
insufficient for design, the process of understanding "what can be."
How would you summarize the significance of your
paper in layman's terms?
Upon further reflection, we would add that the paper has significance due
to the natural desire of researchers to improve things. For some, it is not
enough to study and understand why nature is as it is, but we also want to
know how we can improve the way it is. Design science research attempts to
focus creativity into the design and construction of artifacts that have
utility in application environments.
Design as a research paradigm focuses on the construction and evaluation of
novel artifacts that enable the solution of important problems for which
extant theory and design knowledge are inadequate. It utilizes theory and
design knowledge but is fundamentally a creative activity in which
knowledge is acquired through the building and use of novel problem-solving
artifacts. That knowledge must be tested through the evaluation of the
Rigorous testing results in a demonstration that the design can be utilized
to solve real problems. Designs have no special dispensation from the laws
of nature. Hence, natural science research methods are utilized to gain an
understanding of why a design works and to specify contingencies upon it.
The resultant theories provide principles that can then become part of the
"best practice." However, because organizations and the environments in
which they operate are social constructions, such "design theories" are
perishable. That is, they are subject to change as the social reality
There may, in fact, be no immutable "laws of organizational design" to be
discovered and codified. The significance of this observation for academic
researchers is that they must constantly challenge the assumptions that
have characterized research in the management disciplines and they must
recognize that creativity, innovation, and qualitative novelty are a
significant part of the phenomena they study.
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
The four authors and most of our doctoral students have followed the design
science methodology implicitly, so this paper was a natural outcome of our
experiences over the past three decades. With science and engineering
backgrounds, design seemed a natural mode of conducting research intended
to affect practice. Design is fundamental to the management disciplines.
Managers are engaged in the design and implementation of business systems
aimed at improving organizational performance.
A manager's professional responsibility is to transform existing situations
into preferred ones, to shape social organizations and economic processes,
and to create value. Yet research in the management disciplines has been
based primarily on the natural science paradigm. This has been attributed
to the absorption of management schools into the general culture of the
university where the natural science paradigm is the norm for academic
research. Overcoming this bias toward the natural science paradigm has been
and continues to be a challenge.
Where do you see your research leading in the
The broadening recognition of design science research in the IS field has
led to a number of important new activities and research directions:
A new, multi-disciplinary research conference, Design Science
Research in Information Systems & Technology (DESRIST), has
been established and three offerings of the conference have been
held from 2006 to 2008.
A special issue of MISQ on Design Science Research will
appear in 2008.
Most IS doctoral programs in major universities now provide a
research seminar dedicated to design science research methods and
Leading international scholars in IS are actively extending the
research ideas found in the 2004 MISQ paper.
S Gregor and D Jones, "The Anatomy of a Design Theory," Journal
of the AIS 8, 312-35, May 2007.
Iivari J, "A Paradigmatic Analysis of Information Systems as a
Design Science," Scandinavian Journal of Information
Systems 19, 2007.
Peffers K, et al., "A Design Science Research Methodology
for Information Systems Research," Journal of Management
Information Systems 24, 45-77, Winter 2008.
"The broad impact of
the 2004 MISQ paper continues
to be strong as researchers
in the Information Systems
field recognize the value
design science brings to a
Leading research journals and conferences in the IS field are openly
soliciting top-quality design science research contributions and are
expanding their boards to include more senior editors and associate editors
who have used and understand the design science approach. This will
ultimately pave the way for more design science research papers to be
published and thus benefit the whole field by enhancing the relevance of IS
We are excited by the ongoing discussions and increased interest in design
science research projects in the IS field. Information systems and
organizational routines are among the key components of organizational
design as they are extensions of human cognitive capabilities. These are
the tools of knowledge working to enable new organizational forms and
provide management and decision-making support.
For example, incentive structures related to job performance such as
achieving sales, product quality, or customer satisfaction goals require
information gathering and analysis capabilities. Management of outsourcing
and inter-organizational partnerships requires secure information sharing.
Identification of problems and opportunities requires the gathering and
analysis of business intelligence.
More and more frequently, business decisions are made based on a
computer-based analysis and subsequent recommendations. Similarly,
organizational routines are intended to provide guidance to human action
within prescribed organizational contexts. Yet, even these artifacts are
appropriated and adapted by humans in ways and for purposes which the
designers may not have envisioned. With the renewed interest in design
science research in the information systems and organizational science
disciplines, future research will focus on the co-design of information
processing capabilities and organizational structures.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications of your research?
With a goal of improving societal and organizational environments, it is
clear that design science research does include many social and political
implications. Iivari (2007) discusses in some detail the ethical
responsibilities of a design scientist for the consequences of the research
process and results (the designed artifacts). He encourages the questioning
of the values of a design science research project.
Whose interests are served by the improvements introduced into an
environment by these design artifacts? Are other groups disadvantaged by
these new artifacts? The values underlying design science research must be
made as transparent as possible, in order to evaluate the social and
political impacts of the research.
Governments and societies are social constructions, artifacts designed to
achieve human goals, purposes, and intentions, influenced by and operating
within the context of emergent and intentional human behavior. As
information technology artifacts enable new organizational forms in
business they enable new forms in government and in society as a whole.
Designers must be concerned about the unintended effects of artifacts they
have developed. Information technology artifacts such as the Internet,
electronic social networks, communication media, electronic commerce, and
large-scale electronic collaboration systems have had significant positive
and negative impacts on government and society. They have made government
more accessible and have also greatly improved the availability of
information. Yet they raise serious privacy and security concerns. These
are issues that researchers working in the field of design science must
Alan R. Hevner
University of South Florida
Tampa, FL, USA
Nashville, TN, USA
Seoul National University
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ, USA
Keywords: design science, design science methodology, design
theories, information systems, development adaptation effective
organizational artifacts, emergent organizational phenomena, natural
science research methods, natural science paradigms, laws organizational
design, information technology artifacts.