Design science research – design or science?

ImageAs far as this workshop is concerned, design science (DS) has enticed me particularly for its (realised?) potential to become a signature research method for the field of IS. Iivari in one paper argues that DS may as well be a separate research paradigm for its focus on problem solving and utility instead of truth seeking. Of course, not everyone agrees with this argument. But, my astonishment with DS stemmed from its ability to showcase the strength of studies in IS field.  

Studies in the IS field can offer insights on how technologies can shape and be shaped by social environment, or commonly referred to socio-technical systems. While behaviourist studies are equally important to help us make sense of the world, I believe DS research (done rigorously) is one that will make improvement to the development of the world (as it has been through studies in engineering) because of the artifact creation. And IS field, in this respect, can offer most useful insights due to its strength in examining technology and human in sociomaterial practice. In the middle of continuing discourse about the nature of contribution of IS studies, DS is truly promising.    

But, DS itself is still evolving as noted by Ron Weber in his book chapter. Despite the growing consensus on certain aspects of the method, there are a lot of disagreement on many areas, including the underpinning paradigm. At this stage, I don’t like to discuss the debate on research paradigm, but I’d like to point out that the researcher’s paradigm will certainly impact the way DS is conducted and evaluated (isn’t that obvious?). 

My point being that a valid justification must be carefully crafted when doing DS in interpretivist or positivist way (assuming DS is not considered as a fourth paradigm). For example, in an interpretive DS research, the artifact will never get to generalise as the paradigm does not allow us to do that. In contrary, we must remember that DS is a science because it aims to solve a ‘class’ of problem instead of a problem.

On a rather similar note, I remember in the second workshop Frada (the lecturer & my supervisor) said that the term DS is in fact not highly adopted in other field (e.g. engineering, medicine) where artifact-ish research has been done extensively. I haven’t got the chance to follow up this statement, but this makes me more believing that DS can be (or has been) a signature research method in IS. 

However, I am not best convinced that DS is a one-for-all method. I echo Richard Baskerville’s statement in one of his papers in action research saying that some research methods may answer some research questions better than others and vice versa. In fact, I am still half-bought with the idea of doing DS in an interpretive research. As described earlier, I have problems with DS being a science if it is conducted in an interpretive way. This is similar to my thinking as to why ‘social science’ has to have the label ‘science’ in it if the subject is truly social and constructivist? 

To wrap up, I like DS, but circumstances will decide whether it fits to my research questions. As of now, my study is interpretive and qualitative and I can’t see my artifact can be more than a model. Further, my initial curiosity to the topic of my PhD research is to understand the phenomena and to be able to theorise in order to explain the phenomena. Thus, despite all research is a matter of problem solving, I haven’t seen how DS could fit along this line of inquiry.


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