Action research and design science

Arjan Knol

With the upcoming seminar of Jaap Boonstra about action inquiry and research in mind, this conversation starter is about action research and design science.

Both the design science and action research methods aim to achieve more relevant research in the IS research field while contributing to academia also (e.g. Hevner & Chatterjee, 2010; Baskerville & Wood-Harper, 1996). According to Hevner & Chatterjee (2010), design research and action research methods are closely related. They clarify that criteria of action research are also found in design science research, and, vice versa, criteria of design science research are also found in action research (see table 1 and 2 below). They conclude that it is intriguing that in the IS field the two research approaches have taken no note of the other, while so many similarities are identified.

Action research criterion Evidence found in the design science exemplar
1. The principle of research-client agreement No explicit research-client agreement but clear evidence of motivational factors
2. The principle of cyclical process model Iterative design / evaluate process followed
3. The principle of theory Theory played central role in artefact development and theoretical contribution was made
4. The principle of change through action Behavioural change evident at both the individual and organisational levels
5. The principle of learning through reflection No explicit evidence of progress reporting but evidence of strong client engagement; reporting of research outcomes

Table 1: application of action research criteria to a design science exemplar (adapted from Hevner & Chatterjee, 2010)

Design science criterion Evidence found in the action research exemplar
1. Design as an artefact Instantiation of software process initiative models and methods (implicit)
2. Problem relevance Clear evidence of relevance due to high resource commitment by organisations involved
3. Design evaluation Evaluation based on utility to practitioners
4. Research contributions Several theoretical contributions present
5. Research rigor Explicit discussion of adherence to canonical criteria and logic behind SPI
6. Design as a search process Four cyclical process model cycles executed before the risk management approach was evaluated as stable and usable
7. Communication of research Results were communicated to both practitioners and researchers

Table 2: application of design science criteria to an action research exemplar (adapted from Hevner & Chatterjee, 2010)

In my presentation at the midyear symposium last December, the advice was given to adopt an action research approach instead of a design science research approach. With the identified similarities in table 1 and 2 above I wonder what the difference is between the two approaches. Why should I choose for an action research approach for my research, in which I aim to enhance sourcing decisions with a decision enhancement studio for shared service centres, instead of using a design science research approach?


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