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gregor_07_design_theory - The Anatomy of a Design Theory...

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Volume 8 Article 2 Issue 5 The Anatomy of a Design Theory Shirley Gregor The Australian National University [email protected] David Jones Central Queensland University [email protected] Design work and design knowledge in Information Systems (IS) is important for both research and practice. Yet there has been comparatively little critical attention paid to the problem of specifying design theory so that it can be communicated, justified, and developed cumulatively. In this essay we focus on the structural components or anatomy of design theories in IS as a special class of theory. In doing so, we aim to extend the work of Walls, Widemeyer and El Sawy (1992) on the specification of information systems design theories (ISDT), drawing on other streams of thought on design research and theory to provide a basis for a more systematic and useable formulation of these theories. We identify eight separate components of design theories: (1) purpose and scope, (2) constructs, (3) principles of form and function, (4) artifact mutability, (5) testable propositions, (6) justificatory knowledge (kernel theories), (7) principles of implementation, and (8) an expository instantiation. This specification includes components missing in the Walls et al. adaptation of Dubin (1978) and Simon (1969) and also addresses explicitly problems associated with the role of instantiations and the specification of design theories for methodologies and interventions as well as for products and applications. The essay is significant as the unambiguous establishment of design knowledge as theory gives a sounder base for arguments for the rigor and legitimacy of IS as an applied discipline and for its continuing progress. A craft can proceed with the copying of one example of a design artifact by one artisan after another. A discipline cannot. Keywords: design theory, design science, constructive research, philosophy of science, information systems, information technology, artifacts, theory structure Volume 8, Issue 5, Article 2, pp. 312-335, May 2007
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The Anatomy of a Design Theory 313 Issue 5 Volume 8 Article 2 1. Introduction It is difficult to over-emphasize the significance of design work and design knowledge in Information Systems (IS) for both research and practice. Theories for design and action continue to be highly influential in IS, despite the fact that they are not always recognized as theories. Some seminal examples include structured systems analysis (Gane and Sarson, 1979) and the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) model. Design theories also give prescriptions for the architecture of specific applications, such as decision support systems (Turban and Aronson, 2001), a type of knowledge that forms a large part of curricula in IS, software engineering, and computer science education. Moreover, this knowledge has vital relevance to practitioners working with information systems. As van Aken (2004, p. 220) argues eloquently, one needs prescription-driven research that provides solutions for management problems in addition to description-
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