[AISWorld] A small revolution in the IS field

Sullivan, John J. jjsullivan at usf.edu
Thu Jan 3 10:53:40 EST 2013

First, let me say that this was an eye-opener when I first read it, and took great courage to bring this issue to light.  It seems that promotion and tenure objectives compete with a desire to pursue academic ideals (my apologies, competing objectives are a big component of my research).  So, our practical side tempers the aspirations of our idealistic side.

Also, wouldn't practical application of research be of greater value (e.g. better knowledge) to practitioners in our field?  It has been my experience that we don't seem to place as high a value on practical application of our theories as we do the theories themselves.  Isn't it better knowledge for our field if our research inspires techniques that help managers run better projects, reduce waste, develop better systems?

Disclaimer: This is just philosophy.  No agenda here.

John J. Sullivan, Ph.D.
School of Information
University of South Florida

From: AISWorld [mailto:aisworld-bounces at lists.aisnet.org] On Behalf Of Robert Johnston
Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2013 9:18 PM
To: Nik R Hassan; AISWorld
Subject: Re: [AISWorld] A small revolution in the IS field

Hi Nik
Thanks for the nice post.
The idea that we do good research but do not produce good knowledge is intriguing.
However, we need to delve further and explain how this can be so.
The observation seems to indication that the (well executed) research methods do not fit the phenomena being studied. To me, this is because much of IS research is attempting to apply reductionist methods to a holistic phenomenon, namely the embeddedness of technologies in human practices.
Cheers Johno
Robert B. Johnston
Professor of Information and Organisation
School of Business
University College Dublin

Mail: 81 Hunter St. Richmond, VIC, Australia. 3121
Email: Robert.Johnston at ucd.ie<mailto:Robert.Johnston at ucd.ie> <Robert.Johnston at ucd.ie<mailto:Robert.Johnston at ucd.ie>>
Mobile: +61 414 493 255
Skype: johno.home
----- Original Message -----
From: Nik R Hassan<mailto:nhassan at d.umn.edu>
To: AISWorld<mailto:aisworld at lists.aisnet.org>
Sent: Monday, December 31, 2012 6:32 AM
Subject: [AISWorld] A small revolution in the IS field

A small revolution in the IS field

As we approach the end of yet another year in the history of the IS field, I'd like to say how glad I was to have attended ICIS this year. It may just be me, but I think I just witnessed a small revolution taking place (at least in North America) in the field. I heard IS scholars making unconventional remarks I have not heard before. I enclose some quotes, and what went through my mind in parenthesis [I am just reporting - please don't shoot the messenger :-) ].

[Varun*] "We can do very good research, but that doesn't mean we are producing good knowledge ... can we create 'better' knowledge?... exciting, innovative and addressing important questions of our time"

(wha... [my jaw dropping] did Varun just say what I thought he said?? He's admitting we're not producing good knowledge?)

[Varun] "are we scripting the way we do research....requiring us to select a theory and apply it to our phenomena, create a mid-level model and then refine it ... add mediators and moderators to it ... Does this script work for good knowledge?"

(Wow ... I kinda think everyone knew that was the game, the standard publishing script, and I was taught exactly that in school, but to hear a scholar say it in public and analyze it ... cool!)

[Bernard**] "I've been looking back at all the work that I've done... I don't think I've done enough ... We really should be doing research to resolve significant global problems...

(if Bernard feels he hasn't contributed much, how much have the rest of us done?)

[Bernard] ... at NUS, we've put together an inter-disciplinary team and received a big grant using social media to reduce pests ... and increase food production ... Let's not be too fixated about whether MISQ or ISR would publish such research ... let's target our work at Nature or Science .... to earn the respect of others outside our community

(that's easy for him to say, he's already published tons in MISQ and ISR. But isn't there something wrong with the picture? Isn't research that's frequently published in the top journals of the field that's supposed to make their way to journals like Science and Nature? What does that say about our "normal" research?)

[Manju**]  "After we have had the satisfaction of publishing in MISQ or ISR, and at least after making tenure and Full, it is time to start thinking about researching big ideas that make a difference "

(Publishing 2-3 papers in MISQ and ISR, and getting full professor is going to take at least 10-20 years out of the most productive years of anyone's life, if they're fortunate enough to get there. Shouldn't those most productive years already be spent in researching big ideas? Shouldn't big ideas be some part of getting a full professorship in IS?)

[Steven Alter in a follow up email]
Our ICIS panel "DSR ... remind me again about whether it is a new research paradigm or a rationale of last resort ..." chaired by Allen Lee, with Steven Alter, Helmut Krcmar, and Mike Chiasson ... remarks similar to Varun ... that DSR is increasingly governed by a script that makes papers easier to review but ... becoming an obstacle to genuine innovation ... script encourages DSR researchers to do design-related work in a way in which few if any designers actually design things in the real world, which is especially unfortunate for a type of research that is called design SCIENCE research."

All of these remarks are making me rethink about the notion of "value" in our work (not to be confused with "usefulness" or "utility"). It's close to "relevance" but since relevance has so much baggage attached to it, perhaps we should be taking a closer look at what valuable research really means.

What kind of IS research is valuable anyway?

Nik Rushdi Hassan
Univ of Minnesota Duluth
Chair SIG Philosophy

*Varun Grover and Kalle Lyytinen presented at the SIG Philosophy Workshop at ICIS on "IS Theory-State of the Art" - available soon on the SIG Philosophy homepage

**Bernard Tan and Manju Ahuja presented at the Senior Scholars Panel at ICIS 2012 chaired by Fred Niederman

Nik R. Hassan, PhD
Assoc. Professor, Finance & MIS Dept.
Labovitz School of Business and Economics
University of Minnesota Duluth
1318 Kirby Drive, LSBE 335Q
Duluth MN 55812
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