Workshop Series: Andrew Burton-Jones
Abstract There has been growing interest in theory building in information systems. We extend this literature by examining theory building approaches. We define an approach as a researcher’s choice of the types of concepts and relationships used to construct the theory, and we examine three approaches: process, variance, and systems. Although each one has been used in past literature, discussions of them show some confusion. For instance, some researchers suggest that there are only two approaches (process and variance). Others imply that one’s epistemological orientation (such as positivist or interpretive) or goal (such as understanding or prediction) determines one’s approach. Finally, others suggest that theories should be developed using one approach only (such as a pure variance or pure process approach). In contrast to these views, we explain why there is no one-to-one correspondence between one’s approach and one’s methodology, epistemology, or theoretical goal, and we explain why researchers can often benefit from combining approaches. We also suggest different ways of combining approaches and illustrate how they can be used to improve research on information systems success. Overall, our paper contributes by
- clarifying the approaches that researchers can use to build theory,
- freeing researchers from strictures that they may perceive when building theories, and
- illustrating the feasibility of our suggestions for an important research domain.
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Andrew Burton-Jones is an Assistant Professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a B. Comm. with First Class Honours and M. Inf. Sys. from the University of Queensland and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University. He has three research streams. His first stream seeks a deeper understanding of how information systems are used in organizations, and how they could be used more effectively. His second focuses on improving methods used to analyze and design information systems. His third centers on improving theories and methods used in the information systems research. He has published in, and serves on the editorial boards of, Journal of the Association for Information Systems, Information Systems Research, and MIS Quarterly, and he has received several awards for his research, teaching, and service. Prior to his academic career, he was a senior consultant in a Big-4 consulting firm.