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The main objective of this paper is to provide a context for understanding the symbiosis between design science and natural science; discuss the IT research framework designed by (March & Smith, 1995) and apply it to the Socrates article by (Flensburg, 1980) .We shall first place the scope of this article within one or more of the 16 cells in the March & Smith framework and give motivations why. Furthermore, critical analysis of the article shall be undertaken based on the guidelines as prescribed by (Henever et al, 2004) to determine the strength and weakness of the article. Seven guidelines have been proposed by (Hevner et al, 2004) to assist researchers in evaluation and understanding effective design research in information systems. These guidelines are what we shall use to understand and evaluate the Socrates article as well as judge the weakness and strength of the article.
Research involves a systematic approach to an investigation with the aim of solving a problem. Therefore suitable research methods are needed to guide the investigation. The design science approach provides a suitable and comprehensive framework for the design and the analysis of artificial phenomena such as organizations or information systems. It defines the research subjects and the methods applied to the study subject in order to systematically enhance the body of knowledge. The motivation for the (March & Smith, 1995) article came about as an attempt to recognise the importance of both design and natural science. Disciplines involving Information systems seemed to be caught in the middle in the aforementioned paradigms of scientific research. This middle ground that IT researchers found themselves in caused a division of interest and difficulty in reaching a consensus as to what constitutes genuine scientific research in this field. March and Smith proposed that the two scientific areas of difference do not have to be at logger heads with each other but rather argued the legitimacy of both because they potentially feed off from each other.
2. IT Research
There are two paradigms of scientific interests in IT ± descriptive and prescriptive research (March & Smith 1995, P.252). The descriptive research can be derived from natural science and behavioural research, while prescriptive research is related to design science. In this section, we shall expound on the two scientific interests to better understand the March & Smith IT research framework.
2.1 Descriptive Research
Descriptive research is a knowledge-producing activity corresponding to natural science whose aim is to understand the nature of IT. Wikipedia describes descriptive research as statistical research that answers the questions who, what, where, when and how (Natural Science, 2011). Hevner et al put it eloquently by further stating that this SHUVSHFWLYH RI UHVHDUFK ³ seeks to develop and justify theories that explain or predict organizational and human phenomena surrounding the analysis, design, implementation, management, and use of information systems. (Hevner et al, 2004) ´. Fig 2.0a demonstrates the aforementioned statement in relation to the behavioural research bubble.
2.2 Prescriptive Research
Prescriptive research aims at improving IT performance and corresponds to design science (March & Smith. 1995, P.252). The idea of design science can be attributed to papers by (Simon, 1996), in which he states that ³LW is possible to create a science of the artificial as an analogue to natural science ´ (Simon, 1996).In prescriptive research, progress is not achieved until existing technologies are replaced by more effective ones. Design science attempts to create things that serve human purposes while natural science tries to understand the reality. By applying and producing knowledge of tasks or situations, design scientist can create effective artefacts. This paradigm of research consists of two basic activities ± build and evaluate. Building is the process of constructing an artefact for a specific purpose. Evaluation, on the other hand, is the process of determining how well or not so well the artefact performs in the given environment.
In reference to fig 2.0a, you will note that the creation of these artefacts depends on the behavioural theories which are applied in design research.
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Fig 2.0a Relationship between design research and behavioural research
2.3 March& Smith IT Research Framework
Instead of taking sides as to which of the methods of research is superior to the other when undergoing a scientific research, (March & Smith, 1995) state that "both design science and natural science activities are needed to insure that IT research is both relevant and effective." March & Smith developed a framework for IT research where there is interaction between design and natural science (see fig 2.1a). The design science contributes to the framework with utility while natural science contributes with theory (March & Smith, p. 255).
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Fig 2.3a IT research framework, source (March & Smith, 1995)
With reference to fig 2.1, the left column is dedicated to design research outputs and consist of constructs, models, methods and instantiations. The row on the top of the figure is based on broad types of design science and natural science research activities; build, evaluate, theorize and justify (March & Smith, p. 256). In order to describe the framework we will do a short review of the individual parts.
Constructs form the vocabulary and shared knowledge of a domain and is important in both natural and design science. Since conceptualizations define the terms used when describing and thinking about a task, it is a critical part of the framework considering reaching mutual understanding. To express the relationship among constructs, a model is used. A model is a set of propositions or statements that describe how things are. Even though natural scientist often use the term as a synonym of truth, the concern of model in this framework is utility and not truth. A method is a set of steps used to perform a task and is based on a set of underlying constructs and representations of the solution space. The natural science does not produce methods, they just use them and it is design science that creates the methodological tools that natural scientists use. An instantiation is the realization of an artefact in its environment and operationalize constructs, models and methods (March & Smith, p.258).