Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 34 Number 3 2017 pp. 630-632

Special Issue: Action Research in Information Systems

Avison, David, Kock, Ned, and Malaurent, Julien

DAVID AVISON ([email protected]; corresponding author) is Distinguished Professor at ESSEC Business School, Cergy-Pontoise, France. Along with his authorship of research papers, he is the coauthor or coeditor of several textbooks. He was founding coeditor of Information Systems Journal. He is a past president of the Association for Information Systems and a program cochair of the International Conference on Information Systems. He was also chair of the IFIP 8.2 group on the impact of information systems/information technology on organizations, and was awarded the IFIP Silver Core and is Fellow of the AIS.

NED KOCK ([email protected]) is Killam Distinguished Professor and chair of the Division of International Business and Technology Studies in the Sanchez School of Business, Texas A&M International University. He holds a Ph.D. in management. He is the developer of WarpPLS, a widely-used nonlinear variance-based structural equation modeling software. His work has been published in several journals, including Communications of the ACM, MIS Quarterly, and Organization Science.

JULIEN MALAURENT ([email protected]) is an associate professor at ESSEC Business School. He has published in a number of journals, including European Journal of Information Systems, Information and Management, and Information Systems Journal. He is a senior editor of the Information Systems Journal.

In this Special Issue, we showcase the importance of action research (AR) in information systems (IS). Our general requirement for accepting articles consisted of ensuring that each study positively addressed at least one of two questions: (1) does the study provide significant novel contributions and insights to those readers who are presently interested in AR or might do AR in the future inspired by the Special Issue, and (2) does the study illustrate the potential of AR to generate novel and potentially high-impact insights in the field of information systems (IS). The Special Issue as a whole provides readers with exemplars of research giving new insights into IS, which employs AR as the main research approach, as well as offering insights into the action research approach itself.

In their study, Corey Baham, Rudy Hirschheim, Andres A. Calderon, and Victoria Kisekka use AR in a large enterprise to explore the use of agile methodology to aid the recovery of complex systems in catastrophic scenarios. By being the first study to look at agile methodology to aid disaster recovery, it offers significant contributions to IS research. The combination of three AR approaches (classic, canonical, and dialogical) to empirically test the agile methodology in a disaster recovery event also provides a unique contribution to AR. Further, the authors discuss the relationship between researchers and practitioners during this process.

Aaron Baird, Elizabeth Davidson, and Lars Mathiassen describe a lengthy AR project that supported the assimilation of electronic health records by 10 physicians in small primary health-care practices through a community-of-practice intervention. The study justifies the use of AR for this project and draws on the organizational learning literature to develop a model of reflective technology assimilation in which the community-of-practice facilitates learning by the physicians. The study’s novel contribution is to show how we can enhance social contexts for interactions between professionals to facilitate effective assimilation of systems within and across organizational practices.

The article by Rajendra Singh, Vitali Mindel, and Lars Mathiassen describes a project by the researchers in which they worked with a hospital to improve the hospital’s billing and payment processes. Health information systems have proved to be a significant application area for action research. New processes were put in place relating to daily error correction, problem tracking through a trouble ticket-like system, and the reallocation of responsibility for problems. The project design and implementation proved to be a low-cost integrated system appropriate to a rural hospital with limited finances. The interventions are analyzed using relational coordination theory to provide insights into how information technology (IT) can improve communication, coordination, and performance. The study also illustrates how rich data can be gathered through action research.

Shirley Ou Yang, Carol Hsu, Suprateek Sarker, and Allen S. Lee describe an AR project taking place at a bank in Taiwan over 17 months mainly based on dialogical research. The study takes the reader through three iterations, with a different theoretical approach each time. The theoretical contributions include showing how knowledge creation facilitates organizational transformation in the context of operational risk, and the conditions under which insights from reflective dialogues between practitioners and researchers can encourage managers to open themselves to new and different ways of thinking and acting. A central lesson from the study is that there is a need to frame “risk management as knowledge management” to develop an effective operational risk management program in a financial institution. The researchers attribute this lesson to the use of dialogical AR.

As evidenced by this issue and by the published IS action research more generally, most AR studies are interpretive. But AR can also be positivist, and this might be particularly appropriate for doctoral studies. Following an introduction to the cyclical nature of AR and a discussion on how AR contrasts with other major IS research approaches such as experimental research, survey research, and case research, the final article by Ned Kock, David Avison, and Julien Malaurent highlights the potential methodological obstacles that action researchers using a positivist approach are likely to face, discusses two important advantages of employing AR in positivist IS investigations, and gives guidelines for conducting positivist AR successfully. As stated in the conclusion: “we do not believe that IS AR should always be conducted in a positivist fashion, but we do believe that IS AR can be done in ways that would be seen as acceptable by positivist researchers” [p. 766, italics in the original].

The Special Issue as a whole provides readers with instances of excellent research using AR that informs the IS community. It demonstrates the richness of AR and its potential for unique contributions to IS research, contributions that are not easily achieved using alternative approaches. We hope the presented work excites and motivates readers to delve further into this approach and to contemplate doing AR themselves. As experienced action researchers, we hope we have communicated our enthusiasm for this research approach and inspired readers to do a kind of research where contributions are made to theory while improving IS practice, thereby fulfilling the goal of rigor and relevance in IS research.


We gratefully acknowledge our Board of Editors who also acted as associate editors for the Special Issue: Richard Baskerville, Kristin Braa, Mike Chiassen, Robert Davison, Matt Germonprez, Allen Lee, Maris Martinsons, Lars Mathiassen, Darren Meister, Michael Myers, Peter Axel Nielsen, Suprateek Sarker, and Trevor Wood-Harper, and also our excellent team of reviewers: Jeff Babb, Aaron M. Baird, Alexandra Durcikova, Amany Elbanna, Dirk Hovorka, Carol Hsu, Mala Kaul, Mari Klara-Stein, Rajiv Kohli, Feng-Yang Kuo, Francis Lau, Sune Dueholm Müller, Ojelanki Ngwenyama, Karin Olesen, Jan Pries-Heje, M.N. Ravishankar, Meera Sarma, Leiser Silva, Patrick Stacey, and Doug Vogel.