Building Theories in Information Systems


room T003, Aalto University School of Business, Otaniemi (address:  Ekonominaukio 1)


Registration is open until May 30. 


Professor Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa, Bayless/Refsnes Chair in Business Administration, Professor of Information Systems, University of Texas at Austin


The explosion in academic scholarship has rendered theories ever more relevant and critical in scholarly communications just as theory building is undergoing rapid changes. The process has become more versatile leveraging meta theories, combining and dissecting mid-ranged theories, synthesizing existing empirical literature as well as deploying data driven theory approaches. This versatility in theoretical approaches is much needed to understand the complex digital technology phenomena in areas  such as artificial intelligence, IoT,  blockchain technologies, metaverse, edge computing, and others. These digital technology  are associated with digitization and disruption of business and social innovation, entrepreneurial processes, products and services that are creating various forms of capital (knowledge, human, social, and financial);  new organizational, network, and community structures;  a new cadre of business models, platforms, social movements, new human learning models, institutional policy and logics, and so on. Digital  transformations and disruptions introduce a variety of new behavioral, social, legal and economic problems, opportunities, and phenomena that provide theorizing opportunities.

This seminar invites Ph.D. students, postdocs, junior as well as seasoned scholars to rehearse and practice theorizing around a significant digital phenomenon, process, problem, or opportunity of their interest. We will discuss (1) exemplar articles that advance theory on digital phenomena, (2) discuss various theory building approaches, and (3) practice   theory building through a series of exercises on the participant’s chosen  question/problem/opportunity.  

Preparation (Before the Seminar)

Read the articles and complete two assignments




Identify a journal or conference paper  that you consider advancing new novel theory in the Information Systems field



Complete Assignment 1 for your chosen theory paper. Send to Instructor


Complete Assignment 2. Bring 5 copies of your two-page response


Complete the readings



Assignment 1:

Complete a matrix for the chosen theory article. This theory article would be published research. I recommend finding an article that you consider an exemplar theory article in your research area. Make sure that you can argue that the article makes a theoretical contribution.

A theory contribution aims to develop new arguments and extend existing arguments about relationships between units or approximated in the empirical world based on concepts and logical connections to address the questions of how, when, and why (Bacharach, 1989).

The matrix consists of the following columns: 0) Complete reference, 1) practical problem, 2) theoretical motivation, 3) research question, 4) theory logic including causal mechanisms, or process model, 5) identity and justify novel parts, 6)  theoretical contribution, 7) key theory learning/lessons, 8) weaknesses, 9) remedies for weaknesses. 

If some columns do not apply to your chosen article, please reflect briefly why they are not relevant for your chosen article.

Send (1) a copy of your chosen article and (2) your matrix to the instructor by June 16 5 p.m.EEST  ( Be ready to  present your assignment on June 19.

Assignment 2:

Assignment #2 is for each seminar participant’s own research-in-progress or planned research that they want to work on during the seminar. 

Describe the problem or opportunity that motivated the research question (a paragraph). Think of "P" practical problem. 

Give a concrete instance of this problem. You can refer to some real case example or draft a fictionous but a compelling instance. Provide  "a story" with details such as  context (e.g., where and when), actors, initial conditions, process, outcomes, consequences etc. Vividness of the example helps you uncover assumptions you are making. (Check whether you want to focus the question on the assumptions itself)

State a research question (need to be stated clearly and unambiguously in question form). Preferably the question starts with "how" or "why" (avoid questions that start "Whether" or "Do" or "Does").

Max of 2 pages. Bring (five) hard copies of your answers to the seminar on Monday morning June 19.


Detailed Program

Day 1: Getting Started


Session 1: 9:00 – 12:00  Choosing your Path to Making a Theoretical contribution

This session discusses the different paths to make a theoretical contribution and advance the key components of your theoretical contribution




9:00– 10:15

Discovering/determining your path to making a theoretical contribution

Gregor (2006)

Rivard (2014)

Sutton and Staw (1995)

Alvesson and Sandberg (2011)

Makadok, Burton and Barney (2018)

Shepherd and Suddaby (2017)

Skim: Fisher and Aguinis (2017)

10:15 – 10:30

Coffee break


Advance the key components of your theoretical contribution

Session 2: 1:00 – 17:00  Developing Rough Theoretical Model and Clarify its Nature and Form

This session focuses on refining the theoretical model and developing the style that you will use to make the key arguments.  





Refinement of the theoretical model

Cornelissen (2017)

BurtonJones et al (2014)

Markus and Rowe (2019)

Fischer et al (2021)

SKIM: Negoita et al (2018)

SKIM: Jarvenpaa and Majchrzak (2016)

Skim: Furnari et al (2021)


14:15– 14:

Coffee break


Clarify nature and form 


Share your work with colleagues and get feedback


Day 2:  Advancing your Nascent Theory and Grounding It

Session 3: 9:00 – 12:00  Developing the Foundation for your Theoretical Model

This session focuses on how to identify the key literatures that are foundational to your theorizing.  The session also provides guidance on positioning your theoretical contribution.   





Theoretical Background and Foundation

Barney (2018)

Gregory & Henfridsson (2021)


Coffee break


Writing the Introduction 

Session 4: 1:00-3:00 

This session focuses on how to communicate its relevance and value to the broader information systems field. 





Discussion and Implications

Nadkarni et al (2018);

Discussing the Implications;

Mohajeri and Leidner (2017)







  • Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36, 2, 247-271.
  • Barney, J. 2018. Positioning a Theory paper for publication. Academy of Management
  • Burton-Jones, A., McLean, E.R., and Monod, E. Theoretical Perspectives in IS Research: from Variance and Process to Conceptual Latitude and Conceptual Fit, European Journal of Information Systems, 2014.
  • Cornelissen, J. (2017). Editor's comments: Developing propositions, a process model, or a typology? Addressing the challenges of writing theory without a boilerplate. Academy of Management Review, 42(1), 1-9.
  • Fisher, G. and Aguinis, H. Using Theory Elaboration to Make Theoretical Advancements.  Organizational Research Methods. 2017.
  • Fisher, G., Mayer, K., & Morris, S. (2021). From the Editors—Phenomenon-Based Theorizing. Academy of Management Review, 46(4), 631-639.
  • Furnari, S. et al. Capturing Causal Complexity: Heuristics for Configurational Theorizing. Academy of Management Review, 46 (4). 2021.
  • Gregor, S. 2006. The Nature of Theory in Information Systems, MIS Quarterly, 30(3), 611-642.
  • Gregory, R. W., & Henfridsson, O. (2021). Bridging Art and Science: Phenomenon-Driven Theorizing. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 22(6), 1509-1523. 
  • Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Majchrzak, A. (2016). Interactive self-regulatory theory for sharing and protecting in interorganizational collaborations. Academy of Management Review41(1), 9-27.
  • Makadok, R., Burton, R., & Barney, J. (2018). A practical guide for making theory contributions in strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 39(6), 1530-1545.
  • Markus, M.L. and Rowe, F. Is IT Changing the World? Conceptions of Causality for Information Systems Theorizing, MIS Quarterly, 2019.
  • Mohajeri K, Leidner D (2017) Towards a typology of relevance. Bui T,ed. Proc. 50th Hawaii Internat. Conf. System Sci. (AIS Electronic Library, Atlanta), 5783–5792.
  • Nadkarni et al. 2018. New Ways of Seeing: Radical Theorizing, Academy of Management Journal
  • Negoita, B., Lapointe, L., Rivard, S. 2018. Collective Information Systems Use: A Typological Theory. MIS Quarterly, 42, 4, 1281-1301.
  • Rivard, S. (2014). Editor’s comments: The ions of theory construction, MIS Quarterly, 38, 2, ii-xii.
  • Shephard, D.A. and Suddaby, R. 2017. Theory Building: A Review and Integration,  Journal of Management.
  • Sutton, R.I. and Staw, B.M., “What Theory is Not,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 1995, 40(3), 371-384.

Credit points

Doctoral students participating in the seminar can obtain 3 credit points. This requires participating and completing the assignment. Instructions for the assignment will be given at the seminar.

Registration fee

This seminar is free-of-charge for member organization's staff and their PhD students. For others the participation fee is 400 €. The participation fee includes access to the event and the event materials. Lunch and dinner are not included.