Developing and Validating Process Theory


Information system scholars need to frequently deal with dynamic phenomena as they make inferences concerning process structures or process properties on outcomes (e.g. effects of system design methods on design outcomes). They also deal with phenomena that are contextual, path dependent and involve understanding the effects of specific historic events on the current state or outcome (e.g. the effects of previous competitive moves and their order on the market position). Unfortunately, most of theories and models IS scholars use are poorly equipped in understanding and explaining this sort of phenomena. Therefore  IS community faces a constant need to expand its intellectual terrain and relates tool boxes of with theories and methods that help understand and analyze dynamic and historic events and related process data.

The course seeks to provide an encompassing view of the recent debates around the nature of process theory and its uses in the IS domain. The focus is on theories relevant for IS scholars that view change consisting of a set of discrete events and their sequences.  To this end I will explore pertinent issues in such process theories and process theorizing using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. I also look at pivotal issues in IS research that draw upon this ontological stance like the nature of associated scientific knowledge and process theories, how related process theorizing relates to uses of different research methods, and issues of ontology and epistemology related to process accounts. We will examine the motivation, structure and logic of such process theories and discuss methodological issues related to their formulation and validation. Some specific areas of process theorizing are, however, not covered including longitudinal designs using panel data and related econometric models.

As questions of logic and model validity are somewhat different within process theorizing students must be prepared to deal with alternative, conflicting and ambiguous claims about the discovery and justification of scientific knowledge and theory. The seminar’s overall objective is to prepare students to think critically about the underlying assumptions and day-to-day practices related to conducting process studies and how they affect their theoretical relevance and worth.

The seminar is intensive and requires careful reading of a major works that deal with the nature of process theories, grounding of process theories, and conditions under which process theory emerges.  Obligatory pieces are marked with *. Recommended readings constitute the rest of the material. We expect full participation of all members in a mutual learning process where all participants actively participate in a dialogue with others. Participants are expected to connect the issues raised in the seminar discussions to their own research interests.  Students are expected to submit a written report of their learning experience at specified time.


Thursday 16th and Friday 17th of August

Agora (Ag Alfa), University of Jyväskylä (Mattilanniemi 2, Jyväskylä)


  • Professor Kalle Lyytinen, Iris S. Wollstein

Organizer: Mikko Siponen, University of Oulu


This seminar is free-of-charge for member organization's staff and their PhD-students. For others the participation fee is 700 €. The participation fee includes access to the event and the event materials. Lunch and dinner are not included.


Day 1, Part I  General Nature and Structure of IS / organizational theories (8.00-10.00)

  • structure of theories and constructs
  • logic of theoretical inference
  • variance theories and process theories

Day 1, Part II  Nature and Structure of process theories (10.00-12.00)

  • limitations of variance theories
  • logic of theoretical inference in process theories
  • different ontologies and forms of process theory: incremental / radical; gradual v.s. punctuated change
  • theory as narrative

Day 1, Part III Process theories in IS research (13.00-15.00)

  • evolution of process analysis and models in IS research
  • use of different theory narratives in IS research
  • incremental and punctuated models of processes
  • the scope of process accounts

Day 1, Part IV Engaging in Process theorizing in IS research (15.00-17.00)

  • Students will work in small teams to develop a study plan or to develop a plan how to use their data to develop a process account of their studied phenomenon.

Day 2, Part I Reporting Process theorizing in IS research (8.00-9.00)

  • Discussion and reporting of team work on developing and articulating process theories in studied IS domains
  • Discussion of research designs and challenges associated with data collection and analysis.

Day 2, Part II Introduction to Process analysis and the effect of event sequences on outcomes (9.30-11.30)

  • How to account for the variation and effects of history on outcomes
  • Models of variation in processes
  • The idea of event sequencing and methods of event sequencing

Day 2, Part III Use of process analysis methods to analyze routines (12.30-14.30)

  • Uses of event sequencing methods in IS research
  • Routines as targets of analyzing process variation
  • Configural and sequential variation in processes
  • Configural theories of process change

Day 2, Part IV Engaging process analysis methods in your research (14.30-16.00)

  • Students will work in small teams to develop a study plan or to develop a plan how to collect or use data to develop a sequential analysis of their studied phenomenon.

Day 2, Part V Reporting Event sequence theorizing in IS research

  • Discussion and reporting of team work on developing and articulating  a structural process theory in the studied IS domain
  • Discussion of research designs and challenges associated with data collection and analysis.
  • How to write and report process analysis studies.
  • Specific challenges in collecting data and analyzing them.
  • Use of logs and virtual traces in improving data.


Doctoral students participating in the seminar can obtain credit points. This requires participating on both days and completing the assignments given at the seminar.