Developing and Validating Process Theory


Schedule and location

Monday February 26th - Tuesday February 27th 
Aalto University BIZ (Runeberginkatu 22-24, Helsinki)  Chydenia building, room G109 


Registration is open January 5th - February 15th .


Professor Kalle Lyytinen, Case Western Reserve University.


Professor Virpi Tuunainen,  Aalto University School of Business, Finland.



Information system scholars deal primarily with dynamic phenomena such as implementation processe, system use processes or strategy processes as they make inferences concerning process structures or process properties on outcomes. They also deal with phenomena that are contextual, path dependent and involve understanding the effects of unique 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 rely on variance models and generalized estimations based on population characteristics. These accounts are poorly equipped in understanding and explaining dynamic, contextual phenomena. Therefore IS community faces a constant need to expand its intellectual terrain and related method repertoires 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 state of the art of 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 varying 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 statistical designs using panel data and the use of related econometric models (i.e. autocorrelations, lagged models, or dynamic factor analysis).


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.

Detailed Program

Day 1

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

  • structure of theories and constructs
  • logic of theoretical inference
  • the concept of variance theories and process theories
  • Readings:
    • *Van De Ven: Engaged Scholarship, Oxford University Press, 2007 (pp. 100- 143)
    • *Bacharach S. (1999): Organizational theories: some criteria for evaluation, Academy of Management Review, 14, 4, pp. 496-515
    •  *Sutton R., Staw B., What Theory is Not, ASQ, 40, 1995, pp. 371-384
    • Weick K., What theory is Not, Theorizing Is,  ASQ, 40, (1995), pp. 385-390
    • DiMaggio P., Comments on ‘What Theory is Not’. ASQ, 40, (1995), pp. 391-397 


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
  • Readings:
    • *Van De Ven: Engaged Scholarship, Oxford University Press, 2007 (143-231)
    • *Langley A. (1999), Strategies for Theorizing from Process Data, Academy of Management Review, 24,4, 691-710.  
    • *Pentland B. (1999), Building Process Theory with Narrative: From description to explanation, Academy of Management Review,  24, 4, 711-724.
    • Pettigrew, A. (1990), Longitudinal Field Research on Change: Theory and Practice, Organiz­ation Science, 1, 3, 267-292.
    • Gersick, C. (1991), Revolutionary Change Theories: A Multilevel Explora­tion of the Punctuated Equilibrium Paradigm Academy of Management Review, 16, 1, 10–36.
    • Van de Ven, A.H. & Huber, G.P. (1990). Longitudinal field research for studying processes of organizational change. Organizational Science, 1, 9.

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
  • Readings:
    • *Kwon, T.H. and Zmud, R.W. (1987). Unifying the fragmented models of information system implementation. In Boland, R.J. and Hirschheim, R.A. (Eds.). Critical Issues in Information Systems Research. Chichester, John Wiley & Sons.
    • *Markus, M.L. and Robey, D. (1988). Information technology and organizational change: causal structure in theory and research. Management Science, 34, 18.
    • *Newman, M., Robey, D. (1992), A Social Process Model of User-Analyst Relationships, Management Information Systems Quarterly,   16, 2 ,  249-266.
    • Robey, D., Newman, M. (1996), Sequential Patterns in Information Systems Development: An Application of a Social Process Model. Association of Computer Machinery Transactions of Information Systems, 14, 30-63.
    • *Lyytinen K., Newman M. (2008): “Explaining Information System Change: a Punctuated Socio-Technical Change Model”,  European Journal of Information Systems, 17, 6, pp 589-613
    • *Lyytinen K, Newman M., (2018) “OCESS THEORIZING IN INFORMATION SYSTEM  (IS) RESEARCH: FROM SIMPLE MODELS TO  COMPLEX SOCIO-TECHNICAL AND MULTI-LEVEL MODELS”, unpublished working paper, Case Western Reserve University

  • Select one of the following to review 
    • Lindberg A., Berente N., Gaskin J., Lyytinen K. (2016): “"Coordinating Interdependencies in Online Communities: A Study of an Open Source Software Project," Information Systems Research, 27:4 , 751-772,,

    • Huber T. Lyytinen K., (2018) Balancing Flexibility and Alignment Through Contract Design and Project Control during Outsourced Software Development—a process analysis (unpusblished working paper)

    • Lyytinen K., Newman M., Abdul-Rahman A Al-Muharfi (2009):  “Institutionalising Enterprise Resource Planning in the Saudi Steel Industry: A punctuated  socio-technical  analysis”, Journal of Information Technology, 24, 4, pp. 286-304
    • Arvidsson V., Holmstrom J., Lyytinen K. (2018) “Outflanking With Information Technology: How Peripheral Actors Transform Resisting Organizations”, (unpublished working paper, submitted for review)


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.


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
  • Readings:
    • *Abbott, A. 1990. "A Primer on Sequence Methods," Organization Science (1:4), pp. 375-392.
    • *Abbott, A. 1995. "Sequence Analysis: New Methods for Old Ideas," Annual Review of Sociology (21:1), p. 93.


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
  • Readings:
    • Sabherwal, R., & Grover, V. 2010. A taxonomy of political processes in systems development. Information Systems Journal, 20(5): 419-447.
    • *Sabherwal, R., & Robey, D. 1993. An empirical taxonomy of implementation processes based on sequences of events in information system development. Organization Science, 4(4): 548-576.
    • *Pentland, B.T. 2003. "Sequential Variety in Work Processes," Organization Science (14:5), pp. 528-540.
    • Pentland, B.T., Hærem, T., and Hillison, D. 2010. "Comparing Organizational Routines as Recurrent Patterns of Action," Organization Studies (31:7), pp. 917-940.
    • *Gaskin J., Thummadi V., Lyytinen K., Yoo Y. (2011): “Digital Technology and the Variation in Design Routines: A Sequence Analysis of Four Design Processes”,  Proceedings of 32nd ICIS, Shanghai, 6-8.12,2011
    • *Gaskin J., Berente N., Lyytinen K., Yoo Y. (2011): “Toward a Generalizable Sociomaterial Inquiry: An Approach for Analyzing Patterns of Association in Sociomaterial Routines”, MISQ 2014



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.


Part V Reporting Event sequence theorizing in IS research (16.00-17.00)

  • 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.


[1] The reading list will be updated in January to reflect some more current readings when the materials will be distributed.



Credit points

Doctoral students participating in the seminar can obtain 2  credit points. This requires participating on all of the days and completing the assignment.

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.