Design Science Research

Design Science Research

Design Science Research (DSR) is based on the work of Professor Joan Ernst van Aken (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, The Netherlands). The core mission of DSR is to develop general knowledge which can be used by professionals in the field in question to design solutions to their specific problems. Driving force of DSR is the utilization problem (Susman & Evered, 1978) or rigor-relevance dilemma (Argyris & Schon, 1991). ‘Management theory is either scientifically proven, but then too reductionistic and hence too broad or too trivial to be of much practical relevance, or relevant to practice, but then lacking sufficient rigorous justification’ (Van Aken, 2004: p. 221). Therefore, Van Aken proposes to make a distinction between description-driven and prescription-driven research programs. Whereas the former aims at explaining problems, the latter aims at generating knowledge to be used in designing solutions to solve problems.


The first important characteristic of DSR is that it is motivated by solving problems. The second distinguishing characteristic is the normative or prescriptive nature of the outcome of a research program. Whereas the typical outcome of descriptive research are algorithmic prescriptions (“if you want to achieve Y in situation Z, then perform action X”). In DSR prescriptions are of a heuristic nature. This means that they should be used as a solution concept. A solution concept is a general prescription, which has to be translated (by the professional in the field) to a specific problem at hand. (“if you want to achieve Y in situation Z, then something like X will help”). These heuristic prescriptions pay respect to the belief that problems are always context related. Although problems and situations might be very similar, this is not a guarantee that a solution that worked in situation A also works in situation B. Therefore, the third main characteristic of DSR is that the research is justified by pragmatic validity. Whereas the descriptive research leads to propositions which are accepted as true on the basis of the evidence provided, the indeterminate nature of heuristic technological rules makes it impossible to prove its effects conclusively. However, testing of the technological rule in its intended context can lead to sufficient supporting evidence or theoretical saturation.

Typical research product

In DSR the typical research product is the heuristic prescription, technological rule or solution concept. Although the research will be driven by and take place around local problems, the applicability of the solution concepts will be non-local. This means that the solutions can be used to solve similar problems in similar contexts. Solution concepts are typically studied within its intended context of application, in order to be as sure as possible of its effectiveness, also under the influence of less well-known factors. Therefore, the typical research design is the multiple case-study. Every case serves a specific purpose within the overall scope of inquiry and therefore follows a replication logic (Yin, 2003). ‘Through multiple case-studies one can accumulate supporting evidence which can continue until “theoretical saturation” has been obtained’ (Van Aken, 2004b: p.235). Moreover, the multiple-case study operates as a learning system, based on the reflective cycle: each case is analyzed, lessons are drawn and improvements are made before the method is tested again. This process is repeated until sufficient supporting evidence has been obtained.


  • Susman, G. I., & Evered, R. D. (1978). An assessment of the scientific merits of action research. Administrative Science Quarterly, 23, 582-603.
  • Argyris, C., & Schon, D. A. (1991). Participatory action research and action science compared: a commentary. In W. F. Whyte (Ed.), Participatory Action Research. London: Sage.
  • Yin, R. K. (2003). Case Study Research. Design and Methods. (Vol. 5). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Van Aken, J. E. (2004). Management Research Based on the Paradigm of the Design Sciences: The Quest for Field-Tested and Grounded Technological Rules. Journal of Management Studies, 41(2), 219-246.


  • Van Aken, J. E. (1994). De Bedrijfskunde als Ontwerpwetenschap. Bedrijfskunde, 66(1), 16-26.
  • Van Aken, J. E. (1996). Methodologische vraagstukken bij het ontwerpen van bedrijfskundige systemen. Bedrijfskunde, 68(2), 14-22.
  • Van Aken, J. E. (2004b). Management Research Based on the Paradigm of the Design Sciences: The Quest for Field-Tested and Grounded Technological Rules. Journal of Management Studies, 41(2), 219-246.

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