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Contextualising the IT artefact: towards a wider research agenda for IS using institutional theory

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Purpose ‐ This paper sets out to examine the use of institutional theory in information systems research. It also seeks to consider recent debates within information systems, that the field should develop its own social theories. The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate that IS researchers need to engage more fully with the institutional theory literature as the body of work is conceptually rich and is more appropriately used to analyse and understand complex social phenomena. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Reviewing the institutionalist literature from the field of IS, the paper shows that most accounts engage in empirically testing institutionalist concepts, rather than analysing the richness of these concepts to further develop and build the theory. Findings ‐ The paper finds that most institutionalist accounts within information systems research adopt an organisational unit of analysis as opposed to a multi-level approach which encompasses societal and individual levels. Research further shows more studies on the "effects" of institutionalism than on the "processual" accounts. Research limitations/implications ‐ It is argued that information systems researchers need to become more aware of the wider debates within the institutional theory literature, particularly as the theory is conceptually ambiguous, yet not amenable to over-simplification as a means to achieve methodological rigour. Practical implications ‐ The use of institutional theory offers practitioners conceptual tools and techniques for understanding complex change management scenarios relating to IS work. Originality/value ‐ The paper contributes to the IS literature through reviewing the range of studies using institutional theory. It illustrates the narrow use of the theory adopted by the IS community and suggests that a more fruitful approach is to use a wider multi-level and multi-method approach. The paper suggests that institutional theory offers a conceptually rich lens for analysing IS themes and issues and encourages further use of the theory for IS and management research.
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Keywords: Information systems; Research methods; Social theories

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 27, 2009

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