Journal of the Association for Information Systems


In this paper, I respond to “Moving the Work System Theory Forward” (Niederman & March, 2014), a JAIS research perspective paper about another paper on work system theory (Alter, 2013e). The research perspective paper recognizes value in the work system approach, suggests that WST is not a proper theory, and suggests areas for related theory development. After summarizing the main ideas in WST, I explain disagreements between Niederman and March (2014) and Alter (2013e)— (hereafter called N&M and the WST paper) about what WST is and what WST should become. I note that N&M interprets basic ideas in WST differently than the WST paper defines them. I note that N&M’s critique of WST is anchored in issues about the nature of theory, especially a preference for Gregor’s type 4 theory. I explain that WST is a special case of general system theory and, as such, should not and cannot take the form of a theory that expresses relationships between independent variables, moderating variables, and dependent variables. I also explain why the WST paper called WST a theory when it might have been called something else, and also why the WST paper does not treat the development of the work system method (WSM) as a design science research project. Lastly, I respond directly to N&M’s title, “Moving the Work System Theory Forward” by explaining that WST is becoming a platform for applications and extensions in IS and other disciplines, which I illustrate with examples under five categories.