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Designing for digital transformation

The 15th Conference on Design Science Research was hosted by the Department of Information Systems and CeDiT this month. Participants from different parts of the world presented and debated how IT solutions and services should be designed in a world going through a digital transformation.

Monitoring health workers digitally
Designing for new realities: Design Science Research asks how a system or a prototype can be designed, so that it creates new services or improves existing services (Photo: UiA)

The 2020 version of the DESRIST conference was called "Designing for Digital Transformation. Co-Creating Services with Citizens and Industry", and the hosts could for the first time welcome this international network to UiA  - although in a virtual sense.

The Design Science community focuses on a core aspect of the Information Systems discipline - the design of efficacious and relevant systems. Professor Maung Kyaw Sein has been a central figure in the Design Science field for many years, having taken part in the very first DESRIST 15 years ago. It was because of him that the Department became part of the international network. 

Sein hosted the conference together with colleague Professor Leif Skiftenes Flak, leader of CeDiT (Centre for Digital Transformation). Professor Matti Rossi from Aalto university in Finland and Professor Oliver Muller from the University of Poderbon, Germany, were co-chairs and responsible for the scientific part of the conference. All the presented papers are published in the book Designing for Digital Transformation. Co-Creating Services with Citizens and Industry by Springer publisher. 

Designing new realities

– Design Science Research is a methodology which is different from many other research methods, in that it is doing research on something that yet doesn’t exist instead of understanding and explaining the existing reality. It is about improving reality. The questions asked are: how to make an artifact and learn from it? How can a system or a prototype be designed, so that it creates new services or improves existing services? says Sein.

Around 2004, attention around Design Science Research really took off in the Information Systems field with the publication of a paper in the top IS journal, MIS Quarterly, by Professor Al Hevner of the University of South Florida in US who along with Professor Samir Chatterjee of Claremont Graduate University, USA went on to found DESRIST.

In 2011 Sein co-wrote an article called Action Design Research that took the methodology an important step forward. It emphasized the idea that IT artifacts need to be designed in the context where they are to be used, because content and context highly affects the solution.

Arrangørene av DESRIST 2020

Head of Department Carl-Erik Moe, Professor Maung Kyaw Sein and Leif Skiftenes Flak have recently hosted a digital version of the DESRIST 2020 conference.

Ethical aspects more important than ever

The theme for this year’s conference was “Designing for Digital Transformation – Co-Creating Services with Citizens and Industry”. The Covid pandemic has demonstrated the “digital transformation” to everyone, and the conference itself was a digital one, as are so many other activities these days.

Keynotes were presented by Professor of human-centered computing at Aalborg University, Denmark Peter Axel Nielsen and Chief Technology Officer of IBM Norge, Loek Vredenberg. IBM is an important partner to Department of Information Systems, and having the industry involved was appreciated by the hosts as well as the participants. Both keynote speeches emphasized that cooperation between academia and practice is a core element of Design Science Research.  While it is agreed that services will be better designed when users are integral part of the design, this principle of user involvement also raises ethical issue, according to Leif Skiftenes Flak, leader of Centre for Digital Transformation (CeDiT) at UiA.

– The very situation we are experiencing now, with everyone working more and more digitally, enhances and accelerates the digital transformation. Further, as more and more data become available and computing power increases, the potential for unintended consequences also increases. What are the implications of this for those who design the systems? The more rapid the digitalization process and the more people potentially affected, the more important the ethical questions surrounding it become. Systems set premises for actions and decisions and need to be well reflected upon. In this conference, we highlighted the ethical aspects of Design Science Research. Machine learning based decisions within health care, for instance – what considerations need to be taken, and to what degree do the ethical considerations affect the designers?, says Skiftenes Flak.

Award for best prototype

Throughout the conference, the attendees could follow sessions touching topics such as e-government and digital government innovation, chatbots for enterprises, health monitoring systems – always with the perspective of system design. Both papers and prototypes were presented, and awards for best contributions were awarded for best scientific paper, best student paper and best prototype.  The award for best prototype went to Sophie Wass of Centre for eHealth (UiA).  

Together with Lise Hansen and Mugula Chris Safari she gave the presentation “Designing Transport Supporting Services Together with Users with Intellectual Disabilities” - This is a good example of how involving the actual users is crucial when designing services. A system that works for one set of users isn’t necessary transferable to another set of users, says Sein.

Although a successful digital conference this year, UiA will also be hosting next year’s DESRIST conference, hopefully on campus in Kristiansand. – People need to meet and chat informally, and building network is especially important to new researchers such as PhDs. We look forward to inviting this international research network to the University in 2021.