Moving from understanding to design of methods, tools and techniques – Combining ethnographic studies with action and design research.

Prof. Yvonne Dittrich
Lecturer's institute: 
IT University of Denmark
4.2.2019 09:00 to 5.2.2019 17:00

Tue 4.2:

09:00-14:00 at TS134 and 14:00-17:00 at TS101

Wed 5.2:

09:00-17:00 at TS136



The course addresses how and why to combine ethnographic studies and action and design research in software engineering in order to develop methods, tools and techniques and validate them in industrial practice.

Ethnography is a qualitative research method used to study people and cultures. It is largely adopted in disciplines outside software engineering, including different areas of computer science. Ethnography can provide an in-depth understanding of the socio-technological realities surrounding everyday software development practice, i.e., it can help to uncover not only what practitioners do, but also the rationale behind the action.

Software Engineering research though is interested in development of methods, tools and techniques. The course will introduce into action and design research to develop, design, and evaluate methods, tools and techniques. Action research has been developed by Kurt Levin to explore measures to help disadvantaged communities, and since then has been further developed and applied e.g. in information systems. Design research can be traced back to Herbert Simon’s 'The science of the artificial', and has in the recent years been adapted especially in HCI and other research addressing the design of ICT. 


Outline of the course (2 ECTS):

February 4th 2019:

9:00 Introduction to the course.

10:00-12:000 Lecture: Ethnography in Software Engineering Research and why to combine it with Design and Action Research

13:00-15:00 In class exercise: Analysing Action Research cases

15.30 - 17:00 Lecture: Action research: History, principals, and own experience

February 5th 2019:

9:00 - 11:00 Lecture: Design research: History and principals

11:00 - 12:00 In class exercise: Analysing Design Research cases

13:00 - 14:00 In class exercise: Analysing Design Research cases

14:00 - 15:00 Lecture: Research design for action and design research for academic rigour

15.30 - 16.30 In class exercise: Research Design.

16.30 - 17:00 Wrap up and conclusion.


Assignment to be completed before the course

Each student’s pre-course assignment is to review 3 Action Research Examples and 3 Design Research Examples. Please, shortly summarize the article and

The examples will be subject to the in-class exercises.


Action and Design research examples for the assignment

Action research examples

Al-Baik, O., & Miller, J. (2014). Waste identification and elimination in information technology organizations. Empirical Software Engineering, 19(6), 2019-2061.

Frederiksen HD, Mathiassen L (2005) Information-centric assessment of software metrics practices. IEEE Trans Eng Manage 52:350–362.

Svejvig, P., & Nielsen, A. D. F. (2010). The dilemma of high level planning in distributed agile software projects: an action research study in a Danish bank. In Agility Across Time and Space (pp. 171-182). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Pino, F. J., García, F., Piattini, M., & Oktaba, H. (2016). A research framework for building SPI proposals in small organizations: the COMPETISOFT experience. Software Quality Journal, 24(3), 489-518.

Bordin, S., & De Angeli, A. (2017, May). Inoculating an Agile Company with User-Centred Design: An Empirical Study. In International Conference on Agile Software Development (pp. 235-242). Springer, Cham.

Action research examples

Trainer, E., Quirk, S., de Souza, C. and David Redmiles (2005) Bridging the gap between technical and social dependencies with Ariadne. In Proceedings of the 2005 OOPSLA workshop on Eclipse technology eXchange (eclipse '05). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 26-30

Eriksson, J., & Dittrich, Y. (2007). Combining tailoring and evolutionary software development for rapidly changing business systems. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing (JOEUC), 19(2), 47-64.

Choma, J., Zaina, L. A., & Da Silva, T. S. (2015, September). Towards an approach matching CMD and DSR to improve the Academia-Industry software development partnership: A case of agile and UX integration. In 2015 29th Brazilian Symposium on Software Engineering (SBES) (pp. 51-60). IEEE.

Boden, A., F. Rosswog, G. Stevens, and V. Wulf (2014): ‘Articulation Spaces: Bridging the Gap Between Formal and Informal Coordination’. In: Proc. of the 17th Conf. on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. pp. 1120–1130.


A course-work to be returned after the course

Each student is expected to hand in a research design for an action and/or design research project connected to their studies.


Assessment of each student will be done according to her/his performance in the following activities: (1) pre-course assignment; (2) involvement in the class discussions; and (3) the course-work report.

The grading will be well passed/pass/fail.


Mandatory readings are marked with a ‘*’.

A general review of the other papers, in advance, would be nice and would better prepare students for the course.


Last updated: 30.1.2019