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This article responds to “Taking the Work System Theory Forward” (Niederman and March, 2014), a JAIS research perspective article about an article on work system theory (Alter, 2013e). The research perspective article 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, this article explains disagreements between Niederman and March (2014) and Alter (2013e), hereafter called N&M and the WST article, regarding what WST is and what WST should become. It notes that N&M interprets basic ideas in WST differently than those ideas were defined in the WST article. It notes 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. It explains 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. Next it explains why the WST article called WST a theory when it might have been called something else, and also why the development of WSM was not treated as a design science research project. The concluding section responds directly to N&M’s title, “Taking the Work System Theory Forward” by explaining that WST is becoming a platform for applications and extensions in IS and within and across a number of disciplines. It illustrates that view using examples under five categories.


This article was accepted by the Journal of the Association for Information Systems in December 2014. It will be published during 2015.

This is a postprint. The Association for Information Systems is the copyright owner of the published article. Use for profit is not allowed.

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