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The Inductive Top-down Theorizing approach as an interdisciplinary research methodology

Carol Ann Aebi-Kiefer

Doctor DBA, Business Science Institute



Developing a research plan that will scientifically approach interdisciplinary research topics can challenge researchers. This article presents an example of DBA research applying the relatively unknown Inductive Top-down Theorizing approach (ITDTA) to build a Stigmergic Information System Network for Social Sustainability conceptual model. This model is a guide to introduce technologies that will interact, operate and think in line with societies expectations in terms of social value. This model leverages the new phenomenon of scale-free distributed technology. It is structured to offer predictive and suggestive analysis to minimize negative social impact. Stigmergic self-organization processes are integrated for data capture and information aggregation to guide decision-makers toward activities that solve social problems.

Research Impact

Research topics with systemic dynamic complexity, which require technological intelligence and analysis, will increase in these days of Artificial Intelligence. Building experience and evolving the methodologies and approaches which can effectively enhance discovery within or across paradigms when existing bodies of literature are vast and complex is a notable outcome with academic impact.

Applying this approach resulted in research that scientifically investigated the dilemma of social value / social impact assessment data within the paradox of change, flux, and transformation while considering the new phenomenon of scale-free distributed technology theories and models. These complex ideas were focused into a simplified and relatable form to derive sense and orientation and build conceptual components.

The conceptual modeling advances the practical discussions for technology development to facilitate data capture, sharing, coordination, and automated communication for social responsibility for developers, computer scientists, social sustainability practitioners, business managers, and policymakers.

A future implemented stigmergic information system network for social sustainability would offer an increased opportunity for business to align their activities with social value. Understanding the direct and indirect social impacts across roles and over time is a strategic opportunity for product and service development as well as risk and financial management.

This DBA research example represents an interim explanation that may assist researchers toward increasingly coherent and refined theories. A single theoretical paper on a new phenomenon is not an end, but it is a critical interim step to unify information across domains.

As technology bridges academic domains, researchers will need to apply new methods and approaches. Successfully adding an example of the ITDTA methodology and approach that is appropriate for understanding and enhancing discovery within or across technology, business, and societal paradigms is a notable outcome with academic impact.

Research foundations

The Inductive Top-down Theorizing Approach operationalizes coherence theory grounded in pragmatism to the extent that the theorist believes that the sensory and conceptual representations cohere and the explanations are superior to alternative explanations.

The theoretical background applied to the DBA research example included four pillars of Social Sustainability, Systems Thinking, System Dynamics and Stigmergic Information Systems.

Computational design theories for a conceptual model for an information system network for social sustainability held the rigid positivist philosophical design required by computer algorithms and the constructivist philosophical design demanded by social scientists. Applying a pragmatist philosophy within computational design research within the socially constructed reality of social sustainability required a dance with steps into positivist and interpretivism philosophical awareness.

ITDTA assumes that the research inquiry is motivated to solve problems and that attention is focused on a problem or doubt. The contradictions are focused on a problem-centered solution-focused pragmatic philosophy. This philosophical concept is tested via scientific experimentation and claims to be valid only if useful. This approach aligns with the attributes of a strong theory from a scientific perspective.

Research Methodology

The inductive top-down theory-building approach takes a loose initial question refined to develop its potential contribution. Inquiry starts with an investigation into existing literature and then uses abduction to address practical challenges or conflicts that the literature does not answer well. The researcher observes what is occurring in the literature, attempting to comprehend until a theory that generalizes the standard rules of how things work is developed. The conflicts attract the researcher to solve these problems or clarify the situation (Shepherd & Sutcliffe, 2011). The research activity presents the coaxing of information to bring the theory to light. Literature is the cyclical reference point for challenging and refining the theory.

Further reading

Aebi, C. (2022). DBA Thesis: A Conceptual Model of a Stigmergic Information System Network for Social Sustainability: An Inductive Top-down Theorizing Approach. Business Science Institute, SKEMA Business School and iaelyon School of Management.

Shepherd, D. A., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2011). Inductive Top-Down Theorizing: A Source of New Theories of Organization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), pp. 361-380.


Inductive Top-down Theorizing, Interdisciplinary Research Methodology, Information Systems for Social Sustainability Data


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