Process Tracing Methods in DSS Research: Exploring the Black Box


MIS Quarterly

December 1987, vol. 11, n°4, pp.493-512

Departments: Information Systems and Operations Management

Keywords: Protocol analysis, data collection, data analysis, research methods, decision support systems

An overview is provided of the applicability to DSS research of process tracing methodologies in general, and verbal protocol analysis in particular. Rationale is developed for why process tracing methods are an important addition to the inventory of methodologies available to researchers, stressing the need to explore the "black box" of decision processes. A variety of process tracing methods are presented, along with their relative strengths and weaknesses. Verbal protocol analysis is discussed as a particularly promising method for use in DSS research. The nature of verbal protocols is outlined and methods for analysis are reviewed. The criticisms of this method andthe controversy surrounding its use are discussed, and an assessment of the validity ofthese criticisms is provided. Finally, areas of DSS research in which protocols may provevaluable are identified and relevant studies are examined