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A Systematic Review of Empirical Affordance Studies: Recommendations for Affordance Research in Information Systems

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Abstract

In recent years, there has been an increasing demand to investigate IT-associated organizational change with equal consideration of the materiality of IT artifacts and their human interpretation. Many researchers consider affordances to be a promising theoretical concept that enables a middle ground between technological determinism and social constructivism. However, the transfer of the affordance concept that originated in ecological psychology to the field of Information Systems gave rise to ontological discussions and methodological questions. With our research, we aim to answer the call for more precise methodological guidelines for affordance research. Therefore, we conducted a systematic literature review of empirical affordance studies in Information Systems publication outlets. Our search resulted in 152 relevant articles, from which we analyzed 29 journal articles as part of our research-in-progress. From these articles, we extracted data regarding the concepts of technology type, application area, technology affordances, research design, research methods, and methodological best practices. In our article, we provide insights about the current state of affordance research and derive eight recommendations for conducting affordance research in the field of Information Systems. By doing so, we contribute to a systematic approach for developing affordance-based theories of IT-associated organizational change in the field of Information Systems.
Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 1
A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF EMPIRICAL AFFORDANCE
STUDIES: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AFFORDANCE RE-
SEARCH IN INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Research in Progress
Fromm, Jennifer, University of Duisburg-Essen, Duisburg, Germany, jennifer.fromm@uni-
due.de
Mirbabaie, Milad, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany, milad.mirbabaie@uni-
bremen.de
Stieglitz, Stefan, University of Duisburg-Essen, Duisburg, Germany, stefan.stieglitz@uni-
due.de
Abstract
In recent years, there has been an increasing demand to investigate IT-associated organizational
change with equal consideration of the materiality of IT artifacts and their human interpretation. Many
researchers consider affordances to be a promising theoretical concept that enables a middle ground
between technological determinism and social constructivism. However, the transfer of the affordance
concept that originated in ecological psychology to the field of Information Systems gave rise to onto-
logical discussions and methodological questions. With our research, we aim to answer the call for
more precise methodological guidelines for affordance research. Therefore, we conducted a systematic
literature review of empirical affordance studies in Information Systems publication outlets. Our search
resulted in 152 relevant articles, from which we analyzed 29 journal articles as part of our research-in-
progress. From these articles, we extracted data regarding the concepts of technology type, application
area, technology affordances, research design, research methods, and methodological best practices.
In our article, we provide insights about the current state of affordance research and derive eight rec-
ommendations for conducting affordance research in the field of Information Systems. By doing so, we
contribute to a systematic approach for developing affordance-based theories of IT-associated organi-
zational change in the field of Information Systems.
Keywords: Affordance Theory, Methodological Recommendations, IT-Associated Organizational
Change, Systematic Literature Review.
1 Introduction
The investigation of IT-associated organizational change always has been among the core topics in In-
formation Systems (IS) research (Mirbabaie, Stieglitz and Volkeri, 2016; Mirbabaie et al., 2019;
Stieglitz et al., 2019). In this respect, there has been an increasing demand to investigate this phenome-
non with equal consideration of the materiality of IT artifacts and their human interpretation
(Orlikowski, 2007; Orlikowski and Scott, 2008). Many researchers consider affordances to be a prom-
ising theoretical concept that enables a middle ground between technological determinism and social
constructivism (Leonardi and Barley, 2010; Faraj and Azad, 2012; Robey, Anderson and Raymond,
2013). However, the affordance concept originates from ecological psychology and the adaptation of
this concept for IS research constitutes an ongoing challenge (Fayard and Weeks, 2014). In particular,
it has been difficult to translate the original affordance theory focusing on animals in their natural envi-
ronment to the study of organizational actors interacting with IT artifacts (Volkoff and Strong, 2017).
Fromm et al. / Recommendations for Affordance Research
Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 2
The transfer of the affordance concept to the IS field gave rise to ontological discussions but also meth-
odological questions. For example, Seidel, Recker, and Vom Brocke (2013, p. 47) call for “more precise
methodological guidelines” regarding the identification and operationalization of affordances in IS re-
search. Volkoff and Strong (2017) took a first step in this direction and proposed methodological guide-
lines for affordance research based on their own experiences in applying the affordance lens. With our
research, we aim to extend their work by deriving recommendations based on a systematic literature
review of empirical affordance studies in IS research. Hence, we ask the following research questions:
RQ1: What are current issues in empirical affordance research in the field of IS?
RQ2: What are methodological best practices in empirical affordance studies in the field of IS?
By answering these questions, we contribute to a systematic approach for developing affordance-based
theories of IT-associated organizational change in the field of IS. To answer these questions, we con-
ducted a systematic literature review following established guidelines (Webster and Watson, 2002; Vom
Brocke et al., 2015), as this method has been described as suitable to identify the research methods
and strategies that are common in an area” (Vom Brocke et al., 2015, p. 208). A systematic literature
review allowed us to analyze current issues in empirical affordance research and collect methodological
approaches and best practices that have been used in this research stream. By doing so, we revealed that
the field of IS still requires a shared understanding of the affordance concept and derived eight recom-
mendations for conducting empirical affordance research in the IS field.
The remainder of this article is structured as follows: In the next section, we summarize the origin of the
affordance concept and the transfer to the IS field. We then describe how we conducted the systematic
literature review. Afterwards, we report our results on the current state of affordance research in the IS
field and derive recommendations for conducting affordance research. Finally, we summarize our theo-
retical contribution, address limitations and outline how we will expand our research-in-progress to a
journal article.
2 Affordance Theory in the IS Field
In the IS field, it remains a perpetual debate how we can investigate IT-associated organizational change
without overemphasizing either the materiality of technology or the human interpretation of IT artifacts
(Leonardi and Barley, 2010). Sociomaterialism was suggested as a new research perspective that con-
siders the importance of the “duality of structure” meaning the interplay between embedded structures
of technologies and emerging structures that arise through social interaction with technology
(Orlikowski, 2007; Orlikowski and Scott, 2008). In this regard, Hutchby (2001) proposed a transfer of
the affordance concept from ecology to the study of IT artifacts because he argued that it acknowledges
both the materiality of technology and the human interpretation of IT artifacts. The term affordance was
coined by ecological psychologist Gibson (1979), who questioned existing assumptions about percep-
tion and proposed a new theory of visual perception. In his view, animals and humans do not perceive
physical properties of surfaces, substances, objects and other animals in their environment, and then
deduce what interaction possibilities they offer them. Rather, when animals and humans observe their
surroundings, they directly perceive what it offers (...), what it provides or furnishes, either for good
or ill (Gibson, 1979, p. 197). He distinguishes between positive affordances and negative affordances,
for example, a cliff affords walking but also injury if one moves too close to the abyss. In contrast to the
similar concept of demand character, affordances are “always there to be perceived” independently of
the needs of the observer (Gibson, 1979, p. 139). Thus, many different action potentials are offered to
animals at any given time, however, the conditions under which these are actualized were not clearly
specified in Gibson’s initial work. From an ontological discussion among ecological psychologists
emerged the shared understanding that affordances have to be perceived before they can be actualized
(Chemero, 2003). The perception of an affordance, however, does not necessarily lead to the actualiza-
tion of the affordance (Stoffregen, 2003). Before these ontological issues were clarified among the eco-
logical psychologists, the affordance concept was already adopted in IS research. This resulted in a
contradictory use of affordances in the field of IS. Over time, the relational nature of the affordance
concept emerged as a common theme in IS research (Markus and Silver, 2008). The definition of Strong
Fromm et al. / Recommendations for Affordance Research
Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 3
et al. (2014, p. 69) reflects this relational nature by describing an affordance as “the potential for behav-
ior associated with achieving an immediate concrete outcome and arising from the relation between an
artifact and a goal‐oriented actor or actors. Although the ontological discussion around the affordance
concept has progressed, it remains an open question what constitutes good affordance research from
a methodological point of view. A systematic literature review revealed that many affordance studies
discussed the concept on a theoretical level or reported results from single case studies (Pozzi, Pigni and
Vitari, 2014). This indicates a lack of a unified theoretical understanding of the concept and a lack of
methodological guidance for conducting empirical affordance studies. In this regard, Volkoff and Strong
(2017) proposed the following six principles for using affordance theory in IS research based on their
own experiences in applying the affordance lens as experts in the field: 1) Remember that an affordance
arises from the user/artifact relation, not just from the artifact, 2) Maintain the distinction between an
affordance and its actualization, 3) focus on the action, not the state or condition reached after taking
the action, 4) Select an appropriate level(s) of granularity for the affordances, 5) Identify all salient
affordances and how they interact, and 6) Recognize social forces that affect affordance actualization.
Volkoff and Strong (2017) derived their principles based on the challenges they personally encountered
when applying the affordance concept in IS research. We aim to advance their work by identifying
discrepancies and consistencies between affordance theory and affordance research practice in a large
sample of empirical affordances studies published in IS outlets. The goal of our research is to derive
actionable methodological recommendations based on current research practices that are consistent with
affordance theory.
3 Systematic Literature Review
We aimed for a comprehensive review of empirical affordance studies in IS publication outlets. For this
reason, we started with a keyword-based search on the electronic database Scopus and limited the search
to the IS basket of eight journals
1
. We continued our search in the following collections on the electronic
database AISeL: Journals, AIS Conferences, AIS Affiliated Conferences and Other Conferences
2
. To
ensure a high coverage of relevant articles, we searched for the keyword “affordance” in the abstract
and did not limit the timeframe of the search. Our search on 13th August, 2019 yielded 54 articles on
Scopus and 399 articles on AISeL. Some IS basket of eight journals were also included on AISeL which
led to the removal of 34 duplicate articles. A thorough two-stage exclusion process followed. First, we
examined the abstracts of all remaining articles to assess their thematic relevance. Articles were ex-
cluded if the abstract contained affordance-related terms, but the context revealed another meaning. For
example, sometimes the term “afford” occurred in the sense of “financially affordable”. Second, we
assessed the relevancy of the remaining 260 articles by reading the full text. At this stage, we excluded
most articles because affordance-related terms occurred only very few times at the beginning of the
paper but were not part of the method, result or discussion sections. As we aimed to analyze how em-
pirical affordance studies were conducted, we also excluded purely theoretical articles but included these
in the theoretical background section instead. The selection process resulted in 152 relevant articles, of
which 29 were published in IS journals. The results presented in this research-in-progress paper are
based on these 29 journal articles and will be enriched once we completed the analysis of the conference
articles. An overview about the number of articles at each stage of the selection process can be found in
Table 1.
1
The IS basket of eight journals include: European Journal of Information Systems, Information Systems Journal, Information
Systems Research, Journal of the Association for Information Systems, Journal of Information Technology, Journal of Man-
agement Information Systems, Journal of Strategic Information Systems, Management Information Systems Quarterly
2
The following links provide a complete overview of the publication outlets that are included in the different AISeL collections:
Journals (https://aisel.aisnet.org/journals/), AIS Conferences (https://aisel.aisnet.org/conferences/), AIS Affiliated Conferences
(https://aisel.aisnet.org/affiliated/), and Other Conferences (https://aisel.aisnet.org/other/).
Fromm et al. / Recommendations for Affordance Research
Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 4
Database
Search
Results
Remaining after
Duplicate Check
Relevant Arti-
cles (Abstract)
Relevant Arti-
cles (Full Text)
Scopus: IS Basket of Eight Journals
54
54
52
26
AISeL: Journals
55
22
5
3
AISeL: AIS Conferences
285
284
166
100
AISeL: AIS Affiliated Conferences
44
44
29
18
AISeL: Other Conferences
15
15
8
5
Sum
453
419
260
152
Table 1. Initial Search Results and Number of Relevant Articles after Exclusion Process
To analyze the relevant journal articles, we applied the concept-centric approach as suggested by Web-
ster and Watson (2002). Based on our research questions and theoretical background, we derived initial
concepts using a deductive approach and revised them through an iterative data extraction process. From
each article, we extracted data regarding the concepts of technology type, application area, technology
affordances, research design, research methods, and methodological best practices (see Table 2 for
descriptions and examples). The first three concepts were selected because they allowed us to obtain an
overview about which technology affordances have already been identified in relation to specific tech-
nology types in different application areas. The remaining three concepts were selected because they
enabled us to understand which methodological approaches have been predominant in affordance re-
search in the IS field. For all concepts, we extracted the data by marking relevant sections in the articles
and transferring the information into a JSON file. During this step, we extracted the concepts exactly as
mentioned by the authors of the respective articles. The data was imported to the visualization software
Tableau which allowed us to recognize and merge labels that described the same concept as well as to
create mappings of different concepts (e.g. technology type and technology affordances).
Concept
Description
Examples
Technology
Type
Describes of which technology type affordances have been identi-
fied. Many articles identified affordances of specific applications
(e.g. Facebook) or technology subtypes (e.g. social networking
sites). These were merged by selecting an overarching technology
type mentioned in these articles (e.g. social media).
social media, health in-
formation technology,
green information sys-
tems, …
Application
Area
Describes in which context the affordances of a specific technol-
ogy have been researched. Similar research contexts were merged
(e.g. social movements and collective action).
health care, collective
action, organizational in-
novation,
Technology
Affordances
Includes all affordances the authors of the relevant articles them-
selves described as affordances. We decided against including
only affordances that fit a specific definition because we were in-
terested in the authors’ understanding of affordances.
accessibility, add-ons af-
fordance, broadcasting,
communicating with pa-
tients, …
Research De-
sign
Based on the applied research strategies and methods, we classi-
fied the research design as qualitative, quantitative or mixed-
methods following the definitions of Creswell and Creswell
(2007). Articles focusing on the development of an artifact were
classified as design-oriented research (Fallman, 2003).
empirical qualitative,
empirical quantitative,
mixed-methods and de-
sign-oriented research
Research
Methods
All research methods mentioned by the authors of the relevant ar-
ticles were extracted. Similar methods were merged (e.g. regres-
sion analysis includes linear and logarithmic regression analysis).
case study, interviews,
grounded theory, survey,
regression analysis, …
Methodolog-
ical Best
Practices
All text passages in which the authors described how they meth-
odologically incorporated the affordance concept in their re-
search. This includes best practices of collecting and analyzing
data about affordances as well as reporting the results of af-
fordance research.
labeling affordances as
gerunds, distinguishing
between basic and
higher-level affordances,
Table 2. Description of Concepts and Examples
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Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 5
4 Preliminary Findings
Our search was not limited to a specific time period, but Figure 1 reveals when IS journals started pub-
lishing empirical affordance studies. The first journal article describing an empirical affordance study
appeared in 2011. While the initial articles have been published in Management Information Systems
Quarterly (MISQ), other IS journals started to publish empirical affordance studies in 2014. With seven
journal articles, Information Systems Journal (ISJ) published the most affordance studies so far. Overall,
we can observe an increase in empirical affordance studies over the years indicating that the affordance
lens will remain important in the future.
Figure 1. Number of Journal Articles per Year
As can be seen in Figure 2, the large majority of journal articles applied an empirical qualitative research
design (N=22). In 86% of the qualitative research articles, the authors used either a case study or field
study methodology and mentioned data collection methods such as interviews, document analysis, ob-
servations, focus groups, artifact analysis, and usage data analysis. The remaining seven articles con-
ducted either empirical quantitative (N=4), mixed-methods (N=2) or design-oriented research (N=1). In
the few quantitative research articles, all authors developed new instruments to measure the affordance
of a specific technology type in a specific application area. This indicates a lack of established and
validated measurement instruments that can be used in surveys across quantitative studies.
Figure 2. Research Design of Empirical Affordance Studies
A mapping of technology type and application area (see Figure 3) reveals that 28% of all articles inves-
tigated the affordances of social media (N=7) in various application areas such as collective action
(N=3), crisis management (N=1), cyberbullying (N=1), knowledge management (N=1), and organiza-
tional socialization (N=1). Furthermore, 14% of all journal articles examined the affordances of health
information technology in health care (N=4). Studies considering the affordances of green information
systems, information technology in general, and multi-sided platforms accounted for 7% each. The fol-
lowing technologies occurred in only one article: wearables, student information systems, simulation
technology, sensemaking support systems, office software, financial technology, communication tech-
nology, cloud computing, and big data analytics. Two articles considered the affordances of multiple
technologies at once.
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Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 6
Figure 3. Mapping of Technology Type and Application Area (includes all technology types that
occurred in more than one article)
In total, the authors of the 29 analyzed journal articles mentioned 168 different technology affordances.
Of these, 67 affordances refer to social mediathe technology type that most empirical studies in our
sample investigated. Our results reveal that the large majority of social media affordances occurred in
exactly one article (N=60). Only seven affordances have been used in more than one article: association
and editability (N=3) as well as meta-voicing, visibility, network-informed associating, experimentation,
and persistence (N=2). Our findings indicate that there seems to be lack of established affordances for
each technology type that can be reused across several studies. Instead most studies add new affordances
to the already exhaustive list. Furthermore, there does not seem to exist a shared practice of labelling
affordances as some authors prefer using nouns (e.g. association) while others prefer using verbs (e.g.
associating). This complicates distinguishing affordances that should describe action potentials from
technology capabilities, features, uses, and usage outcomes. In addition, the mentioned affordances are
often defined in a similar way but refer to different levels of abstraction (e.g. visibility and organizational
visibility). Altogether our findings illustrate the need for a consolidation of affordances for each tech-
nology type to provide a smaller set of truly unique affordances that actually describe action potentials.
We consider this an important step towards a conceptual basis for future empirical affordance studies.
5 Recommendations for Affordance Research
After analyzing the current state of empirical affordance research, we examined the extracted text pas-
sages in which the authors described how they methodologically incorporated the affordance concept in
their research. By synthesizing the methodological best practices, we derived eight recommendations
for conducting empirical affordance studies in the IS field.
1) Aim for a mid-range theory of IT-associated organizational change: Strong et al. (2014) empha-
size the need for mid-range theories of IT-associated organizational change that allow us to derive ac-
tionable recommendations for practice. In addition, Volkoff and Strong (2013) consider the affordance
concept an important basis for mid-range theories that provide explanations for organizational change
associated with a specific technology but also allow for a certain degree of generalizability. Thus, we
conclude that affordance-based theories should aim to explain how a specific type of technology (e.g.
social media) leads to organizational change in specific application areas (e.g. knowledge management).
2) Apply critical realism as a research paradigm: Volkoff and Strong (2013) suggest to remember
the critical realist roots of the affordance concept and consider critical realism the appropriate research
paradigm for the development of affordance-based theories of organizational change. Critical realists
assume that material and social structures exist independently from our perception and provide poten-
tials for behaviors called mechanisms. These generate events and outcomes of which only a subset can
be observed (Bhaskar, 1998). Critical realists are interested in explaining the observable outcomes (e.g.
increased job performance) through the introduction of new structures (e.g. implementation of a new
system) by uncovering the underlying generative mechanisms (Mutch, 2010). Volkoff and Strong
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Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 7
(2013) suggest uncovering these generative mechanisms through the process of retroduction which is a
creative process in which multiple explanations are proposed that might be able to produce the observed
outcomes (Sayer, 2004). In this regard, Bygstad, Munkvold, and Volkoff (2016) developed a stepwise
framework for critical realist data analysis which involves the identification of affordances through
retroduction. Two further studies in our sample have applied the critical realist research paradigm
(Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018; Leonardi, Bailey and Pierce, 2019).
3) Separate affordances from technology features, use, and usage outcomes: There does not seem
to exist a shared understanding on how to clearly differentiate between affordances, technology features,
use, and usage outcomes. For example, Du et al. (2019) argue that the affordances identified by Strong
et al. (2014) are in fact outcomes while the affordances identified by Majchrzak et al. (2013) are rather
direct uses of technology. To clarify their own view, many authors included a table in their article in
which they clearly describe what they consider to be the relevant IT features, affordances (action poten-
tials), affordance actualizations (usage), and immediate concrete outcomes resulting from affordance
actualization (Strong et al., 2014; Tan et al., 2017; Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018; Du et al., 2019;
Karlsen et al., 2019; McKenna, 2019). Furthermore, Strong et al. (2014) suggest naming affordances as
gerunds that describe the actions required to actualize the affordances.
4) Consider the relational nature of the affordance concept: According to the accepted definition of
Strong et al. (2014) affordances are “arising from the relation between an artifact and a goal-oriented
actor or actors”. Therefore, some researchers include a detailed description of the actors’ goals and
features of the artifact under study (Burton-Jones and Volkoff, 2017; Du et al., 2019; Karlsen et al.,
2019). Other researchers consider the relational nature of the affordance concept by mapping af-
fordances to specific IT features (Karahanna et al., 2018; Krancher, Luther and Jost, 2018; Lehrer et al.,
2018; Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018; Leonardi, Bailey and Pierce, 2019; McKenna, 2019). Map-
ping affordances to user types is another approach emphasizing that the affordances of one and the same
technology are perceived and actualized differently by specific user types (Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch,
2018; McKenna, 2019). Both approaches allow for a generalizability of affordances to other technolo-
gies with similar features or user groups with similar characteristics. The relational nature of the af-
fordance concept also complicates the development of established measurement instruments. In this
regard, Grgecic, Holten, and Rosenkranz (2015) state that items to measure affordances have to be de-
veloped for each new combination of IT artifact and user group under study.
5) Show the interrelations and interactions between multiple affordances: Several researchers dis-
tinguish between basic and higher-level affordances (Volkoff and Strong, 2013; Strong et al., 2014;
Krancher, Luther and Jost, 2018; Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018; Du et al., 2019). They assume that
the actualization of basic affordances produces outcomes which in turn enable the actualization of
higher-level affordances. Building upon this assumption, Thapa and Sein (2017) propose the trajectory
of affordance construct that also reflects the need for facilitating conditions before higher-level af-
fordances can be actualized. To clarify interrelations between multiple affordances, some authors sug-
gest creating affordance strands by grouping affordances that are related to similar immediate concrete
outcomes (Volkoff and Strong, 2013; Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018). Linking these affordance
strands to higher-level outcomes in a second step allows to abstract generative mechanisms that explain
IT-associated organizational change (Volkoff and Strong, 2013; Bygstad, Munkvold and Volkoff, 2016;
Leidner, Gonzalez and Koch, 2018). Other researchers suggest that organizational level outcomes can
be explained by aggregating the immediate concrete outcomes of individual affordance actualizations.
Such collective actualization processes can be visualized by using affordance networks (Burton-Jones
and Volkoff, 2017) and affordance dependency diagrams (Strong et al., 2014; Karlsen et al., 2019).
6) Identify contextual factors inhibiting or enabling affordance actualization: Many authors pro-
vide a detailed description of their research context and identified contextual factors inhibiting or ena-
bling affordance actualization such as work environment characteristics, individual competencies, skills,
and attitudes, as well as IT features and infrastructure (Jung and Lyytinen, 2014; Strong et al., 2014;
Bygstad, Munkvold and Volkoff, 2016; Burton-Jones and Volkoff, 2017; Thapa and Sein, 2017;
Krancher, Luther and Jost, 2018; Du et al., 2019; Karlsen et al., 2019; Leonardi, Bailey and Pierce,
2019).
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Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 8
7) Analyze the paradoxical tension between technology affordances and constraints: Although
many studies considered contextual factors that both inhibit and enable affordance actualization, only
three studies analyzed both technology affordances and constraints (Leonardi, 2011; Ciriello, Richter
and Schwabe, 2018; Mettler and Wulf, 2018). In particular, Ciriello, Richter, and Schwabe (2018) em-
phasize that the parallel perception of affordances and constraints creates paradoxical tensions that might
result in unexpected actualization outcomes. Furthermore, Leonardi (2011) proposes the imbrication
metaphor to explain how the perception of affordances leads to a change of routines while the perception
of constraints leads to changes of technology.
8) Apply affordances identified in previous literature: In our sample, the authors of ten articles ap-
plied affordances identified in previous research (Nan and Lu, 2014; Chatterjee et al., 2015; Argyris and
Ransbotham, 2016; Hanelt, Busse and Kolbe, 2017; Tim et al., 2017; Ciriello, Richter and Schwabe,
2018; Karahanna et al., 2018; Mettler and Wulf, 2018; Seidel et al., 2018; Chan, Cheung and Wong,
2019). Furthermore, Karahanna et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review of social media affordances
and described a process of consolidating similar affordances. Similar work consolidating the affordances
of other technology types might be beneficial to allow for generalizability of results across studies using
the same type of technology.
6 Summary and Further Steps
The purpose of our research was to develop recommendations for affordance research in the field of IS
to pave the way for empirical studies applying this theoretical lens in the future. The affordance concept
is considered a promising concept for theorizing IT-associated organizational change that acknowledges
both the materiality of IT artifacts and their human interpretation. However, since the affordance concept
does not have its origin in the field of IS, there does not exist a systematic approach for developing
affordance-based theories of IT-associated organizational change, yet. Therefore, we conducted a sys-
tematic literature review of empirical affordance studies in IS publication outlets to synthesize method-
ological best practices. In this research-in-progress article, we presented the insights we already gained
through the analysis of 29 journal articles. We consolidated the methodological approaches and best
practices that have been used in these articles to derive eight recommendations for affordance research
in the IS field. The subjective decisions that have to be made when conducting systematic literature
reviews, such as the selection of keywords, databases and exclusion criteria, represent a limitation of
our study. In total, however, we have identified 152 relevant articles and therefore assume that we have
a profound basis for continuing our research.
Our next step will be to complete the analysis of the remaining 123 conference articles and to expand
our set of recommendations. When continuing our research-in-progress, we will take our research one
step further and derive a systematic approach for developing affordance-based theories of IT-associated
organizational change. Within the scope of this article, we collected different existing methodological
approaches and best practices. Extending our research allows us to add a thorough discussion of these
different approaches to provide other IS researchers with actionable recommendations and a systematic
approach for affordance-based theory development. When our analysis is complete, we will also have
an exhaustive list of already identified affordances associated with specific technology types in IS re-
search. We aim to use this list to consolidate similar affordances with different labels or at different
levels of abstraction in a similar way as Karahanna et al. (2018) have already done for social media
affordances. This way, we will be able to contribute a list of truly unique affordances for each technology
type that can serve as a starting point for future studies of the same technology type (e.g. health infor-
mation technology affordances, green information systems affordances, and so on). By doing so, we
contribute to the generalizability of findings across studies and enable the development of quantitative
measurement instruments. Nevertheless, the consolidated affordances will still be perceived and actual-
ized in various ways by different user groups.
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Twenty-Eigth European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS2020), Marrakesh, Morocco. 9
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... By this, we are confident that our research results contribute to a better understanding of affordances in IS theorization. This is especially true since transferring and fully understanding the concept of affordances from ecological psychology is an ongoing challenge for IS researchers (Fromm et al., 2020). Challenges especially arise from the traits of digital technologies, that possess the capability to unlash so-called combinatorial innovation. ...
... (1) Relational nature of affordances: Volkoff and Strong (2013) emphasize the relational nature of affordances that arise from a relation between an IT artifact and perceptions thereof by goaloriented actor(s). Thus, affordances are frequently studied by either mapping them to specific IT features or by linking them to actor(s) goals and characteristics (e.g., user groups) (Fromm et al., 2020). Consequently, establishing measurement instruments or generalizing results of such studies is hardly feasible leading to the fact that affordances need to be identified for each new combination of IT artifact and user group under study (Grgcic et al., 2015). ...
... We, therefore, propose a temporal view on affordance actualization and its outcomes, for instance, in the context of long-term observations. (3) Reusability of identified affordances: Rarely do researchers use and analyze affordances from existing literature due to the relational nature of affordances (Fromm et al., 2020). An exception is Karahanna et al. (2018), who conduct a systematic literature review of social media affordances and describe a process for consolidating similar affordances. ...
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Since its development in the field of ecological psychology, the concept 'affordances' has been prone to various adaptations. This is most evident in information systems (IS) research, where rapid developments and the generativity of today's digital technologies require a fast advancement of affordances theorization. Frequent but stepwise progress has been made to the concept over the past few years through IS researchers. While those advancements are necessary for understanding IT-associated organizational change, they carry the risk of theoretical fragmentation hindering knowledge accumulation. Applying a systematic five-staged literature review and reintegrating the results into existing conceptualizations of affordances, this paper strives toward a meta-view on affordances, constituted in a descriptive affordances framework and an affordances lifecycle model. The former provides researchers a tool for better identifying and understanding the meta-characteristics of affordances, while the latter offers a lens to interpret the circumstances of affordance emergence, actualization, and their outcomes.
... Few studies have examined the tensions between affordances and constraints. Recognizing affordances without assessing how a user minimizes the underlying constraints may limit our understanding of affordance discoverability or actualization (Fromm et al. 2020). Discovering IT constraints reveals how it inhibits users from accomplishing their goals (Majchrzak and Markus 2012). ...
... Recognizing individual affordance actualizations is critical to understanding aggregate organizational level outcomes (Fromm et al. 2020). We argued that social media affordances if taken together, are positively related to service co-creation (H1). ...
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... As a result of this debate, IS researchers have applied the theory differently following one of the two schools of thought in investigating phenomena connected to the relation between IT artifacts and users. Some IS scholars have created guidelines and conducted systematic reviews to facilitate researchers' appropriate application of the theory following the views of one or the other school of thought on the theory [2,8]. Nevertheless, a literature review of how researchers have applied the two schools of thought while focusing on the same IT artifacts has not yet been undertaken. ...
... Another social media review uncovered the effects of social media affordances on organizations and individuals and systematically reviewed the way the theory was being employed [29]. From a broader viewpoint, two reviews have covered how the theory had been applied in all IS research focusing on the first school's point of view [2,8,9]. One review concentrated on robotic research and discovered two phenomena related to users' interaction with robotic, grasping and manipulation [11]. ...
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Humans' relationships with objects are a crucial theoretical phenomenon in the visual perception field. Gibson contributed to the field by introducing Affordance Theory. His theory explains that humans do not interact with objects unless they perceive what the objects can afford or offer them. This position has created an ongoing debate leading IS researchers, among others, to apply the theory differently following two schools of thought. One school highlights the existence of IT artifact's affordances to users' perceptions and the IT artifact's features merging together. The other school emphasizes that the IT artifact's affordances are already embedded in its design and features. This review compares various applications of the theory made by the two schools, focusing on mHealth app studies. A framework including the various useful arguments is presented in order to guide researchers toward a better utilization and to help designers to improve IT artifact's usability and usefulness.
... Affordances are "possibilities for goal-oriented action afforded to specified user groups by technical objects" (Markus & Silver, 2008). The concept has proven useful for studying the interplay between the features of technologies and the characteristics of specific users and use contexts (see relevant literature reviews within IS research: Fromm et al., 2020;Pozzi et al., 2014;Stendal et al., 2016). Affordances are not properties of technologies nor instances of actual use (Markus & Silver, 2008) they are potentialities for purposeful user-technology interaction. ...
... When applying the theory of affordances in an IS context, several frameworks have been used (e.g., functional affordances [21,39,40] or technology affordances and constraints [22,23,41]). This is also reflected in an ongoing debate on a few conceptions of applying the theory [36,37,42]. However, regarding our research question, an affordance-actualization perspective as introduced by Strong et al. [25] (Figure 2) seems particularly promising. ...
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