Design Science

The Design Science Research Project (DSR Project) provides guidance to residents interested in designing or developing new tools as part of their resident project. A “tool” can be any number of types of artifacts that are the output of the design process. Some examples include:

  • A handout for patients
  • A new process or workflow
  • A design or prototype for an app or website
  • A product that promotes better hand hygiene
  • An educational health campaign

What we want to highlight for these types of projects is that a scholarly approach is taken to understanding the problem by applying theories and methods as part of design / development and evaluation processes.

UBC Department of Family Practice encourages and supports residents who wish to pursue the creation of new knowledge through creative development of artifacts that address a clinical, health, or health system problem.


Examples (these are not resident projects)



The objective of a DSR project is to contribute to Family Medicine through the understanding of a real-world problem through the systematic creation of a product or process that seeks to improve the problem in some measurable way.

DSR projects require abductive reasoning; that is the generation of ideas. These ideas are then developed into tangible artifacts: tools, apps, processes, etc. However, this project is not just building a tool; a DSR requires the use of clear scholarly foundations in the design process and development of an evaluation plan.


Foundations for the DSR Project

To ensure scholarly work, we require all projects that are going to considered as design science research projects to include the following aspects:


Clear Problem Definitions

What are you trying to address?

This can be stated as an objective for the work. In design research objectives or more open-ended questions are more common than binary hypotheses. Problem definition will require some understanding from the literature on the nature of the problem, its scope, etc.

NOTE: Proper problem definition itself is often a design challenge that can be taken up as a project. In this kind of project, the output would be a clearer description of the problem and some of the root causes discovered through the exploration process.


Scope of the System that is being considered

We encourage you to describe the scope of solution space you will explore. For example, are you focusing on the patient at home, the patient and provider interacting in the clinic, the whole clinic, the community, or something larger? This is important to define the scope of the system as it will help shape the potential solutions you explore.


Theoretical Foundations

We require a referenced theory that is relevant to the problem definition and the scope of the solution. As part of this work, we will ask that all DSR projects name at least one theory that is then used in the project. Theories can be used to guide you to:

  • Shape the questions you ask about the problem and possible solutions
  • Consider options / scope for solution designs
  • How to evaluate one or more DSR artifacts


Example Theories that may be used:

Cognitive Fit

Cognitive Load

Soft systems theory

Theory of reasoned action

(all links from Theories Used in IS Research Wiki – there are many more there).

There are many others to consider and your project supervisor can help guide you with this. Generally fitting the theory’s scope to the system is useful. For example, if you are interested in how an individual provider can be supported by a prescribing decision aid, then a theory like cognitive fit might be suitable. If you are considering how a team decides on how patients are triaged in the ED, then you might consider a social theory, like distributed cognition.


Methodological Foundations

A referenced approach to the exploration of the problem space, design of the artifact, and/or the evaluation of the artifact is required as part of the project.


Example Methods:

Usability testing with think aloud

Usability Inspection

Cognitive Walkthroughs

Paper Prototyping


It is critical to being a scholarly project that a methodological foundation is used. i.e. this is not just about building a “thing”, but taking a measured approach, using evidence and synthesizing your learnings in that “thing” you build.



Typically, there are three main outputs from a design project:

  • The artifact that you developed
  • A report
  • Presentation / Demo


Project Artifact:

Design artifacts will range considerably, based on interest etc. Thy can be paper based, online tools, prototype app designs, etc. These are sufficiently “tangible” to translate the work into reality. They do not have to be fully functional systems. For example, a smaller DSR project could result in a paper prototype of an app (or limited interactive mock-up) and a larger team could actually develop a clickable prototype of the app as the project artifact.


Handouts, websites, videos, and podcasts are all examples of artifacts.

Eligible projects should meet all the requirements for a Resident Scholar Project (see Requirements). Presentation is a good place to demonstrate your artifact.


Method and Written Report Guidelines

(based on instructions for authors, Canadian Family Physician journal, July 12, 2011)

Design Science Research

Manuscripts must be prepared in accordance with the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals” available on the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) website.

Abstract: Include Introduction (problem being addressed and objective of program), Description, Evaluation and Conclusion and should not exceed 300 words. Up to 4 key words (MeSH headings) should be included.

Design Science project report should not exceed 2500 words, excluding abstract, tables and references.

Introduction: Clearly state the problem being addressed and why it is important to family physicians. Specific objectives of the program should be described and appropriate literature should be cited concisely.

Description: Provide sufficient detail for someone else to reproduce it. The original problem should be addressed by the program. A concise evaluation of the program should be described along with any data available.

Evaluation: Data should be presented concisely. Choice of mode of program evaluation (e.g. logic model, etc) should be justified and described.

Discussion: Compare the program with others in the field and indicate why it is an improvement over existing programs.

Limitations: Planned improvements should be presented. Conclusion should summarize the main components of the program, relate to the problem addressed, and be justified by the information presented.

References: Must be current and complete. Check references for accuracy, completeness, and proper format (according to the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals; References should be numbered in the order they appear in the text and should be limited to works cited in the article. List all authors when there are 6 or fewer; when there are 7 or more, list the first 6, followed by et al.

Key Points: Include a short, point-form “key points” section including 1 to 4 points in 50 to 100 words. Key points should not duplicate the abstract or summarize the article; they should highlight what is new, different, unexpected or surprising in the article.

Tables and figures: Attach separately from the main manuscript. Tables and figures should clarify and supplement, but not duplicate, the text. Tables must be self-explanatory and concise. Prepare each table or figure on a separate page. Give titles to tables and captions to figures and other illustrations. Ensure that all tables, figures, and illustrations are cited at appropriate places in the text. Prepare tables in Word; no spreadsheets, please. Use table structure, not spaces and tabs to format tables.

Images and any other visual material: Attach as separate electronic files (do not paste them into the manuscript). These may include photographs, digital illustrations or extra photographs for use if space is available. Images should be sent in a JPG file format.

Authorship: Include a description in written report of what each resident/author contributed to their Resident Scholar Project. In addition, if several residents are involved in one Resident Scholar Project, include a statement to describe the processes they underwent to decide the order of the authors on the Resident Scholar Project written report.

Acknowledgements: Name everyone (e.g. faculty, professionals, research assistants) who contributed to the work of the Resident Scholar Project who are not authors in the Acknowledgements section, describing what they did. Also, describe all financial support of the Resident Project in the acknowledgements.

Guidelines for Authorship and Acknowledgements

Please follow the latest authorship definition provided by the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals listed below from the website: as follows:

“All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, and all those who qualify should be listed. Each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content. One or more authors should take responsibility for the integrity of the work as a whole, from inception to published article. Authorship credit should be based only on 1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Conditions 1, 2, and 3 must all be met. Acquisition of funding, the collection of data, or general supervision of the research group, by themselves, do not justify authorship.”

In addition, all residents and faculty should refer to the Department of Family Practice Authorship and Collaboration policy that was approved by the Post-Graduate Education Committee in 2003. This policy guides the order of authors for faculty and residents who work together on a Resident Scholar Project.