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Beg, Borrow, or Steal:
Using Multidisciplinary Approaches in Empirical Software Engineering Research

Monday, June 5, 2000  (W05)

Home         Workshop Report        Schedule          Position papers

Invited Speakers          Workshop Chairs          Program Committee          Participants


The goal of this workshop is to provide an interactive forum for software engineers and empirical researchers to investigate the feasibility of applying proven methods from other research disciplines to software engineering research. Participants were invited to submit position papers describing problems that might benefit from a multidisciplinary approach. Expert guest speakers have been invited from other disciplines to address the issues brought up with the hope of encouraging more multidisciplinary research.  In particular, we will focus on the following four themes:

The original call for papers can be found here.


Theories and methods for empirical research have been developed by other disciplines over a long period of time. Therefore, as it makes sense to re-use code, it makes sense to harness theories and methods from other fields to advance software engineering research.

For instance, imagine that you are an empirical researcher interested in the use of patterns. You approach an anthropologist to learn how to conduct a study. She might tell you about field studies and how ethnographies are conducted, basically suggesting you become a member of the local team, take copious notes, and over time, try to answer your questions by referring to cultural practices and the place of design patterns within them. Going further, speaking to an experimental psychologist, you might learn about the vast body of experimental knowledge, e.g., how to set up controls, how to analyze data, write up your results. Armed with this knowledge, you can perform an experiment to compare code written using patterns with code that was not. Going still further, speaking to an epidemiologist, you might focus on how to take either historical data or population-based information to determine whether or not your hypotheses are valid. Here you might look at historical patterns of defect detection in software written with patterns and compare that to software written without patterns. All of these approaches have some merit.

As with all borrowing, though, no approach from another field can be applied wholesale without being adapted in some way. Researchers need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches thereby finding a discipline best suiting their theoretical leanings and the constraints on their work. If this understanding is not gained, the application of methods and theories from other disciplines may result in critical errors invalidating the research. Therefore, it behooves each of us, as researchers, to understand different approaches before applying them.

This full-day workshop will provide beginning and experienced researchers in software engineering an opportunity to consult experts from other empirical disciplines. 

Workshop Chairs

Dr. Janice Singer
National Research Council Canada
Bldg M-50, Rm. 257
Montreal Rd.
Ottawa, ON Canada K1A 0R6
Tel: +1 (613) 991-6346
Fax: +1 (613) 952-7151
Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey
Assistant Professor
Department of Computer Science
University of Victoria
PO Box 3055 STN CSC
Victoria, BC Canada V8W 3P6
Tel: +1 (250) 721 8796
Fax: +1 (250) 721 7292
Susan Elliott Sim
Department of Computer Science
University of Toronto
10 Kings College Rd.
Toronto, Ontario Canada M5S 3G4
Tel. +1 (416) 978-4158
Fax. +1 (416) 978-4765

Program Committee

Steve Easterbrook, University of Toronto
Rachel Harrison, University of Reading UK
Juan Ramil, Imperial College UK
Jarrett Rosenberg, Sun Microsystems
Carolyn Seaman, University of Maryland, Baltimore County USA
Harvey Siy, Lucent Technologies
Norman Vinson, NRC, Canada