JOURNAL OF BUSINESS LOGISTICS, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2010
ACTION RESEARCH IN SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT—A FRAMEWORK FOR RELEVANT AND RIGOROUS RESEARCH by Dag Näslund University of North Florida and Lund University Rahul Kale University of North Florida and Antony Paulraj University of North Florida
INTRODUCTION Scholars in the field of business management have frequently debated the relative importance of rigor and relevance in business research. In fact, there are an increasing number of articles that discuss the problems associated with the lack of relevance in published business research. Relevant research “develops insights that help managers understand themselves and their organizations better” (Markides 2007, p.765). On the other hand, rigor is “the constant examination of whether research can actually support and justify the claims it makes” (Mentzer 2008, p.72). These definitions of rigor and relevance do not preclude the existence of the other in any way. Therefore, all relevant research need not lack rigor, and all rigorous research need not be irrelevant. In fact, researchers should not choose between these two options. Instead, they should ensure that their research is rigorous while being relevant to the applicable audience, such as the business community (Näslund 2008). Unfortunately, as noted in extant literature, there is sometimes a gap between management research and practice (Markides 2007; Shapiro, Kirkman, and Courtney 2007). Accordingly, the call to close the gap between research and practice, as well as to publish articles that include both good research and “workable answers for managers,” is not new (Ackoff 1979; McCutcheon and Meredith 1993; Susman and Evered 1978). Alvesson (1996, p. 455) wrote a decade ago: “Practitioners seem to view the abstraction of quantified material and statistical correlations as very remote from everyday practice and therefore of little use.” In order to perform both relevant and rigorous research, academics have to identify relevant questions based on industry observations, and then engage in a rigorous approach when trying to answer the question (Flynn 2008; Mentzer 2008; Vermeulen 2005). After the selection of relevant research questions, the “rigorous” approach adopted by researchers could span multiple methodologies including, but not limited to, simulations, surveys, and case study approaches. But, no matter which approach is adopted, researchers should consciously follow a rigorous approach to address these research questions. Among others, the case study approach is considered viable to conduct relevant, as well as rigorous, research to build theory (Eisenhardt and Graebner 2007). Given that supply chain management is an applied field of research, it easily lends itself to identifying research questions that are of relevance to business managers. Therefore, in this study we specifically focus on action research (AR) within the field of supply chain management. AR is one form of case study research that places increased emphasis on relevance (Näslund 2002) and tends to deal with real-world organizational and managerial problems (Argyris 1993; Coughlan and Coghlan 2002; Ellis and Kiely 2000; Gummesson 2000).
NÄSLUND, KALE & PAULRAJ
Additionally, it also strives to contribute to the practical concerns of an organization while simultaneously accommodating the goals of science. Therefore, it is unique in the way that research informs practice and practice informs research synergistically (Avison et al. 1999). Another benefit of AR is that it contributes to “managers’ actionable knowledge” since “theory can be applied directly to practice in the field using a collaborative approach combining scholars and practitioners” (Raelin and Coghlan 2006, p.676). While Kurt Lewin (1946) is often mentioned as the first person to use the term AR (Susman and Evered 1978), perhaps the most frequently used definition is the one by Rapoport (1970, p.499): “Action...
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