THE NATURE OF BUSINESS RESEARCH

Research can be understood only as an applied field because it is concerned not only with understanding the nature of organizations but also with solving problems that are related to managerial practice. Example: relationship between theory and practice in business and management research is made by Gummesson (2000), who sees academic researchers and management consultants as groups of knowledge workers who each place a different emphasis on theory and practice. ‘Backed by bits and pieces of theory, the consultant contributes to practice, where as the scholar contributes to theory supported by fragments of practice, but fundamentally their notes are closely related. Gummesson sees researchers and consultants as involved in addressing problems that concern management, thereby reinforce the view that the value of both groups is determined by their ability to convince the business community that their findings are relevant and useful. In recent years, there has been much debate around the concept of evidence based management. Managers need to move their ‘professional decisions away from personal preference and unsystematic experience toward those based on the best available scientific evidence’. However other commentators have been more cautious and carried out a review of articles that used evidence-based management and found that none of them demonstrated a link between the adoptions of evidence-based evidence management. They conclude that it is unreasonable to expect managers to adopt evidence based management ‘in advance of evidence demonstrating its impact on organizational performance. Still other commentators are concerned that evidence-based management privileges certain kinds of research evidence, in particular those based on positivistic, quantitative studies. Finally they argue that, because management research operates from within conflicting paradigms, it is not possible to develop a consensus-based notion of evidence that transcends these fundamental differences.

What is evidence based management?

Evidence based management is systematic use of the best available evidence to improve management practice. There are four sources of information that contribute to evidence based management:

  1. Practitioner expertise and judgment
  2. Evidence from the local context
  3. Critical evaluation of the best available research evidence
  4. Perspectives of those who may be affected by the decision

The success of evidence-based management depends in part on the transfer and translation of research findings into practice, a practice referred to as ‘knowledge translation’.

A further debate that influences understanding of the role of management and business research stems from the thesis developed by Gibbons et al (1994). Concerning how scientific knowledge is produced. These writers suggest that the process of knowledge production in contemporary society falls into two contrasting categories or types, which they describe as ‘mode 1’ and ‘mode 2’ knowledge production, which may be summarized as follows:

  • Mode 1 – within this traditional, university based model, knowledge production is driven primarily by an academic agenda. Discoveries tend to build upon existing knowledge in a linear fashion. The model makes a distinction between theoretically pure and applied knowledge, the latter being where theoretical insights are translated into practice. Only limited emphasis is placed on the practical dissemination of knowledge, because the academic community is defined as the most important audience or consumer of knowledge.
  • Mode 2 – this model draws attention to the role trans-disciplinarily in research, which it assumes is driven by a process that causes the boundaries of single contributing disciplines to be exceeded. Findings are closely related to the context and may not easily be replicated, so knowledge is not confined to academic institutions. Instead, it involves academics, policy-makers and practitioners, who apply a broad set of skills and experience in order to tackle a shared problem. This means knowledge is disseminated more rapidly and findings are more readily exploited in order to achieve practical advantage. Although mode 2 researches is intended to exist alongside mode 1, rather than to replace it, some have suggested that management and business research is more suited to mode 2 knowledge production.

These debates frame a series of questions about the nature and purpose of management and business research that any new researcher needs to be aware of. For example:

  • What is the aim or function of business research?
  • It is conducted primarily in order to find ways of improving organizational performance through increased effectiveness and efficiency?

The questions are subject of considerable on-going academic debate about the nature and status of business research. Being aware of them is important in understanding what influences your choice of research topic and how you address it. Another way of understanding this issue is by thinking about the practices of scholars who do business and management research. There are four points that can be made in relation to this:

  1. In order to evaluate the quantity of management and business research it is necessary to know as much as possible about researchers own role in this process including how they collected and analysed the data and the theoretical perspective that informed their interpretation of it. This understanding relies on examination of methods used by business researcher.
  2. This leads to a second point in relation to the use of Business research methods tend on the whole to be more eclectic and explained in less detail than in some other social sciences such as sociology. Perhaps this is due to the emergent nature of the field or because it draws from such a diverse range of disciplines. In practice, it means that novice researchers can sometimes find it difficult to identify examples of existing research to inform their own practice.
  3. The third point relates to the kinds of methods used in business research. In some instances, it is hard to identify examples of particular research methods, while in others, such as the case study method, there are numerous studies to choose from. We believe, however that this creates opportunities for new researchers to make use of less popular or less commonly used methods to gain insight into a research problem.
  4. Finally, despite the sometimes limited availability of examples that illustrate the use of various research methods. It is to know how other researchers in the field have approached its study we can build up an understanding of how research methods might be improved and developed.
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