Why, What, and How of Rigour and Relevance in Management Research
Galavan, Robert and Harrington, Denis and Kelliher, Felicity (2009) Why, What, and How of Rigour and Relevance in Management Research. In: Irish Academy of Management conference 2009, September 2009, Galway, Ireland.
In his 1993 presidential address to the assembled faithful of the Academy of Management Don Hambrick posed the question, “What if the academy actually mattered” (1994:11). This rhetorical question set his esteemed colleagues, world leading management scholars, in the category of perhaps rigorous knowledge workers, but definitely not relevant to their community of practice. One might presume that when Hambrick, a giant of his era with a record of citations that is the envy of most scholars, and a field of work (upper echelons) that has been defined by his contribution for over 20 years, we would take note and act. Unfortunately three years later Richard Mowday (1997:341) found it necessary to return to the theme in his presidential address referring to what has ultimately become a perennial challenge of being both rigorous and relevant. In 2002 Jean Bartunek (2003:203) had a dream for the academy where we work to make a difference and speak to tensions involving theory and practice. In 2005 Denise Rousseau (2006) addressed the topic through the search for evidence based management to bridge the research-practice divide. We look forward with anticipation to the new challenges evoked in this years speech, but hardly expect an announcement that we have risen to the challenge. The European debate on the issue has had equal longevity and coverage, with the British Academy of Management leading a search in 1995 for the academic beast that could leap Pettigrew’s (2001) double hurdle. What emerged was a debate closely aligned with the call for a transition from Mode 1 to Mode 2 forms of enquiry (Gibbons et al., 1994; Nowotny et al., 2001) most notably characterised by Tranfield and Starkey (1998) who argued that management research must take account of the fields ontology as a discipline of practice which aligns it more with engineering than pure science and lends itself to Mode 2 collaborative enquiry. Despite diversions towards Mode 1.5 (Huff, 2000) recognising that Mode 1 and Mode 2 are not dichotic, the call for a move to Mode 2 was carried through to the influential Starkey-Madan report (2001), albeit with the caution that it was not Mode 2 at the expense of Mode 1. We were then offered the tantalising thought of moving to Mode 3 (Starkey, 2001)! Despite the attention brought to the issue by such eminent scholars the conversation has stubbornly remained in this conceptual phase. Perhaps because we are too wedded to our traditional approaches or perhaps we have not found the means of articulating the method needed to match our emerging theory. One attempt to move the theory towards a method of investigation is provided by McLean, MacIntosh and Grant (2002) with the first comprehensive articulation of the five key features of mode 2 enquiry in what they call their 5mode2 framework and it is from this point that we try to take up the challege to transcend Mode 1 in our teaching and research. Whether we have reached mode 1.5, Mode 2, Mode 3, Hodgkinson’s Pragmatic Science (2001:S42) or Pettigrew’s double hurdle (2001) is unclear. The intention of our paper is not to propose a neatly packaged Mode 1.75 approach or a lofty Mode 4, but rather it is to explore the struggle, reaffirm the need, and point to the opportunities. The paper is structured around three key issues. First, the question of why so little progress has been made in the intervening period? Second, we question what is considered to be managerially relevant research and who gets to decide together with the allied question of what we consider to be rigour and how this is evolving ? Third we discuss the challenges for the future.
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