Qualitative Methodology as a More Favorable Research

Introduction

Problems within the organization are often dealt by managers in reference to their experiences or their intuitions about the best possible method in order to solve a particular issue.  In other cases, the aforementioned tend to consult their social networks to seek advice, rather than lean towards adopting scientifically based theories and practices (Denyer and Tranfield, 2006).   There are certain instances that these alternatives of managers produce favorable results, however due to the increasingly competitive global economy, together with the introduction of new information and knowledge, it has now become imperative for organizations to take advantage of their “knowledge assets” (Eisenhardt and Santos, 2002; Conner and Prahalad, 1996; Spender, 1996; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Davenport and Prusak, 1998 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.213).

The drive to “scientisize” the management field within the context of the social sciences has become a trend during the past few decades since there has been pressing needs to create a logistics model that are relatively more scientific in nature, and does not rely primarily on personal managerial experiences (Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.214).  However, the act of scientisizing the entire logistics process has not at all been favorable to a number of scholars.  As such, it is with this respect that advocacies in terms of adopting an alternative research paradigm have become more evident as the drive for knowledge creation and the capacity to deal with emerging problems have been viewed as important by the logistics industry.

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The importance of adopting a knowledge based framework that caters specifically to a target area is very vital so as to reduce the “relevance gap” which most researches and studies have right now due to the trend of primarily using quantitative approaches in terms of logistics research (Starkey and Madan, 2001 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.214).  In addition, this relevance gap came about due to the increased researchers’ failure to provide information and formulate alternatives for a particular issue that are really necessary for the industry.  According to Berry (1995, as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006), this scenario came to effect due to the high patronage of the scientific community to the quantitative research tradition which is highly positivistic in nature (p.214).

It is with this respect that the author has pointed out the role of qualitative research methods in terms of creating research outputs that are more within the context of the pressing concerns faced by the logistics industry (Gibbons et al., 1994 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.214).  The use of the qualitative method in other fields of management has already been adopted.  The importance of having so-called traditional scientific knowledge be transformed to a manner in which would be used effectively by a person who is in the field is one of the key factors for the success of various transfer mechanisms such as logistics (Van de Ven and Johnson, 2003, as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.214).

The Quantitative and the Qualitative Research Tradition

Quantitative research employs methods based on the testing of theories as it uses measurement of numbers, and statistical analysis to perform its studies. The idea behind quantitative research is often to ascertain that a generalized theory or the prediction of a theory will be confirmed by the use of numerical data. The aforementioned normally starts with a research question or a hypothesis in relation to other theories that are needed to be tested. The approach of quantitative research includes the use of formal and generally recognized instruments (Newman and Benz, 1998).  As such it is with this respect that it could be implied that quantitative research normally follows a rigid and fixed framework, that are normally based on established instruments or theories.  Therefore, this aspect of the quantitative research paradigm would entail that most of its outputs are generally fixed and therefore does not in any way provide a room for exploration.

In addition to this, the quantitative tradition of research focuses on conducting studies with an underlying expectation that a consensus could be arrived at. This method usually aims at arriving at a predictable generalization and a causal explanation. As a result of this, tradition of research was said to be able to create a controlled environment paving the way to an inductive analysis. The goal of this research tradition is to establish a consensus by reducing data to numerical indications, hence finally identifying if certain generalizations are valid or invalid (Newman and Benz, 1998; Jensen, 2002). It is with this respect that most of the time, the output of quantitative research only leans toward the variables with characteristics that are predictable and thereby constricting the researcher of other variables that might affect his or her overall study in a positive manner.  As such it has been said by that the quantitative methodology tests cause and effect by using deductive logic, hence paving the way to predict, and explain the theory in question (Jensen, 2002).

The qualitative research process on the other hand views primary data collection as a process in which the researcher gets closer to a participant and then eventually getting valuable information through interviews and observations.  The qualitative research process is expected to “confront the constraints of daily life” as it seeks to address issues and problems that are emerging, and has not yet been studied yet by any existing positivistic research paradigm (Naslund, 2002, p.328).  It is with this respect that this research tradition is able to gather rich descriptions of valuable data, unlike those with the quantitative research tradition which have data which are very limited (p.329).  Due to the emphasis on broad and rich descriptions of ideas and meanings of the group of people who participated in a study, the possibility of creating a whole new paradigm or theory is very likely (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994 as cited from Naslund, 2002, p.329)

Philosophical Roots

The quantitative tradition of research is highly dominated by the positivist and modernist paradigm; on the other hand, the qualitative tradition of research is defined depending on its epistemological roots such as for instance “postmodernism, interpretivism, critical theory or social constructionism” (Gephart, 1999 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162).

According to Davis (1998) the positivist research approach, also known as the quantitative research paradigm, primarily views research as “value free” and objective.  Hence, it is with this respect that within this type of tradition, the researcher often interprets the primary data only in accordance to the evidence and nothing beyond that.  No evaluative statements or judgments pertaining to emotions such as the researcher being happy or sad about the outcome of the data are given.  This approach is normally used to study hypotheses in an environment where the researcher can control the aforementioned based on “validity, reliability, generalization, and replication” (p.5).  It is with this respect that it could be said that the quantitative research paradigm is primarily looking towards an objective and unchanging world wherein the researcher seeks to study certain variables in a controlled environment.

On the other hand, the qualitative tradition of research since is primarily dependent on its epistemological roots, has interpretations that vary that is mostly dependent on every researcher (Cassell et al, 2006).  Albeit, Hollowat and Todres (2003 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006) argued that there are certain instances where one could see an overlap of the “epistemological, aesthetic, ethical and procedural concerns” which in sum paves the way for one to have a general overview of what qualitative research is.  Some of these generic characteristics are for instance textual data, visual images or techniques that are normally used in the qualitative process (p.162).

It is with this respect that it could be said that the qualitative research tradition is more interpretative and subjective towards their approach on the subject matter (Naslund, 2002, p.324).  The emphasis on the world view of “looking inside rather than outside” implies a more humanistic perception in terms of the interpretation of an area under discussion because it is primarily involved on the views of people who are directly participating in a particular process (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994 as cited from Naslund, 2002, p.324).  The focus on the views of a specific group of people and significantly gathering information from them in forms of interviews, focus group discussions and the like are viewed to be a richer source of relevant information.

Despite the perceived advantages that qualitative research brings to a study it has been perceived by Cassell and Symon (2006) that most qualitative researches remained to be published only in top journals (Van Maanen, 1979; Cassell et al., 2006 as cited from Cassell and Symon, 2006, p.5).  In addition to this, researchers using the qualitative tradition have also been very scarce (Lee, 2001; Sparrow, 1999; Gephart and Rynes, 2004) and their studies were only used as a feature research for special issues of most journals (Cassell and Symon, 2006).  It is with this respect that Cassell and Symon (2006) pointed out the within the management paradigm, qualitative research remains to be invisible as its practice has not been viewed by researchers as worthy of going mainstream.

The Qualitative Research Tradition

Three of the most important approaches of qualitative research that is very vital in terms of creating an effective logistics research are the use of secondary data analysis, meta-analysis, triangulation and case studies.

Secondary Data

One of the ways in which logistics knowledge creation could be dealt as is the use of evidence-based approach in which findings from literature review from professional publications and the like are collaborated, analyzed and interpreted hence creating a whole new or improved epistemological framework (Tranfield and Starkey, 1998 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.215).

It is with this respect that the use of secondary data for the literature review allows researchers to formulate new ideas from high quality publications and well renowned researchers which knowledge outputs and best-practices suggestions (Hamer and Collinson, 1999; Muir-Gray, 1997; Trinder and Reynolds, 2000 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.215).  In addition to this, Tranfield and Starkey (1998 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006) argued that the fragmentation of knowledge in terms of research in logistics could only be solved if research endeavors and its outputs would become more connected, developed and utilized across various domains (p.215).

The method of systematic reviews has also been argued to be very beneficial in terms of creating a comprehensive study and a robust comparative approach among various practices and theories that would allow an organization to perform well (Greenhalgh, 1997, p. 672 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006). According to Cooper (1998 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006) systematic reviews are one of the most reliable form of research review as it often implements certain methods that are rigorous.  In a systematic review, the “clear statement of the purpose of the review, a comprehensive search and retrieval of the relevant research, explicit selection criteria, critical appraisal of the primary studies, and reproducible decisions regarding relevance, selection, and methodological rigor of the primary research” is often taken into close consideration (Cook, 1997, p. 350 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.217).

Meta-Analysis, Triangulation and Case Studies

Meta analysis is a form of a qualitative research approach which integrates all information from various studies within the same subject area in order to arrive at a conclusion about two related variables, such as for instance, “the effect of X intervention to Y income” (Cook et al., 1997, p. 380 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006). The process of meta-analysis is vital as it takes into consideration all possible research paradigms that could be useful in the entire research process.

Closely related to the concept of meta-analysis is the process of triangulation in which is a form of a qualitative research which seeks to integrate both qualitative and quantitative data (Roberts et al., 2002 as cited from Denyer and Tranfield, 2006, p.218).  The process of triangulation among researches could be primarily applied among case study researches since case studies often take into consideration both qualitative and quantitative evidences (p.330).

Case studies often answers questions of “why” and “how” and is most especially suited in studying contemporary events as it takes into close account multiple sources of information in order to provide a solution for a particular problem.  In case studies the process of triangulation can pave the way to a rich source of information that could be effectively interpreted through meta-analysis hence paving the way for a description that would test existing paradigms or create new theories (Eisenhardt, 1989 as cited from Naslund, 2002, p.330 ).

Benvasat et al. (1987) argued that case studies are one of the most effective approaches in qualitative research as it studies a phenomenon in its natural place and the data being used in the study is collected in multiple means.  In the same manner, since there are only a few groups of people that are being studied, its complexity are more dissected, hence paving the way for a more rich understanding and interpretation. In addition to this, case studies also provide favorable results in terms of exploring, classifying and developing hypothesis in the process of knowledge building.  In addition, since there are no controls set in the research that are mostly in quantitative studies, represented by independent and dependent variables, a whole lot of information is able to be gathered by the researcher (Naslund, 2002, p.330-331)

Qualitative Research on Logistics Management

The role of qualitative research methods within the areas of managerial research is primarily centered on the nature of managerial work (Dalton, 1959; Mintzberg, 1973; Watson, 1977; Jackall, 1988;Watson, 1994 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162), the effect of organizational control systems (Roy, 1960; Lupton, 1963;Kunda, 1992; Willmott and Knights, 1995 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162), employee dynamics (Gouldner, 1954;Armstrong et al., 1981; Collinson, 1992 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162), experiences in the workplace (Rosen, 1985;Kondo, 1990; Van Maanen, 1991; Giroux, 1992; Meyerson, 1994 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162) and finally, gender and identity within the organization (Kanter, 1977; Pollert, 1981; Martin, 1990; Ely, 1995; Parker, 2000 as cited from Cassell et al, 2006, p.162).  From these, it could be implied that the use of qualitative research most especially in the field of logistics is rarely adopted by the research community.

The use of this research tradition on the field of supply chain management is vital because ever since the 1960’s the discipline has been primarily dominated by the positivistic research framework (Arlbjorn and Halldorsson, 2002, p.22).  It is with this respect that the drive among the research community in logistics management has further intensified to develop more their theories, their testing procedures and eventually its application by “borrowing” (p.22) other paradigms in order to enrich the entire logistics process.  It is with this respect that the concept of knowledge creation was cited by Arbnor and Bjerke (1997 as cited from Arlbjorn and Halldorsson, 2002) as very important in order to modify existing theories and practices that dominate the logistics industry (p.23).

According to Arlbjorn and Halldorsson (2002), the concern of logistics has already gone beyond effective flows of products but also it now includes concepts such as job enrichment or how will a company will be able to motivate its employees. Other than this, the use of modern technologies in order to solve problems such as information technology, which is expected to further improve the customer relationship management (CRM) process of a particular organization (p.26), has now entered the framework of logistics knowledge creation.  It is with this respect that the industry has already gone beyond the positivistic study and formula creation in order to improve processes.  It has now established an inclination towards the use of multiple sources of information, which include quantitative and qualitative data, uses secondary research systematic reviews, and eventually integrates all of them to create a meta-analysis hence, a triangulated process of collecting, analyzing, interpreting and eventually creating new logistics knowledge bases.

Unified Logistics Paradigm and Qualitative Research

The importance of developing a “unified theory of logistics” that would specifically create a robust framework that would emphasize the role of logistics for a particular firm is very vital (Mentzer, Min and Bobbit, 2004, p.606). Within the adoption of a unified theory of logistics, certain issues in logistics management that formerly remain to be the focus of most researches in the aforementioned such as processes, could be significantly changed.  Considerations on the role of logistics in relation to “customer service, customer value, and relationship management”(p.622), would now be taken into consideration in which the role of qualitative research approach could significantly be applied.

Summary

This research shows that the qualitative tradition should be adopted and be used as a mainstream approach in terms of conducting researches in logistics management.  The role of the quantitative tradition of research, which relies primarily on a positivistic framework, is very limiting and would not provide the logistics sector its most needed knowledge creation.  In this research, the use of secondary data synthesis, meta-analysis, triangulation, and the case study approach is viewed by the researcher to be favorable in terms of addressing emerging issues, problems and trends in the logistics industry that could not be significantly captured by the positivistic paradigm.  The calls of the logistics sector to create a unified theory of logistics is a sign that the logistics industry would be facing increased demands in terms of further developing its framework and the theories that it uses.  As such, the role of the qualitative tradition comes into place as it provides the industry methods that would allow the aforementioned to have a rich source of information and eventually create new theories or improve existing ones.