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Research methods usage in logistics and SCM: an overview of three literature reviews


There is an ongoing debate on empirical research methods in the logistics and supply chain management area. The more traditional way of quantitative research helps to test hypothesis in a more statistical way. Researchers try to validate the cause and effects of the variables by the help of statistical methods. In the qualitative research approach the researcher aims to identify processes and contents and analysis them in a more interpretative way. In the discussions on methods usage some researchers argue, that the qualitative research approach is not “real research” and is more storytelling. On the other hand the quantitative approach is criticized for just “testing theory” and not generating new insights. There are several articles published, which analyze the methods usage in Logistics and SCM. I reviewed three of them (the newest I found) in order to identify the status quo in terms of methods usage and the emerging trends. Before identification of the commonalities and differences of the three, the main results of each article are shown in a brief summary.

Frankel et al. 2005 reviewed all articles from the JBL published in the period 1999-2004 in terms of methods usage. They differentiate between survey, interview, observation, focus groups, cases, experiments, literature reviews/ document study and content analysis. They also identify first and secondary methods usage.  The results show, that appr. 50 % of the articles use survey based research as data collection method. Case study method was applied in 10 articles, 9 used interviews as primary data source and 20 as secondary.  The increasing usage of case studies and the improving documentation of the case study method is one trend emerging from their analysis. Another one is the growing number of articles using triangulation. The authors emphasize, that a “withe space” in the area of methods usage exists in logistics research and call for application of these methods (case study, focus groups and observations) in order to gain further knowledge in the logistics discipline.

Sachan und Datta 2005 analyze 442 articles published in JBL, IJPDLM, SCMIJ from 1999 until 2003. They categorize the articles according to the research design, the number of hypothesis testing, the research methods and the data analysis techniques applied in the papers. The results show, that 57% of the articles use empirical research designs. Interestingly 18 % are categorized as qualitative research designs and 2% as triangulated empirical designs. According to the methods used, survey based research counts to 34,6 % followed by other approaches (20,8%). They identify a lack in “innovative usage of secondary data”, in application of theory from other disciplines and in research at an interorganizational level.

Craighead et al. 2007 analyze all articles published in JBL, TL, IJLM in the years 1993, 1996 and 2003 using a content analysis approach and a classification framework based on Meredith et al. (1989). They identify, that the number of empirical research methods used in logistics and SCM is rising, esp. more positivistic approaches such as survey based research. Further they call for the usage of more qualitative research approaches and for triangulation.

The three articles have some commonalities in their results. All of them show that a focus of supply chain and logistics research lies in positivistic research approaches. The survey method seems to be the most popular research method in this field. But also some trends emerged showing that the research changes over time. It seems that more qualitative approaches are used and also that triangulation is applied in a growing number of articles. All authors call for the usage of appropriate research methods for the research questions. They also emphasize that it is necessary to clarify the research paradigms in the publications. This means it is not the question if one method is „good or bad“, the question is which research method is the best one for your research question(s). Unfortunately the articles take into account publications until 2004, it can therefore be possible, that the methods usage in logistics and SCM has changed since 2004.

Please let my know your thoughts! If you know about some newer articles please let me also know.

Craighead, Christopher W.; Hanna, Joe B.; Gibson, Brian J.; Meredith, Jack R. (2007): Research approaches in logistics: Trends and alternative future directions. In: The International Journal of Logistics Management 18 (1), S. 22–40.

Frankel, Robert; Naslund, Dag; Bolumole, Yemisi (2005): THE “WHITE SPACE” OF LOGISTICS RESEARCH: A LOOK AT THE ROLE OF METHODS USAGE. In: Journal of Business Logistics 26 (2), S. 185–209.

Sachan, Amit; Datta, Subhash (2005): Review of supply chain management and logistics research. In: International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management 35 (9), S. 664–705.

Meredith, J. (1989): Alternative research paradigms in operations. In: Journal of Operations Management 8 (4), S. 297-326.

 

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