Myriad reflections on management research

Monday, 23 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It was a delight to read the newly launched book titled ‘Research in Management: A Guide to Practice,’ written by Professors Sudatta Ranasinghe and Mangala Fonseka. Both of them are my teachers in management and I have seen how they are practicing what they have documented.

Today’s column is not to pay lip service to them, but to ponder on the process of management research in Sri Lanka with a view to renew the interest.

Let me use triple Cs for my discussion: context, contents and conduct.

Context

Management research is a part of the wider array of research. Whilst positive initiatives are being taken, current situation with respect to research in Sri Lanka is far from a satisfactory level.

I read an article written by Dr. Jayaratne Pinikahana a few months ago, highlighting the need to focus on for private sector to collaborate in university research. He shared some revealing statistics about local research.

“Sri Lanka contributes only 0.17% from GDP whereas Singapore contributes 2.3%, South Korea, 2.9% and China, 1.3% from their GDP for research. A recent report published by the Ministry of Technology and Research in Sri Lanka revealed that Sri Lanka has only 287 researchers per million, which is less than the world average of 894. The average number of researchers per million in the developed world and the developing world is 3,272 and 374 respectively. It is clear from these statistics that Sri Lankan situation is worse than the average third world situation. The most alarming situation is that it is getting worse in recent years. For example, in 1996 Sri Lanka had 6,000 full time researchers including university researchers but by 2006 this number declined to 4,200.”

In such a context, any move to strengthen the research rigor, particularly among the university community, is commendable. As I observe, there is a clear need to create better awareness on the importance of research. This I see acutely in the field of management.

Status of management research

As our authors comment: “Our experience as teachers of management as well as supervisors and examiners of research undertaken by postgraduate students in management is that the quality of research can be improved substantially by providing a simple, yet comprehensive guide to research in management, particularly for the student engaged in postgraduate studies in management.”

One may wonder why management research in specific. Management is a branch of social sciences. It differs from pure sciences such as chemistry and physics, but draws a vast amount of knowledge from related areas such as economics, sociology, psychology and political science. Unlike conducting laboratory research in pure sciences, there is one large laboratory available for management research, which is society.

If that is the scenario, what should our approach be? Let’s look at the contents.

Contents

What is management research? The above mentioned book attempts to provide a comprehensive answer. According to its authors, research can be defined as an intellectual activity that is directed towards scientific inquiry into a problem with a view to analysing and explaining a problem. It can also be described as a systematic, data-based, critical, objective, scientific investigation into a specific problem.

There is a basic premise involved. Our knowledge of the world around us is incomplete.

Hence, the purpose of research is to contribute (or add) to the stock of available knowledge. For me, it is like solving a puzzle. Research is like tackling a puzzle that is in front of you.

Features of good research

As our authors highlight, research of superior quality has the following features:

  • Clear problem focus
  • Objective and unbiased presentation of research findings
  • Addresses knowledge gaps
  • Methodologically sound and adopts appropriate methods in data collection and analysis
  • Due acknowledgement is given to other’s work
  • Conforms to ethical criteria
  • Well organised data and ideas clearly presented
  • Clarity and consistency are maintained throughout the research
  • There is adequate explanation of relevant facts

In ensuring the presence of the above features, there is a specific need for integration between researcher, problem and the design. Those triple elements are linked through the objectives of the research. Figure 1 further illustrates this coherence.

One who is embarking on research should be very clear about the objectives associated, as a starting point. Let’s dwell more on the process of such an enriching exercise.

Conduct

Professor Uditha Liyanage, Director of Postgraduate Institute of Management, in his foreword to the above book, states as follows: “Doing research is often considered by students of postgraduate studies almost as an aside, not quite in the mainstream of their work; in fact, as being rather irrelevant and of little practical value. The misconception must be laid to the rest, because research, quintessentially, is about science. Indeed, the scientific approach to comprehending reality is underpinned by robust research methodology.”

His observations are consistent with the student behaviour we see in the past few years. Some come from a ‘tuition mindset,’ where shortcuts are sought to complete studies without any rigour. Research does require a certain amount of rigour. This connects with the qualities of a good researcher.

Qualities of a good researcher

There are several key qualities that can be highlighted. The list provided by Professors Ranasinghe and Fonseka is as follows:

1    Objectivity and absence of bias: The researcher does not attempt to prove his/her point without considering evidence that challenges the point

2    Tends to probe deep issues and never accepts things on face value or never take things for granted

3    Does not look for shortcuts and is prepared to go through difficulties in finding facts

4    Believes in rationality and relies on the power of reasoning

5    Has an inquiring and analytical mind and continues to raise “what if” type questions

6    Communicates well. Keeps things simple and avoids unnecessary jargon

7    Committed to fulfilling the research objectives and continues to remain focused. Maintains integrity and avoids committing unethical acts like plagiarism by using other’s work without due acknowledgement

8    Maintains honesty in data gathering as well as reporting

9    Preserves confidentiality of information. Not concerned with personal publicity and prestige

10    Conscious of time and keeps to a time-schedule through better time management.

It will be worthwhile to reflect on oneself as to what level the above qualities are present.

Way forward

Management research has to gain a renewed enthusiasm in Sri Lanka. The presence of several annual research conferences and the availability of several management journals are a welcome sign for a better future. A lot more needs to be done to ensure that management research contributes to the development of Sri Lankan economy whilst enriching the body of knowledge.

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