A Framework for Management Research: Research to Support Evidence-based Management
This section begins by looking
at definitions of management research and then considers
issues around conducting it:
One of the central difficulties in evidenced-based management
is that the systematic evidence to inform management decisions
is still sparse. Clearly more systematic evidence will be
needed to support widely-practiced evidenced-based management.
There are several general types of information that can support
evidenced-based decision making: continuous quality improvement,
knowledge management and research. We focus here on research.
- Defining management research
The term management research is a broad
one and is often used in two different, but overlapping, ways:
- Research for managers. Used in this way,
management research is research tailored to specific
management needs and usually conducted at the request
of managers. While it ideally informs theory and
contributes to the development of knowledge, the
priority is to answer specific questions defined in
conjunction with managers, generally within timeframes
that meet their needs. The distinguishing feature of
management research under this definition is the target
audience not a particular subject area.
Research about management and organizations.
In this context, management research is defined by the
subject of study: it is research, for example, about
how organizations are structured and function; the
practices of decision-making; the factors that affect
organizational operations. It focuses on issues at
levels higher than the clinician-patient interaction -
for example, on clinic operations, service delivery
models, hospitals or integrated delivery systems.
The emphasis is on building knowledge.
In some studies, both definitions
apply: the study is requested by a manager but is
expected to add to theory as well as address shorter-term
management questions. The evaluation of service lines in
VA conducted at the MDRC is an example of a study that
fell at the intersection of the two meanings of
One of the challenges of management research is the complexity of
the issues to be studied. When investigators are conducting
research for managers, the first challenge is to turn the
manager's question or issue into a good research question.
Conversely, when researchers are developing their own
research about management and organizations, they should
frame the questions to be relevant to managers, over the
long- if not the short-term.
Researchers and managers, in collaboration, must begin by
avoiding broad, vague or highly abstract research questions
and instead ask questions that focus on specific management
issues. Although theoretical arguments are often useful in
developing greater understanding of managerial problems, it
is more likely that the results will be used if the research
answers practical questions that managers need to understand.
Furthermore, the questions selected must be important to the
organization. These questions might be operational (for
short-term decision-making) or strategic, related to the
viability of the organization in the future.
It is unrealistic to expect managerial
decision making to be redesigned around research priorities
or processes. There should be a match between when the
results will be available and when management must make
When framing research question(s),
investigators should not underestimate the cultural
and educational chasm between managers and researchers.
While managers will have an understanding of the issues
to be studied, most will not be familiar with research
literature on the topic or with research methodology
and statistics. Therefore managers may not be as
concerned as the researcher about using systematic
methods or advanced analytic techniques.
Managers and researchers often approach studies from
very different perspectives - the manager is looking
to make changes; the researcher often approaches the
study to prove or disprove hypotheses to build
knowledge and/or theory - and may not necessarily be
looking for clear and obvious answers. A partnership
between the researcher and the manager will help
bridge the natural differences in approach.
There may be a steering committee
with multiple clients involved. The extent to which
different goals are acknowledged and worked through
will assist in ensuring that all objectives can be
achieved. Note that on-going involvement of clients
can result in a shifting of gears mid-study. It
can be a challenge to be responsive to the client
while setting boundaries related to research methods.
Another difference between the approach of the researcher
and the manager is often the timeframe they have in mind
for producing study results. Managers have a need for
quick results in order to apply to current or imminent
operational issues. Researchers are often not used to
deadlines created by operations or implementation timetables.
For the results to be useful, the
question may have to be refined in order to provide
results within the timeframe required by the manager.
To be certain that the clients will get the answers
they are looking for, in an appropriate timeframe,
the clients should be an integral part of framing
the research question.
Managers will value the timeliness
of the study results. This need for timely information
may result in a trade-off between creating the most
rigorous design and getting portions of the study
Reporting results typically
cannot wait for the traditional peer-reviewed journal
article to be published. Results should be provided
on an on-going basis when possible, and in planned
interim reports. These reports should be tailored
to meet the specified needs of the managers.
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