Last post was about an approach to accounting research that reduces the isolation that frequently occurs in a serious research department. I introduced the idea of an area based (accounting subject matter, or research methods or research methodology – whatever works for your setting) informal meeting groups that allows members of an area of interest to spend some time together on those interests.
The advantages are huge in my mind:
- it aids doctoral students and new faculty in being socialized into the local community of researchers
- it helps with informal accountability as no one wants to meet and say they accomplished nothing in the three or four weeks between meetings
- it makes us aware of what our colleagues are doing and allows for suggestions about how things could be approached differently
- it allows for a SAFE environment to experiment with early drafts of papers, research ideas etc.
While I know nothing is perfect, our brownbag group is the envy of many.
We can always find an excuse to say we are too busy, but if approached with good will and long term enlightened self-interest, this is an approach worth exploring – even for those rational utility maximizing folks.
When I became a full professor (many moons ago) the first thing I did was adopt the “lab” approach that is common in psychology. The principle is simple: researchers with a given area of interest commit to meeting together at defined intervals to discuss what they are working on and a detailed enquiry into some specific piece of work.
At Queen’s we adopted the research methods approach to organizing (alternatively one could organize by subject matter) and our “lab” is called the “social and behavioral accounting brownbag.” It is composed of the four faculty in the area and the six doctoral students as well as any visiting faculty, adjunct faculty or others that are interested in field or experimental research based on economic, psychology or sociology theories. We commit to meeting four or five times a term, normally at intervals of three weeks.
A typical “lab” meeting is done over lunch, for two hours, and starts with a roundtable “update” by each person about what has been occupying their academic time (teaching/taking classes, research and service) since the last time we met (i.e. “the appetizer course”).
Then we delve into the “main course” that could be discussing a working paper by one of the members, previewing a presentation that a member wants to get feedback on (e.g. proposals, road shows), discussing a preliminary idea for carrying out research or discussing a particularly interesting article that someone suggests we might enjoy reading.
One of the keys to success is to be inclusive. Everyone talks because they are asked to! Further, we separate the discussion into two phases – what we like about the subject matter and then, after all have spoken on our likes – we move onto what accountants do best, constructive criticism. To me, this two phase approach is an article of faith – when we drop it – we lose the constructive nature of the discussion. Further, it makes us think deeply about what we like about the research – something that we have a hard time to do in accounting!!!
In my last post I noted the growing trend from editors and reviewers of positivist field research in accounting to require that it contribute to “theory”. In my mind that is an inappropriate methodological (not methods) importation from interpretive field research in accounting.
WHY? In interpretive research, the dance between theory creation and research reporting is an ongoing one as reality is socially constructed. So some argue it is natural that research reporting should engage with a dialogue with theory. In other words, it should not be a one way street given the social construction of reality argument.
However, positivist field research while understanding to some extent that argument, is focused on using theory to help make tentative predictive statements about the accounting world. Positivists believe that there are regularities out there that can be discovered via research and predictions developed via theory. Here, while there might be a dance between theory and research findings, the normal science approach does not require it except in cases of anomalies.
So editors and reviewers that are insisting on theory contributions from positivist field research are missing the point. Positivist field research is about understanding in light of theory leading to tentative predictions. Requiring more, as is often being done these days, is in my mind completely inappropriate.
That’s my thought!!!