Business Essays - Food Supply Chain


Food Supply Chain

3.1 Introduction:

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the various research methodologies and philosophies that must be considered during the course of a research study. This will provide an outline of the methods undertaken in the pursuance of the objectives of this study. This chapter reviews the current methods used in information systems research. Following an examination into the philosophies and various research methods, a field study is proposed and justified.

This research method draws upon case studies and semi-structured interviews as a means of data collection. As the research methodology influences the manner in which the data is collected, particular attention should be afforded to ensure that the methodology is fitting for the subject matter being studied by the researcher (Myers And Avison, 2002)

3.1.1 Research Questions and Objectives

The literature explored in the previous review chapter put forward that the supply chain management has a huge impact on the Food Industry and what are all the major factors that impact on the design of supply chain in the food industry. If all the factors are not considered while designing the supply chain of food industry, that will lead to the inefficient supply chain management of the particular industry. By maintaining the proper pace with all the different factors in supply chain, efficient business of industry can be achieved.

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Also from previous literature the question needs to be asked “to how extent each factor has to be concerned while designing the supply chain for the food industry than how to evaluate the importance of each factor that plays a vital role in supply chain management?” .

In order to successfully answer the above objectives, some key questions emerged following wide-ranging illumination of the relevant literature.

  • The first research questions aims to determine why the supply chain design frameworks differ from industry to industry and from product to product and how it changes.
  • The next research question attempts to establish some of the main issues why supply chain management is to be followed in food industry and the main issues which effects on supply chain management in food industry.

Overall this dissertation aims to provide a theoretical guide to understanding key concepts of supply chain designs, supply chain management and practical issues that plays a pivotal role in Food Industry.

Myers and Avison (2002, Pg.5) define a research methodology as a “strategy of enquiry which moves from the underlying philosophical assumptions to research design and data collection”. This definition provides the underlying structure to this chapter, which is organised into the following sections:

The next section, entitled the Philosophical Views, details three known epistemological approaches adopted when conducting research. The most appropriate epistemology is selected based on its suitability for the present research. The research design sections sets out a selection of most popular research methodologies that fall under the quantitative and qualitative area. Each methodology is detailed together with an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses and its suitability for this research. This section concludes with the selection and detailed analysis of the most appropriate methodology for this research .

3.2 Philosophical Views

Researchers approach their study by either explicit or implicit assumptions about the nature of social world and the way in which it may be investigated (Burrel & Morgan, 1979). Research methodology refers to the approach or paradigm that underpins the research (Blaxter et al., 2001). A paradigm may be viewed as a set of basic beliefs that define the nature of the world and how to enquire it (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).

Failure to consider philosophical issues and underlying assumptions of the research methodology can affect the quality of research (Easterby-Smith, 1991). There are three main reasons why this is useful (Easterby-Smith 1991). Firstly, it can help to clarify the research design and the overall configuration of a piece of research.

Secondly, an understanding of underlying philosophies can help the researcher recognise the most suitable research design for their project and indicate the limitations of particular approaches. Thirdly, knowledge of these philosophies can help the researcher identify research designs according to the constraints of different subject or knowledge structures.

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Careful thought should be given to the choice of research approach to take into the account contextual factors. Faith plays a role in the acceptance of a particular paradigm, however well argued there is no way to establish their ultimate truthfulness (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). In choosing the research paradigm the researcher should be aware of the weaknesses of the preferred approach as well as being able to satisfy their own epistemological preferences (Remenyi, 1998)

3.2.1 Epistemological Assumptions

Epistemology assumptions can be described as the grounds of knowledge, about how one might begin to understand the world and communicate this as knowledge to fellow human beings (Brannick & Morgan, 1979). The researcher’s epistemological perspective determines what they consider as a valid, legitimate contribution to theory development or generation (Brannick & Roche, 1997). Epistemology deals with the relationship between the researcher and what can be known (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).

Epistemology assumptions determine extreme positions on the issue of whether knowledge is something that can be acquired on the one hand, or is something which has to be personally experienced on the other (Burrel & Morgan 1979). This has lead to some division between researchers on the basis of methodological orientation, or a positivist/interpretivist split (Goulding, 1999). This split between the positivist approach and the interpretive approach pervades the social sciences (Bernard, 2000).

3.2.2 Positivism

The main idea behind positivism is that the social world exists externally and that its properties should be measured through objective methods rather than subjectively through reflection, sensation and intuition (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002). Positivists believe that the world is external to them and adopt the role of independent observers of social reality in conducting research. The positivist philosophy emphasises objectivity, repeatability, and generalisabilty of the research findings (Chen & Hirschheim, 2004).

Positivists employ objective measurement methods to collect data in order to test theory. For example, positivists commonly use the quantitative method of surveys (Chen & Hirchheim, 2004). Criticism however has arisen for the positivist approach, from which it separates people from their social context and maintains that a researcher can remain objective throughout the process. This inflexible approach may lead to the omission of vital findings, thus reducing the validity of the research to a certain degree.

3.2.3 Interpretive

The terms ‘interpretivism’, ‘anti-positivism’ and ‘phenomenology’ routinely appear in the lexicon of research methodologies (Blaxter et al., 2001). From the interpretivist perspective, the social world is understood through the individuals directly involved in the phenomena being studied (Falconer & Mackay, 1999). The interpretive approach seeks to understand and explain why people have different experiences, rather than search for external laws and fundamental laws to explain their behaviour (Easterby-Smith, 1991). The interpretive approach implies that every event studied is a unique incident in its own right (Remenyi, 1998).

Interpretivist research does not predefine dependent and independent variables, but focuses on the complexity of human sense making as the situation emerges (Myers, 1997). Interpretive studies rarely generalise the results of the study to the larger population: rather they favour using the in-depth understanding of the phenomenon to inform other situations ((Chen & Hirschheim, 2004); (Orlikowski & Baroudi, 1991)). The collection of data by interpretivists requires submersion of the researcher into a social setting, to learn how and why the interactions take place. Field studies are an appropriate method for interpreting interactions.

3.2.4 Chosen Philosophy:

One important consideration in choosing an approach is whether or not a deductive or an inductive approach to theory is taken. A deductive approach is when a theory and hypothesis is developed and the research strategy is designed to test the hypothesis. An inductive approach involves a theory as a result of the data analysis. Saunders, Lewis an Thornhill (2003) observe that “deductive approach owes more to positivism and the inductive approach to interpretivism”.

The basis underlying positivist studies is the identification of research questions in an effort to test theory objectively and generalise from a sample population to the universal population (Guba and Lincoln, 1994; Snape and Spencer, 2003). Sample size is an important factor in the research effort. Positivist approach contends that properties should be measured through objective methods rather than subjectively through reflection, sensation and intuition and large size of saple is required to validate any findings. Added to this , the neutrality and generality characteristics of this philosophy make this approach unsuitable for this research.

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As interpretive studies are conduced in their natural settings and are primarily concerned with the observation and narrative, this study purports the adoption of an interpretive philosophy mainly because the author will be using an in-depth understanding of supply chain management and supply chain designs in the different Food Industries.

The next section details a selection of popular quantitative and qualitative methods available to researchers, including an evaluation of their strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for this research. Following this, researcher is in a position to justify their selection of the research methodology most appropriate for this study.

3.3 Research Design

The previous Literature Review chapter is compiled using secondary research applicable to the reasons how companies design the supply chains, issues associated with the supply chain management in food industry and the key areas which plays vital role in supply chain designs in food industry.

Having examined these areas it has enabled the author to gain valuable insights into the formation of the research objectives. This research incorporates behavioural and organisational issues as well as the technology itself. Vogt (1993) believes that research design is a “science (and) art in order to conduct research with the aim of achieving the most valid findings”.

Yin (1994) describes the research designs as an ‘action plan’ for getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’, where ‘here’ may is defined as the initial set of research questions and ‘there’, is described as a set of solutions to those questions. Galliers (1992) suggests that the choice of research approach should be based on considerations of the nature of IS systems themselves together with the research objective.

There is a varied range in research range of research methodologies available for researchers to use. However, the decision of when to use them depends on their strengths, weaknesses, and applicability to the research. The fundamental of research evaluation, whether qualitative or quantitative, is the truth value and the applicability of the study.

Truth value relates to the honesty of the design and the methods used to collect and weigh up data. Applicability relates to the meaningfulness and significance of the findings in experimental practice. Investigative assessment comprises of two straightforward questions: (1) Is this a significant area of study? (2) Is the design appropriate for answering the research question? Research designs should match the nature of the research question. (Pickler, 2007)

The primary procedural assumptions determine which research methodologies and techniques are applicable for gathering information concerning phenomena (orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). There are several classifications of research methodologies, however the main division is between qualitative and quantitative (Mingers, 2003).

3.4 Quantitative Approaches Available

Quantitative methods were originally developed in the natural sciences to study natural phenomenon (Myers & Avision, 2002). According to Falconer & Mackey, (1999) the assumptions underlying the quantitative research approach is that research designs should be based on an objective view of the world and follow the positivist model of controlling variables and testing pre-specified hypotheses.

It can describe as a research method that seeks to quantify the data and supply some form of statistical analysis. It consists of a deductive approach to understanding the relationship between theory and research with the theory testing being the emphasis (Bryma, 2004). Examples include survey methods, laboratory experiments, and numerical methods such as data modelling (Myers & Avision, 2002).

Quantitative methods are not with out their limitations. Oates (2006) argues that the analysis can only be as good as the data initially generated. By researches focusing on what can be measured, important non-quantitative aspects of the research topic may be missed. Reaves (1992) argues that because quantitative methods rely on human judgement they may not be as objective as one would like.

3.4.1 Laboratory Experiments:

The intention of laboratory experiments is to “test the impact that a treatment or intrusion has an outcome, while controlling all other factors that could have an influence on that outcome” (Cresswell, 2003). This methodology is not suitable for this research as there will be no intervention or influence on the part of the researcher while studying the phenomenon.

3.4.2 Survey Questionnaires

According to study performed by Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991) quantitative surveys are the most prevailing research method in the IS discipline. Quantitative surveys aims to reveal data on respondent’s attitude, opinions, and experiences using predetermined questionnaire material. In addition, survey methods are well-known for their quick respondent turnover when collecting data (Creswell, 2003).

3.5 Qualitative Approaches Available

Qualitative methods were developed in the social sciences to enable research to study social and cultural phenomena (Myers & Avision, 2002). Qualitative researches study subjects in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomenon in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Qualitative investigators believe they can get closer to the subjects perspective through details interviewing and observation. It involves the use of qualitative data such as interviews, documents and participant observation to understand and explain social phenomenon (Myers, 1997).

According to Strauss and Corbin (1998) Qualitative research means ‘any type of research that produces findings not arrived at by statistical procedures or other means of quantifications’. They go to say that qualitative methods can be used to obtain the complex details of phenomenon such as feelings or thought processes. A limitation of qualitative research is the danger of a researcher feeling overwhelmed by the volume of qualitative that can emerge from interviews or observation. This may affect the researcher’s ability to identify themes and patterns (Oates, 2006). The most common approaches used in qualitative research are action research, ethnography, inteviews and case studies and filed research.

Identifying a concise topic area and having a well-planned research procedure will smooth the progress of completion of a qualitative research study; however, the research process may become known as the researcher gains more knowledge from reviewing the literature, consulting experts, or beginning data collection. Qualitative research assumes that the researcher should provide an overview of his or her personal and professional perspectives and assumptions. (Byrne, 2006)

3.5.1 Action Research

Action research is a methodology which has dual aims of action and research:

  • Action to bring about change in some organisation or community
  • Research to increase understanding on the part of some wider community.

This methodology leads to the form of increased understanding on the part of those who are directly involved in the wider community or organisation. The outcomes of this methodology are change and learning for those who take part. This methodology leads to action to inform understanding, and understanding to assist action. Thus action research is a form of research intended to have both action and research outcomes.

Action research is a cyclic or a spiral, either explicitly or implicitly. An action research cycle consists at least of intention or planning before action and reviews or critique after. This methodology provides mix of responsiveness and rigour, thus meeting both the action and research requirement. Action research is a qualitative and participative methodology which is more responsive to the situation.

This methodology lends itself to use in work or community situation. The action research cycle can also be regarded as a learning cycle (Kolb, 1984).The educator Schon (1983, 1987) argues strongly that systematic reflection is a effective way for practitioners to learn. In the conventional way action research has been defined as a technique to conduct research based on collaborative problem-solving relationship between researcher and the client which aims at both solving problem and generating new knowledge.

Action research often starts with a fuzzy question and methodology; but provided each cycle ads to the clarity, this is appropriate. In this methodology, research situation demand’s responsiveness during the research project. Action research methodology by action science approach (Chris Argyris) is each person,s behaviour may lead to other persons developing unstated assumptions about that person, and inferring unstated rules about their interaction.

The result can be double self fulfilling prophecy. Action research methodology by soft systems methodology (Checkland 1981, 1982) is system of inquiry using a series of dialects. Action research methodology by evaluation approach is conventional system model in which resources corresponds to inputs, and activities to processes.

3.5.2 Ethnography

With ethnographic research, the researcher studies a cultural group by employing their observation skills in the natural setting for an extended duration of time. This allows the researcher to collect first-hand, key observational data about the phenomenon under study (Vidich & Lyman, 1994).

Ethnography is suitable for researcher projects where the phenomenon embedded in the social situation is complex and unclear and the social situation is poorly understood (Schultze, 2001). The ethnography approach requires the researcher to closely observe and engage in the everyday life of cultural groups and document their personal observations and experiences in detail (Schultze, 2001). Ethnography is not suited to this research based on its longitudinal nature and its in-depth interviewing of a handful of respondednts.

3.5.3 Interviews

There are a number of methods that can be used to carry out qualitative research, one of these being in-depth interviews with members of the teams on which the research is based and the companies being focused upon. The purpose of the interview is to probe the ideas of the interviewees about the phenomenon of interest (Trochim, 2006).

There are three basic approaches for collecting data through personal interviews and these are-informal conversational interview, standardised open-ended interview and in-depth interviews(Patton, 2002). Informal conversational interviews are open and adaptable to the interviewee where no predetermined questions are asked.

Open-ended questions allow interviewees to respond freely to answers and to provide further information rather than just one-sentence answers. In-depth interviews can provide rich and in-depth information about the experiences of individuals. It must also be recognised that many interview questions can be quite difficult to answer and investigators should perform a thoughtful analysis of all possible methods that can be used to answer the research question asked (DICICCO-BLOOM, 2006).

3.5.4 Case Study:

The case study is a thorough research strategy used to investigate phenomenon deeply within the context of their natural settings. Case studies focus on describing an explicit situation and relationships in that start of affaires usually within an explicit situation and relationships in that state of affairs usually within an organisation. Researchers relate an assortment of methods of data collection to gather well-off, detailed information on events, activities, and processes from one or more individuals over a particular period of time (Benbasat et al., 1987; Yin, 1994).

At the beginning of a case study, the boundaries of the phenomenon are not specified and the study begins with the researchers identifying research questions. One of the main strengths of case studies is that reality is captured in great detail and more variables can be analysed.

However, case studies commonly target a small number of respondents, thus limiting their reliability when generalising from the small sample to the overall population (Stapleton, 2001). An additional drawback related with the small sample size of case studies is the high risk of producing misleading results (Wall, 2003).

3.6 Selected Methodology

Easterby-Smith et al., (1997) define a research methodology as being a combination of techniques used to enquire into a specific situation. At this stage, it has been established that an interpretivist philosophy would be suitable for this research study. The methodology used will be one of qualitative research through the use of a case study involving one Indian Company and Irish Company whereby an in-depth understanding of organisational culture and their supply chain approach to maintain the effective supply chain management and the techniques and methods they are following will be examined.

Qualitative research methods should go well together with a philosophy of knowledge. Qualitative researchers must read expansively to enlarge their views and classify their personal epistemology. This will create an awareness of the various methodologies and the likeness or conflict with specific research methods. Commencement of a qualitative study begins with choosing atopic area and identifying plans for generating and analysing data.

3.6.1 Reasons for choosing Case Study method

The main reason for deciding to carryout a case study is because it is an intensive study of a specific context and it will help to gain the wide understanding of the different activities involved in Supply Chain Management in food industry is that depends on different factors with equal importance in all the Food Industries. Case-based research is a practical enquiry that investigates a present-day phenomenon with a real-lfe context when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly understood (Brannick, 1997).

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2003) observe that the case study strategy has considerable ability to generate answers to the questions “why?” as well as the “what?” and “how?” questions. Yin (1994) contends that the case study approach is appropriate for organisational and management studies. In organisational experiencing rapid change, statistical generalisations might be out of date by the time they are unravelled whereas a description of the processes might be valuable.

3.6.2 Reasons for In-Depth Interviews

In-depth interviews are chosen as the means to put into operation the primarily research in this case study. According to Cooper and Schindler (1998), advantages include a superior depth of information and detail can be obtained when compared to other techniques. The researcher has more flexibility to improve the quality of the information received than with any of the other methods also. Interviewers can search for additional questions and gather additional information through observation. Easter et al.,(1991) claim that interviewing has often been described as “the best” in order to collect information. In addition, a further reason why this approach was chosen for this research was its appropriateness to gather data with this complex issue and the time constraints imposed for a master’s dissertation.

3.6.3 Criticisms of Qualitative Researcher

Although the author believes that the qualitative research is the correct methodology to use for this study, there must be some limitations to be wary of when carrying out qualitative research. Aaker et al., (1998) argue that it is not so much the qualitative procedures that have limitations but more the fact that results are often misused and not projected to represent the population as a whole. Reliability of the information retrieved ca also be questionable.

Silverman (2000) argues that when interviews carried out on tape, and are then transcribed onto paper some valuable communication insights such as pauses or overlaps from the interviewee can be left out, hence reducing the reliability of the information retrieved. Also qualitative research can be time consuming and expensive with data obtained being hard to interpret.

3.7 Conclusion

Through the explanation of existing research philosophies and methodologies, this chapter set out the research design for the present study. This study purports the adoption of an interpretive philosophy in conjunction with the methodology of qualitative research. The next chapter sets out the finding s of the study, which gathered and analysed data using this research design.