Connected Papers

The following tool was brought to my attention the other day: Connected Papers, “a visual tool to help researchers and applied scientists find and explore papers relevant to their field of work”. It analyzes thousands of papers, selects the ones with the strongest connections to an entered paper, and generates a graph. In this graph, the tool arranges papers according to their similarity in terms of co-citation and bibliographic coupling. Unlike in a citation tree (e.g., Web of Science), “even papers that do not directly cite each other can be strongly connected and very closely positioned”, which I believe is a very useful alternative to other search strategies. “According to this measure, two papers that have highly overlapping citations and references are presumed to have a higher chance of treating a related subject matter.” With the help of the tool, I was able to identify very exciting papers that I would certainly not have found with other search engines. Connected Papers is self-funded and free.

Food Supply Chain Emissions

The importance of food supply chain emissions has increased. According to a study, entitled Food Systems Are Responsible for a Third of Global Anthropogenic GHG Emissions, recently published in Nature Food by Monica Crippa et al. (2021), our food systems emit 34% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions every year. It turns out that “[t]he largest contribution came from agriculture and land use/land-use change activities (71%), with the remaining were from supply chain activities: retail, transport, consumption, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging”. What is remarkable about this study is the level of detail and size of the dataset, called EDGAR-FOOD, which identifies the sources of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire food production and supply chain. One of the coauthors argues that “[a]ny policy decision requires a good and robust evidence base”, hoping that “EDGAR-FOOD will be helpful in identifying where action to reduce food system greenhouse gas emissions is most effective”.

Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D., Monforti-Ferrario, F., Tubiello, F. N., & Leip, A. (2021). Food Systems Are Responsible for a Third of Global Anthropogenic GHG Emissions. Nature Food, 2, 198–209. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9

Critical Engaged SCM Research

The Journal of Supply Chain Management is doing an excellent job of stretching the boundaries of our discipline. I know from various conversations with colleagues that I am not the only fan of the journal. I would like to give an example of a very powerful recent JSCM paper: Touboulic, McCarthy, & Matthews (2020). It is entitled Re-Imagining Supply Chain Challenges Through Critical Engaged Research. The authors explore “how engaged research can support the development of the theory and practice of supply chain management (SCM) and present critical engaged research as an extended form of engaged research”. Check out the following video from the authors explaining their vision of critical engaged SCM research.

Research Quality vs. Research Quantity

I recently read on LinkedIn how a department head bragged about how many papers his team published in highly ranked journals over the past year. This mentality has to stop because it does not lead to more, but to less quality. In fact, quantity competes with quality. Often “motivated” by the disincentive systems of their universities, many academics waste their time writing lots of papers that no one ever will cite. They should rather invest this time in writing one great paper. This can take years, but is worth doing. For example, Mark Granovetter is a highly acclaimed academic who some consider worthy of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Google Scholar counts almost 150,000 citations of his work. Yet, 70% and 84% of these citations refer to just 2 and 5 of his great papers, respectively. So if you ever sit on an assessment committee or make bonus decisions, do not just count the number of publications in certain journals per year. You might then overlook academic leaders like Granovetter.

Interpretive Supply Chain Management Research

Our discipline is still almost exclusively shaped by positivism. This is very surprising in view of the very complex social phenomena with which the discipline deals. However, recently I have noticed a (slowly) growing trend toward interpretivism. For example, Darby and her coauthors (2019) have discussed the set of questions interpretive research can address in SCM. Many SCM researchers may still be unsure of how best to conduct an interpretive study. Used to the structured approaches of positivist studies (e.g., Yin), we often would like to have a template in hand that shows us how to conduct an interpretive study. A new article by Mees-Buss and her coauthors (2021) argues that the inductive route to theory that templates (e.g., Gioia) offer do not address the challenges of interpretation. They argue that “a return to a hermeneutic orientation opens the way to more plausible and insightful theories based on interpretive rather than procedural rigor” and they offer “a set of heuristics to guide both researchers and reviewers along this path”.

Mees-Buss, J., Welch, C., & Piekkari, R. (2021), From Templates to Heuristics: How and Why to Move Beyond the Gioia Methodology. Organizational Research Methods, in print. https://doi.org/10.1177/1094428120967716

The Map Is Not the Territory

One of the most interesting articles I have read recently is The Map Is Not the Territory: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping by Fabbe-Costes and her coauthors (IJOPM, 2020). The authors argue: “Most past conceptions of SC mapping have involved identifying one map of a supply chain as a common reference point for all actors concerned. As such, a supply chain map, like a geographical map, is supposed to represent the SC ‘territory’.” They then show that no map can actually include everything, that is, “the map is not the territory”. The authors compare three paradigmatic positions: In positivism, a supply chain map is simply a representation of what the supply chain is (i.e., the territory). In interpretivism, a map is a mental individual representation of the supply chain. In constructivism, a map is what is needed to work and reach the shared goal – it is what is “at stake” for each “social world”.

Fabbe-Costes, N., Lechaptois, L., & Spring, M. (2020), “The Map Is Not the Territory: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 40 (9), 1475–1497. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-12-2019-0828

Global Supply-Chain Effects of COVID-19 Control Measures

Among the numerous SCM articles that appeared in 2020, one was particularly popular: Global Supply-Chain Effects of COVID-19 Control Measures by Guan et al. (2020). The authors “analyse the supply-chain effects of a set of idealized lockdown scenarios, using the latest global trade modelling framework”. This model is an extension of the so-called ARIO model, which is often used in the literature to simulate how negative shocks propagate throughout the economy. The findings can be summarized as follows: “Short, sharp shock: stricter COVID-19 lockdowns imposed earlier have a smaller economic impact than moderate lockdowns that last longer, according to an analysis of global supply chains. The researchers suggest a cautious approach to easing restrictions could also prevent subsequent lockdowns.” The article is part of the 2020 Altmetric Top 100, which lists the most discussed articles across 20 disciplines. It was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Guan, D., Wang, D., Hallegatte, S. et al. (2020). Global Supply-Chain Effects of COVID-19 Control Measures. Nature Human Behavior, 4, 577–587. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0896-8

Net-Zero Challenge: The Supply Chain Opportunity

A new World Economic Forum report, entitled Net-Zero Challenge: The Supply Chain Opportunity and co-authored with Boston Consulting Group, showcases “the opportunity that all companies have for huge climate impact through action to decarbonize global supply chains”. This report argues that addressing supply-chain emissions enables many companies to impact “a volume of emissions several times higher than they could if they were to focus on decarbonizing their own direct operations and power consumption alone”. Among the major findings of the report: (1) Many companies can multiply their climate impact by decarbonizing supply chains; (2) Eight supply chains account for more than 50% of global emissions; (3) Net-zero supply chains would hardly increase end-consumer costs; (4) But: decarbonizing supply chains is hard. The report contains a step-by-step guide, which shows nine major initiatives every company can undertake. These initiatives were identified through interviews with a large number of global companies that, according to the authors, lead the way in reducing supply-chain emissions.

Personal Predictions for Supply Chain Management in 2021

The pandemic has caused a great deal of suffering to many people. More than ever, the crisis made the general public aware of the importance of supply chain management. In the beginning, many realized that supply chain disruptions can create problems with supplies of food, face masks, and medicine. Later, many recognized the importance of functioning SCM for vaccine distribution. Most importantly, the crisis teaches us that we have to leave outdated narratives behind. Much has been questioned, many new ideas have emerged. This crisis could therefore turn into an opportunity for the necessary societal transformation. It might just be a foretaste of the much more existential crises that lie ahead. If lockdowns and vaccinations are answers to the pandemic, then the answers to the climate and biodiversity crises are what? Many of these answers might be found in our global supply chains. Identifying them could be an important leadership opportunity for SCM in 2021. Now is the time for the SCM community to positively shape the future!