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Supply Chain Diversity Buffers Cities Against Food Shocks

The effects of the climate crisis are increasingly dominating our global news. We have recently witnessed several record temperatures in North America, Scandinavia, and Antarctica, to name a few. This existential crisis also requires making our food supply chains more resilient. A new study of food shocks and how to buffer against them (Gomez et al., Supply Chain Diversity Buffers Cities Against Food Shocks) has just appeared in Nature. The authors acknowledge that “[n]etwork topological diversity and connectivity are key attributes of resilient social−ecological systems” and argue that “[f]ood supply chains, along with other material inflows such as water and energy, are a close analogy to an ecological food web”. They “show that boosting a city’s food supply chain diversity increases the resistance of a city to food shocks of mild to moderate severity by up to 15 per cent”. The model relies on food inflow observations from U.S. metropolitan areas and allows to explain a city’s resistance to food shocks in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration. This is an excellent study, indeed, and I would like to see such studies more frequently in our discipline.

Gomez, M., Mejia, A., Ruddell, B.L. et al. (2021). Supply Chain Diversity Buffers Cities Against Food Shocks. Nature, 595, 250–254. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03621-0

Ranking Journals: Academic Journal Guide 2021 (“ABS List”)

The influential Chartered Association of Business Scholars has just published its Academic Journal Guide 2021 (“ABS list”). What does this mean for the operations and supply chain management (OSCM) research community? I have looked at the ranks for 15 major OSCM journals.

Once again, only the following OSCM journals were classified in category 4*: Journal of Operations Management, Management Science and Operations Research. To be honest, I wonder if the asterisk is really still appropriate for Operations Research.

The following OSCM journals were given a 4 in the 2021 ABS list: European Journal of Operational Research, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Journal of Supply Chain Management and Production & Operations Management. This is good news for our discipline, because it means that the Journal of Supply Chain Management has moved up into this important category. However, it would have been time to give this journal not just a 4, but a 4*.

The following OSCM journals were given a grade of 3: Decision Sciences, International Journal of Production Economics, Journal of Business Logistics, Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management, Manufacturing & Service Operations Management and Supply Chain Management: An International Journal. Here, there are even two new entries: Journal of Business Logistics and Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management. While this is good news for both logistics and procurement scholars, I would have expected Journal of Business Logistics and Manufacturing & Service Operations Management to rank even higher.

The International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management lands at a 2 and the International Journal of Logistics Management lands at a 1 again. The low scores for these two journals in the 2021 ABS list are particularly strange given their quality.

My conclusion: The team behind the 2021 Academic Journal Guide appears to have listened – at least partly – to the harsh criticism from OSCM scholars. Although our discipline is certainly still underrated, compared to many other disciplines, there are finally some bright spots that give OSCM researchers a little more air to breathe. Empirically-focused OSCM journals were particularly disadvantaged by the ABS list in the past and three of them have now been upgraded. This step was overdue.

This slightly positive development for our discipline should not hide the harmful effects of rankings in general. Academia is increasingly about metrics rather than content. Assessment committees, bonus decisions and tenure-track regulations are increasingly about counting the names of certain journals per year – instead of reading them. The REF system in the UK has turned academic debate (i.e., quality) into a “race for points” (i.e., quantity) in the home country of the ABS list. This is a very negative development.

Therefore, it is gratifying that more and more universities are signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which asks “not [to] use journal-based metrics […] as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions”.

Supply Chain Resilience

In our new article, Two Perspectives on Supply Chain Resilience (Wieland & Durach, 2021), we provide a new definition of supply chain resilience:

Supply chain resilience is the capacity of a supply chain to persist, adapt, or transform in the face of change.

Based on our observation that SCM scholars have often taken an engineer’s perspective to interpret supply chain resilience, we argue that it needs to be complemented with a social–ecological perspective. Our discipline is surprisingly isolated from the ongoing resilience debates in other fields, such as ecology and urban science. Supply chain resilience is not just about “bouncing back” and persistence, as the engineer’s view implies. Supply chain resilience promises to be about “bouncing forth”, adaptation, and transformation. It is time to study the assumptions we make about the supply chain more explicitly. The supply chain is not only an engineered system that needs to be stabilized, as it may be the case with a subway system. It is a fluid system that contains social actors and is anchored in our complex world.

Wieland, A., & Durach, C. F. (2021). Two Perspectives on Supply Chain Resilience. Journal of Business Logistics. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbl.12271

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

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