The circular economy is gathering momentum: In the future this model could, for example, mean that smartphones will not be sold and consumed anymore, but companies like Apple and Samsung will then keep scarce resources and sell a smartphone service to users instead of a product to consumers. These users will then be required to bring back the phone after a specified amount of time. California Management Review has now published a special issue on the circular economy. Several of the articles of that special issue refer to supply chains and supply chain management; and several of the authors have published in SCM journals before. This indicates that “supply chain thinking” and “circular thinking” are increasingly stimulating each other. I would even go so far to say that the 21st century’s supply chain management has to shift from linear to circular. This also has implications for our research. What we might need to re-think is whether the “chain” in “supply chain management” is still the right expression.
Some time ago, an editorial of Nature Human Behaviour has highlighted that “[the] quest for positive results encourages numerous questionable research practices […] such as HARKing (hypothesizing after the results are known) and P-hacking (collecting or selecting data or statistical analyses until non-significant results become significant)”. To counteract these very serious problems, that make theory-testing research almost useless, the journal has adopted the registered report format, which “shift[s] the emphasis from the results of research to the questions that guide the research and the methods used to answer them”. Similarly, the European Journal of Personality has recently announced to support the registered report format, too: “In a registered report, authors create a study proposal that includes theoretical and empirical background, research questions/hypotheses, and pilot data (if available). Upon submission, this proposal will then be reviewed prior to data collection, and if accepted, the paper resulting from this peer-reviewed procedure will be published, regardless of the study outcomes.” I can only hope that SCM journals will quickly catch up with this development in other fields.
A new research report, provided by Mighty Earth, argues that “[deforestation] is the result of a long supply chain that starts on the South American frontier and ends on European plates”. The report is titled The Avoidable Crisis. It reveals that a small group of companies controls the global agricultural trade: “These companies collectively control the majority of global grain trade […]. In addition to their role in trade, these companies also play a more direct role in driving ecosystem conversion by providing plantation owners with financing, fertilizer, infrastructure, and other incentives for new deforestation to expand their supply base. Given their outsized role, these companies have the power to insist that suppliers protect native ecosystems and land rights. But so far, these companies have prioritized reckless expansion over even easy conservation wins.” The authors argue that “[the] EU must send a strong signal to the market by requiring that companies implement measures for transparency and traceability into their supply chains”.
Three years ago, the Chartered Association of Business Schools (ABS) has released its last ranking of business journals: the Academic Journal Guide (AJG), also known as the “ABS list”. This ABS ranking has become quite influential as the guiding journal ranking across management disciplines in the UK. Although the ranking has been heavily criticized (see my previous post) and more democratically-developed rankings exist (e.g. VHB-JOURQUAL), the ABS ranking has since been adopted by many business schools also in other countries.
Shortly after the publication of the last ABS list, Nature has published ten principles to guide research evaluation, which have since become known as the Leiden Manifesto. One of these principles argues that quantitative evaluation should support qualitative, expert assessment, not replace it. Similarly, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which has been signed by thousands of researchers worldwide, 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”. The Community for Responsible Research in Business Management (cRRBM) questions whether “even the academy is being served when faculty members are valued for the quantity and placement of their articles, not for the benefit their research can have for the world”. Indeed, the negative consequences of rankings are well-documented (see, for example, Espeland & Sauder, 2007 and Grant & Kovács, 2018).
Unfortunately, the ABS list has often been used in exactly the way the Leiden Manifesto and DORA wanted to prevent us from doing – with very negative consequences for our discipline. Many SCM researchers feel that the ABS list undervalues the journals of our discipline. For example, Journal of Supply Chain Management, a journal with one of the highest impact factors in management (5.789), is ranked by ABS 2015 as a “3” only and Journal of Business Logistics as a “2”. Comparing our journals to other disciplines, like accounting or marketing, it becomes apparent to me that these journals deserve a “4*” and “4”. Worse even, many SCM journals have suffered from their low ABS rankings, as SCM researchers who took the ABS ranking too seriously, felt they should publish in the higher-ranked journals of other disciplines. AJG 2015 has thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Today, the Academic Journal Guide 2018 has been released. It contains more than 1,500 entries. Unfortunately, AJG 2018 did not adapt the ranks of leading SCM journals. When it comes to empirical journals, only Journal of Operations Management gets a “4*”, while Decision Sciences, Journal of Supply Chain Management and Supply Chain Management: An International Journal get a “3” again. International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Journal of Business Logistics and Journal of Purchasing and Supply Management all still get a “2” only. The fact that the rank of none of these journals has changed indicates that the new ranking does not seem to cover all the changes and improvements our discipline has made in the last couple of years. Only four out of eight journals (four empirically- and analytically-focused journals each) that have been identified by leading SCM schools as the top journals of our discipline (sometimes informally referred to as “the SCM basket of eight”; see The SCM Journal List), got an AJG rank higher than 3. My suggestion would be to ignore AJG 2018, as it does not seem to represent the journals of our discipline properly.
Interestingly, even the Chartered ABS itself just tweeted that the REF2021 sub-panel will ignore their own list, so they might well be aware of its shortcomings:
#REF2021 sub-panel chair: “We will not be using metrics. Our role is to assess originality, significance and rigour. We will not use #AJG2018 to do so.” Robert Blackburn #ARC2018
But there is some hope: This latest iteration of AJG was an interim review, the main purpose being to include new journals. The next iteration, planned to be published in 2021, will then be a major review. This is certainly very late, but better late than never: Careers can depend on such lists. Therefore, our discipline urgently deserves a better quality of the AJG. I hope the team behind the list is aware of their responsibility.
The Case Centre has recently announced the winners of their 2018 global awards and competitions. Already last year, the winning case in the Production and Operations Management category was closely related to supply chain management (see my previous post, Zara: The World’s Largest Fashion Retailer). This is also the case for the 2018 category winner, which is titled Everything Is Connected: A New Era of Sustainability at Li & Fung. It was written by Hau L. Lee and Sheila Melvin. The case deals with the way how Li & Fung, a Hong-Kong-based trading company, reacted to the Rana Plaza disaster and other such events to ensure sustainable supply chain management. Li & Fung’s Head of Learning and Development is right when saying: “The hard part is to make sustainability part of our DNA, to get 27,000 people to understand that this is now as fundamental to us as the fact that we source globally.” Therefore, this case could be a great building block for future SCM courses!
Are business success and sustainability contradictory? A new white paper by Schmidpeter & Bungard, sponsored by DHL, is rather optimistic and argues that both goals can instead be mutually beneficial. The paper is titled Unlock the True Value of Your Supply Chain: Business Success through Sustainable Supply Chain Management. The authors state: “Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) can help drive positive business change by helping companies save costs, strengthen ‘license to operate’ and generate additional revenue streams.” But the authors also acknowledge that “[a]lthough there are good tools and best practices available for integrating sustainability into your business, there is no silver bullet that will let you realize the benefits of SSCM overnight”. They also acknowledge that the Sustainability department should not do it alone: “The topic of sustainability should be on the agenda for every leader and employee within a company”. The white paper might partly be quite optimistic, but it provides several good practices from business reality.