A basic requirement for scientific integrity is the ability to replicate the results of research, and yet, with some occasional historical exceptions, replication has never been an important part of economic research. Starting from this assumption, the lack of published efforts at replicating prior empirical findings, and the lack of studies empirically validating conceptual or theory-building work are considered two profound and systemic problems that characterize the business and management sciences in general, and the family business literature in particular. In this light, we decided to address the issue with the help of Jasper Brinkerink, post-doc researcher at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, who, together with Alfredo De Massis, Franz Kellermanns, and Mike Wright, just launched a special issue entirely dedicated to replication and validation.
What is the main value provided by replicating and validating studies, and how could the family business field benefit from a stronger focus on this type of work?
Well, the core objective of any scientific discipline is to increase our understanding of how the world works, be it the natural, physical, or – in our case – the social world. What is deemed interesting and worthwhile is therefore generally not revisiting what has already been established, but generating novel theoretical or empirical insights. In contrast to many of the hard sciences though, in the social sciences we are not able to conduct perfect experiments in fully controlled environments. Instead, in our research we have to rely on methods that will always have inherent limitations restricting the generalizability of findings from a single or a small number of studies. Hence, especially in social sciences such as management studies, it is important to systematically keep ‘looking backward’ and to scrutinize the reliability and generalizability of influential prior findings, as to ascertain the robustness of the collective knowledge base future work builds on. Nevertheless, we observe a strong tendency in the management discipline at large, and the family business field in specific, to take previous empirical findings for granted without ever testing their validity in other contexts or using more advanced methods. In addition, the vast majority of ideas established in conceptual work slips into the assumptions underlying follow-up studies without ever being empirically validated. It is thus very likely that many of our ‘taken-for-granted’ beliefs about family businesses build on research findings that are very much context- or method specific and may not hold in different settings.
Which are, in your opinion, the main reasons preventing scholars from regularly performing replication or validation studies?
Many of the barriers preventing the establishment of a ‘healthier’ scientific culture in management research in general are quite systemic in nature. Also in regard to the observed lack of replication and validation studies in family business research, the root cause of the problem seems to be related to some rather counterproductive incentive systems that scholars have to deal with. For instance, the unhealthy obsession of business schools with the status derived from all kinds of rankings leads to an ever-increasing pressure on researchers to publish their work exclusively in the so-called top-tier academic journals. These top-tier journals however are generally not interested in publishing replication or validation studies, as journals, in turn, depend on citation counts to maintain their status. Scholars therefore do not have an incentive, or even worse, face a disincentive to invest their valuable time and resources into dedicated replication or validation projects.
That seems to be quite a tough and gloomy vicious circle to break then, do you see any potential ways to improve this situation?
You are correct in your observations. However, to only point at the system and thereby a priori accept our own helplessness as individual scholars would be a weak move and way too easy altogether. We have to remember that we – family business researchers – are an integral part of these systems: We are the ones that take place in tenure and promotion committees and take on governance positions in our institutions, and should thus be able to exert influence on the internal valuation of replication and validations studies. In addition, we are the ones that sit on the editorial boards of, and act as reviewers for academic journals. We should therefore also have some individual agency in creating a more favorable publication climate regarding this important part of our work.
As a relatively recent PhD graduate myself, I often wondered how hard it would be to incorporate replication and validation efforts into the expectations we set toward our doctoral students. In fact, facilitating a replication or validation project could form an ideal way to allow fresh PhD students to ‘hit the ground running’, given the general absence of a need to establish any groundbreaking theoretical contribution in this type of work – which is arguably the hardest part of learning how to ‘do’ management research. For instance, trying to replicate the most influential prior study in a PhD student’s area of interest would be an excellent first project in his or her thesis, or even a great group exercise in a research method course aimed at beginning doctoral students.
Thank you Jasper for sharing your thoughts with us. To conclude, you recently launched an initiative in the Journal of Family Business Strategy revolving around the things we discussed. Would you like to share some details on that?
Indeed, together with Alfredo De Massis, Franz Kellermanns, and Mike Wright, we will guest-edit a special issue dedicated to replications of prior influential findings and validations of often-cited theory-building work in family business research. We look at it like this: In an ideal world, there would be no need for such a platform. However, like I mentioned before, we currently find ourselves somewhat locked into a prisoner’s dilemma, where we would collectively be better off if we all systematically engaged in replication and validation work, but where each individual’s best strategy is to shy away from such efforts. Hence, we started this initiative to provide our research community with a much needed incentive, and hope that it will inspire family business scholars to – also beyond this special issue – start considering replication and validation as a natural part of their research agendas.
More information on the special issue, including important deadlines, is available in the Call for Papers.
PhD Candidate, Free University of Bozen/Bolzano
IFERA Content Editor