How to close the gap between research findings and practice in management accounting.

AuthorMitchell, Falconer
PositionTechnical notes

The main practices comprising the technical core of management accounting were all developed by financial managers in response to the demands of their work. Even more recent innovations, such as activity-based costing and the balanced scorecard, were initiated by practitioners.

When making technical advances, management accountants rarely refer to the research that's been conducted in the areas concerned. This remains the preserve of the academic community. A gap therefore exists between research and practice in the profession. To understand this gap, academics have to accept the unsuitability of their work for use by financial managers on the ground. The research community needs to respond to their need for intelligence to develop practice. To achieve this, it must gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of the gap.

Empirical research in management accounting can be placed into two categories according to the methods used. The first type is based on relatively large (random) data samples and its analysis is quantitative, usually involving statistical confidence tests. The second

involves analysing case-study evidence from a few organisations and is qualitative in nature. The usefulness of the results of either type clearly depends on how relevant they are to practitioners. They need to know whether they can apply the findings to their circumstances. Yet both types of research are compromised in this respect, because their findings are necessarily set in both place and time. Organisational research settings can have many unique features and, in a dynamic world, the passage of time can cause changes that negate the validity of what has been found. Research results from a particular location and period can therefore quickly lose their relevance.

The results of quantitative research are of limited use to practitioners for three reasons. First, while these can be based on numerous observations, it can be hard for potential users to tell whether or not the findings will fit their circumstance. For example, survey-based research may find a strong tendency for management accounting systems to be considered more useful when managers have been heavily involved in their design. But there may be a few cases in the survey sample where this general principle does not apply. Consequently, any given research user cannot be certain that it will hold true in their organisation. Second, the statistical relationships that are uncovered may be...

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