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Foster, G. and S. M. Young. 1997. Frontiers of management accounting research. Journal of Management Accounting Research (9): 63-77.

Summary by Michele Martinez
Ph.D. Program in Accounting
University of South Florida, Spring 2002

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In this paper the appropriate methodology to use to accomplish the authors' purpose was opinion research methodology. The opinion methodology was utilized because the paper included views, judgments and interviews of individuals and groups. No direct observation was utilized.


Management accounting research (MAR) over the last decade has made tremendous head way in the form of relevance of topics and rigor of methods. However, one of the challenges facing researchers today is continuation of this momentum and the selection of innovative and relevant topics. Thus, the main focus of this paper is the examination of the future of MAR. Specifically, the paper highlights the areas of management accounting where research is needed and a substantive contribution to the literature and practice can be made. Of particular interest are those areas that are of high priority and significance to general managers, management accountants, and management accounting researchers. For researchers, the difficulty arises in choosing areas that are of high priority to managers etc. while also demonstrating rigor in research competencies.

Defining Management Accounting Research

Following the Institute of Management Accountant’s (1997) definition, "Management Accounting is a value adding continuous improvement process of planning, designing, measuring, and operating nonfinancial and financial information systems that guides management action, motivates behavior, and supports and creates the cultural values necessary to achieve an organization’s strategic, tactical, and operating objectives." Therefore, MAR is the process of "using rigorous methods to explain and/or predict:

1. how changes to an existing management accounting system will effect management actions, motivation, and organizational functioning, and

2. how internal and external organizational forces will affect management accounting system design and change."

Problems occur in that different people have different views on what classifies as research. In this paper the author’s feel that a study be should classified as research based on the rigor of the analysis and the originality of the results.

Sources of Research Ideas

In any discipline research ideas can proliferate from a variety of sources. Within the area of MAR topics can be found in the following sources: the existing literature, existing literature in related and other fields, and topics and challenges important to management.

A View from Management

In 1995 and 1996 the authors made presentations at two U.S. Cost Management conferences and gave two executive seminars. At these proceedings they handed out a one-page questionnaire, which asked respondents to rank their top three choices to the overall question of "What is the correspondence between the issues important to managers and the issues covered in selected MAR journals?" The results indicate the only one topic (cost management/cost control) is listed in the top 3 priorities between 1980 and today. Furthermore, the cost management/cost control area is the only area that received a high priority from management and was extensively covered in MAR journals. The main reason for this discrepancy is that some high importance topics to managers have minimal relations with accounting.

Priority Cost/Management Accounting Issues to Managers

Another pertinent piece of information that was obtained from the questionnaire was that the topic of systems is still an important cost/managerial topic.

The real challenge facing MAR is identifying the set of managerial issues for which a substantive contribution can be made.

What is a Better Management Accounting System

Of the many issues covered in MAR journals one issue that receives scant interest is systematic analysis of what constitutes a better system and what exactly does better mean. A vast amount of the literature today contains proposals for new and innovative systems that claim to be better than the last. However, no literature exists on established criteria for comparing one system to the next or on what exactly better is. For example, one question that needs to be addressed is how should better be measured? In addition, standards should be set in the literature for addressing questions such as whether an ABC system is better than a traditional system.

The Role of Academics

From a research agenda MAR has seen improvement in incorporating issues of importance to practice, however, basic research and theory development are still needed. Of necessity is still the building of theories and frameworks that explain and predict which firms will adopt specific methods. Academics are key players in developing innovative accounting systems and documenting the benefits and costs from those systems. Of central importance then is for management accounting academics to gain broader and deeper institutional knowledge and to hone their research skills.


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