A methodological framework for theoretical explanation in performance management and management control systems research

Jan A. Pfister, Peeter Peda, David Otley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to reflect on how to apply the abductive research process for developing a theoretical explanation in studies on performance management and management control systems. This is important because theoretically ambitious research tends to require explanatory study outcomes, but prior research frameworks provide little guidance in this regard, potentially facilitating ill-defined research designs and a lack of common vocabulary and criteria for evaluating studies. Design/methodology/approach: The authors introduce a methodological framework that distinguishes three interwoven theoretical abstraction levels: descriptive, analytical and explanatory. They use a recently published qualitative field study to illustrate an application of the framework. Findings: The framework and its illustrated application make the systematic logic of the abductive research process visible and accessible to researchers. The authors explain how the framework supports moving from empirical description to theoretical explanation during the research process and where the three levels might open spaces for the positioning of novel practices and conceptual and theoretical innovations. Originality/value: The framework provides guidance for an explanatory research design and theory-building purpose and has been developed in response to recent criticism in the field that highlights the wide gap between leading-edge practice and the lagging state of theory. It offers interdisciplinary vocabulary and evaluation criteria that can be applied by any accounting and management researcher regardless of whether they pursue critical, interpretive or positivist research and whether they primarily use qualitative or quantitative research methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-228
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Issue number2
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Abduction
  • Management control systems
  • Methodology
  • Performance management
  • Research process
  • Theorizing

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Accounting


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