Sharing Models of Inquiry

Christine Moorman, University of Pittsburgh
Gerald Zaltman, University of Pittsburgh
ABSTRACT - The interaction of practitioner and academic communities provides a unique opportunity to extend post-positivistic theory into a practical sphere. This paper discusses the similarities and differences that these communities have in the process of inquiry and provides a unique means of understanding the advantages of a dialogue between them.
[ to cite ]:
Christine Moorman and Gerald Zaltman (1985) ,"Sharing Models of Inquiry", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 312-314.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 312-314


Christine Moorman, University of Pittsburgh

Gerald Zaltman, University of Pittsburgh


The interaction of practitioner and academic communities provides a unique opportunity to extend post-positivistic theory into a practical sphere. This paper discusses the similarities and differences that these communities have in the process of inquiry and provides a unique means of understanding the advantages of a dialogue between them.


Much is said about the distinctiveness of researcher and management practitioner communities (Deshpande and Zaltman 1982). This distinctiveness is thought to be particularly pronounced with respect to the academic researcher and the practitioner communities in marketing. This paper addresses certain aspects of the two communities theory with special reference to two subsets, academic researchers and practitioners, who are primarily concerned with consumer behavior. We are going to argue on the one hand that the differences, while real, are not so great as to create two incompatible cultures or epistemic communities. On the other hand. we shall also argue that many differences which do exist are to -be valued or prized so long as they can be understood by the two groups.

The commonalities between the two communities have several origins, two of which are noted here. First, both groups are inquiring communities. They are both motivated by a need to know (Storer 1966). The process of inquiry stimulated by this need subjects both groups to the same set of philosophy of science issues. Secondly, both academic researchers and practicing managers share a common role: they are also consumers. They enact the very phenomena they need to know about. In fact, in terms of basic demographic factors such as income, attained social status, and the like these two groups in their consumer roles probably have considerable similarity in contrast to many other occupational groups.

Thus, the two communities are "participants" in the study of consumer behavior; yet, they are also somewhat detached observers as they develop theories, explanations and predictive tools for use in thinking about and influencing consumer behavior. This status as participant -observers provides a common ground upon which a joint venture can be constructed. There exists a plane of understanding and communication built naturally into the relationship between these two parties. And as they come together, their "interaction" provides an extended opportunity for improving their respective approaches to inquiry, thereby improving their ability to satisfy their need to know.


Academic researchers and practitioners belong to different epistemic communities which, among other things, have different norms resulting in different rewards or control systems and socialization processes. This leads to different social constructions of reality. The social construction of reality concept argues that people occupying different social positions in society will tend to have different understandings of the same phenomena. These different understandings are the consequence of having different social positions when viewing or experiencing a phenomena. These different understandings will be reflected in different frames of reference. The different constructions of reality which evolve create an opportunity for synergy, where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This does not mean that there will be a closer approximation of reality. To the contrary, what is required is an acceptance of the notion that there are as many realities as there are frames of reference and truth tests. For example, the realities of the colors blue and yellow are not altered when they are combined to form green. Green becomes another version of reality which may be useful for a better appreciation of blue or yellow.

By understanding each other's perspectives better, academic researchers and practitioners would understand their own perspectives better. This requires that each group fully appreciate that there is interaction among the various components of inquiry: methods, aims, and suitability of evidence. Moreover, it requires that each group appreciate that there are multiple constructions of reality corresponding to different social groups concerned with the same phenomena. (Other groups would include government agencies, consumer protection groups, and consumers themselves.) Finally, it requires an understanding that the process of inquiry used by each social group to understand a problem results in somewhat different constructions of reality. In summary, all these requirements assume a post-positivist rather than positivist orientation in the conduct of inquiry. One way to encourage wider acknowledgement that post-positivist orientations toward inquiry are more helpful than positivist approaches is to encourage academic researchers and practitioners to examine their assumptions more closely. We shall comment on this briefly below.


Earlier it was noted that the assumptions one holds place boundaries on the angles of inquiry and the development of knowledge. These assumptions differentiate the practitioner researcher and academic researcher groups and have defined their separate activities. The single most important aspect of the beginning of the bridge to that gap is that each group examine the nature of its assumptions (either individually or collectively), unearthing what they have taken for granted. By making implicit assumptions explicit (Olson 1981, p. vii), the groups take a look at the unmasked beliefs that have previously directed their efforts. It is in this type of examination that the groups become aware of what they were previously constrained by. Once they have acquired this awareness, they are then more free to choose, more aware of the limitations of what they think a more likely to conduct further inquiry. If a group accepts the fact that their realities are built out of their own assumptions then they are more inclined to question their ways, ends, choices and all other processes shaped by assumptions. Without such an exercise, these groups have failed before they begin; they are bound, in short, to act as Thomas Hunt Morgan noted some scientists do, "as wild Indians who derail trains and look for the horses inside the locomotive" (Gould 1984). As the groups unearth their assumptions, they must struggle with the depth of their biases; in doing so they receive full benefit from this "search for assumptions." If the groups do not in some way recognize their own assumptions and the limitations that these create, they cannot possibly see how their processes of inquiry and resulting products can be improved.

Before describing the interaction of these two communities, we would briefly like to identify and discuss the four components of inquiry. An awareness of the assumptions that the groups hold concerning these "angles of inquiry" illuminates their differences and provides a framework for a discussion of the interaction between the two groups.


We are going to take some license here with Larry Lauden's "reticulated model of methodology" (Lauden 1984). This model, described in Figure l, suggests that the three aspects of inquiry (aims, methods, facts) ordinarily considered as if they were independent or isolated, are in fact inextricably linked by the map of assumptions, expectations and decision rules the researcher or practitioner brings to the process of inquiry.



Our aims or purposes of inquiry are shaped by the methods we use and the assumptions we make about the nature of the facts and the phenomena they relate to also shape our selection of methods and even our aims. Similarly, our methods influence our aims as well as our assumptions about the factual nature of the phenomena we are concerned with. (As an aside, it is impossible to do justice to the reticulated model in this brief commentary. The reader is urged to consult Lauden's own development of this very rich idea.)

We would like to add a fourth component to this model in order to make much more evident an issue which is latent in the interaction of these three angles. This fourth dimension concerns the problem causing us to undertake a study. For example, the aims of inquiry may involve explanation, prediction or control of some phenomenon. The problem component will dictate why it is that we need to explain, predict, or control. Another term for problem might be motivation. For example, we may be motivated by an inherent curiosity about an issue, a need to preserve our job, a need to rectify an unsatisfactory social condition, and so forth. This motivation is translated into our aims of inquiry. The problem or motivation component concerns why we are bothering with a particular phenomenon such as consumer fraud, brand switching and so on. The nature of the problem will influence what we aim to do about it (e.g., explain, predict and/or control it), our methods, and our assumptions about facts. These latter three angles will also alter the nature of the problem or our motivation. This is shown in Figure 2.



This model is important in our discussion of the interaction of practitioners and researchers partly because the two groups have different notions about these angles of inquiry. This model is also important because the four angles of inquiry interact- each influences the other. As a result, what might otherwise be a small difference between the two communities with respect to a particular angle tends to create larger differences as other angles are affected. There is a kind of multiplier effect operating with respect to changes in these angles. This is why two groups who on the surface may appear quite similar may have quite different constructions of reality.

To illustrate the notion of the angles of inquiry for the practitioner and researcher communities, we offer the following example. It should be noted that in the operation of the particular group's assumptions about the problems, aims, methods, and the suitability of evidence, two very different constructions of reality are created and serve as guides to the conduct of inquiry.

Consider a brand manager concerned with offering a cents-off coupon as an incentive for repurchase. This manager will be very familiar with the usage situation. He/she will know a great deal about the customers and the situational factors affecting use including various competitor factors. The manager's basic question or motivation to know may concern the minimum size of the incentive required to encourage repeat use. Let's assume the manager is fortunate and that he/she has encountered an article produced by an academic researcher concerning price incentives and repeat purchase. This publication may reflect a program of research by this person concerning the role of incentives in customer decision making. Let's assume further (and realistically) that the research does not involve the product class or type of use situation which the manager is concerned with. The researcher has used a laboratory experiment involving student subjects. This is appropriate given that the researcher in our example is more concerned with certain processes reflected by incentives in contrast to the manager's concern with a particular context in which an incentive might be appropriate. The motivations of the two parties are different. One is intrigued by a basic process while the other is interested in a particular context. Moreover, one party is more concerned with explanation while the other is more concerned with prediction and control. The preferred method of each also differs. The manager would prefer a representative sample of actual customers. Each also makes different assumptions about the nature of facts relating to incentives. The researcher is more likely to construe the problem as a closed system while the manager is more likely to view it as an open system.

This example points out a few of the differences between academics and practitioners on some of the angles of inquiry. We now turn to a discussion of what will occur when the two communities are brought together to interact.


One of the assumptions that has been implicit in this discussion is that as academic researchers and practitioners are brought together, the resulting inquiry and knowledge would not be merely a simple addition of what the two epistemic communities had to offer. The concept of synergy or the interaction effect suggests a very different outcome, a new creation, much as blue and yellow form green or hydrogen and oxygen form water. The color blue and the color yellow are used to create the color green; however, in the color green, one cannot see yellow, nor blue. The original colors combine to form a new creation (green), yet they also exist in their original state. Second, think about how one makes warm water, some cold and some hot. However, when we feel the water, we do not say, "This water is cold and hot;" instead, we say "It is warm." We no longer feel the cold and the hot in the warm; we have a new creation. Yet the hot and cold are still present.

This same effect is captured in the interaction of practitioners and academics. However, when we first described the angles of inquiry concept with respect to academic researchers and practitioners, the reader may have construed their sharing of approaches in the following way:


With the interaction effect, this simple addition can no longer capture what is occurring. From the example and explanations above, there is the suggestion that a new and different structure is formed as these two come together. A possible configuration is pictured below.


In both cases, we can note the original structures, but the combination of "interaction" forms something beyond the capabilities of each. For example, the triangles have become a star.

Therefore, the outcome of this important interaction is a much more complex configuration. The star provides the two communities with a new window through which to observe their old angles of inquiry. Their respective assumptions and realities are no longer seen in isolation. What this interaction stimulates is not necessarily an adoption of new methods, aims or criteria for the suitability of evidence, instead it takes us full circle back to increased appreciation of the similarities and differences between the two communities.


As we noted in the beginning of this paper and have alluded to throughout, practitioner and researcher communities have different sets of assumptions about the angles of inquiry and hence use different frames of reference to satisfy their need to know. This point is clear. However, in the interaction of these parties, an opportunity to move beyond the barriers of these single constructions is created. This opportunity comes about through the creation of a new structure or framework through which to view their respective worlds. For example, the parties no longer see a simple triangle that guides their inquiry; instead they see their triangle through the lens of the interaction--the star. They now understand how their respective cultures and models of inquiry stand in relation to one another. They discover the areas of intersection (agreement) which define an area where understanding between the parties occurs naturally. As noted before, this natural intersection occurs because of a unique characteristic of these two parties: their role as consumers. As participants in the consumer or customer role, these parties have a vast wealth of experiences that are valuable resources in inquiry. These experiences provide a common ground for the parties, irregardless of the models of inquiry that are imposed upon them. Ideally, this fact would be used as a vital link between the parties; however, presently there has been little awareness of this important commonality.

The interaction or new structure also provides an opportunity for the parties to be made aware of the differences between the two groups. They may for the first time have to think about other models of inquiry. At best this interaction will be accompanied by or motivate each party to "take a look at what's taken for granted" in their respective constructions of reality and models of inquiry. It is hoped that in this comparison and searching, the parties can enhance, improve and extend their understandings and models.


The interaction of practitioner and academic researchers offers a unique opportunity to extend post-positivistic theory and principles into application. This interaction provides a new structure through which the two communities gain an appreciation of their similarities and differences. This awareness equips both practitioners and academics with the means to a valuable dialogue and the enhancement of their respective models of inquiry.


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Storer, Norman (1966), The Social System of Science, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.