Too much published management research is technically sophisticated but out of touch with reality. It does not engage enough with real problems in the world. That is why Andrew Crane believes it is time to commit ourselves to carrying out Research4Good.
Business and management schools have experienced incredible growth in prevalence, size, and importance across the globe. Student numbers continue to rise, resources are relatively plentiful, and the sheer scale of management research output is dizzying. There are over 1,100 business, management and accounting journals officially listed (with many thousands more that remain unrecognised and unlisted) pumping out reams of scholarly articles about every aspect of business every month.
For many management scholars this represents a great success for our research field, especially given that it is more often looked down upon by more traditional disciplines. For others, it is a problem that needs to be resolved. “Bulldoze the business school,” began one recent critique by a business school professor unhappy with the dominance of “capitalism, corporations and managers as the default form of organisation” in our research and teaching.
While not many will probably take such an extreme position, it is clear that all is not well within the business school world. There is a distinct air of unease and a palpable desire for change in the research that we do.
A recent initiative calling itself Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM), has been endorsed by a swathe of professors, business schools and accreditation bodies. It calls attention to a likely end to the unconstrained support for business and management research if we do not more directly tackle society’s problems. “Business schools around the world are home to some of the most brilliant and well-supported scholars in all of the social sciences,” it proposes, “... yet current research is often disconnected from real-world challenges.”
It is an important observation. Management research has become ever more sophisticated. The drive to publish in elite journals has prompted greater attention to high level theory and methods. But the purpose for much of this research is typically simply to get published in a top journals, not to solve any of the myriad problems we are facing in the world.
I am no exception. While over the past twenty years, I have dedicated my research to analysing social issues in management, I have focused much more of my attention on influencing students and other researchers rather than current practitioners. As a journal editor and a mentor, I have repeatedly enjoined my colleagues to focus their articles on solving theoretical rather than practical problems if they want to improve their chances of publication. And publication, as everyone in academia knows, is still the only truly effective path to advancement.
But publishing articles need not be the only goal for our research. And it does not have to be a question of either/or. To my mind, the very best research is successful at addressing important societal problems and demonstrating the kind of scholarly rigour and insight that is necessary to achieve publication in highly ranted journals. The challenge, of course, is finding the sweet spot where the two coincide.
Here in the UK, universities are increasingly incentivised to demonstrate the real-world impact of their research through the government’s Research Evaluation Framework. This has been an important catalyst for action in the business and management field, just as it has in other disciplines. But REF impact is restricted to a fairly narrow form of demonstrable impact on practice and it does not particularly emphasise the need for creating a positive difference through our research. So while it is important, it is only part of the story.
That is why, I have been working with a dedicated team of faculty and professional service staff at the University of Bath School of Management to develop our own way of driving and celebrating management research that makes a positive difference in world. We have called it Research4Good.
Research4Good is our attempt to speak more directly and confidently about how the research conducted at our school impacts positively on people’s lives, on our communities, on the economy, and on the world beyond our borders. We have come to realise that society increasingly expects us to contribute to the social good through our research, as well it should. We have also realised that we don’t always recognise and communicate very effectively about the positive good our research is making to those we should be talking to – whether that is our students, our co-workers, our local community, or our external audiences further afield.
Research4Good is a two-year campaign that will run up to the opening of our new $100m building for the School of Management, planned in 2020. It will involve events and showcases, new digital content, publications and posters, an art exhibition, and, we hope, a fundamental rethink in how and why we do management research both inside and outside of the school.
To kick off we are featuring our research on knowledge management and its deployment in helping the UN Capital Development Fund to tackle financial inclusion. We are also highlighting our work that confronts modern slavery in business, our research that helps the UK National Health Service save money, our social enterprise development programme, and our latest project addressing the accountability of schools to their local communities in India and Nepal. There is much more to come, all of it demonstrating our commitment to research that enhances the ability of business, government and civil society to make a positive difference in the world.
I don’t for one minute think that this is going to solve all of the ills that confront our field. But I am very excited by the direction that this is taking us in as a School and I am hopeful that many others will join us on the journey. So, check out our website, follow #research4good on Twitter, tell us what we are doing right or what we could do better. And if you are inspired by our vision, contact us to start a conversation about how you too can become part of Research4Good.
Research4Good will be launched on 11th August at the University of Bath School of Management reception at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting. For more information about the Reception, please contact Amanda Willmott, School of Management Research Manager.
Header image by DFID under licence CC BY-SA 2.0