Friday, 29 January 2016

Business School Research

In 2007, The Economist published an article entitled "Practically irrelevant? What is the point of research carried out in business schools?"

The premise of the piece was whether tertiary business schools should illustrate their contribution to society not simply by listing journal citations and impact, but also by demonstrating the 'real world' application of that research.

Citing a 2006 Strategy & Leadership paper, The Economist said "research is not designed with managers' needs in mind, nor is it communicated in the journals they read…For the most part it has become a self-referential closed system [irrelevant to] corporate performance” (28 August 2007, editing by The Economist).

The article raises a valid point, and I am not sure we have moved that far from 2007.

As a business researcher, I am drawn to inductive, qualitative research with real people... usually known as action research. This is still looked down upon by journals (which, interestingly, are now nearly all owned by publishing houses, not by Unis). Even worse, I teach in the 'dirty boots brigade' - the Polytech sector. So I am damned both ways, really.

I supervise third year management students undertaking their capstone research projects. Their projects are almost invariably inductive, qualitative research. They also undertake that research for a real client, wherever we can organise it. Not only does it keep the research project 'real' for the student, it also helps keep them outcome-focused.

Despite being eight years on, I feel that the Economist's view is still largely correct: very little of this type of research is published. I think this is partly due to generalisability and reliability being so hard to quantify... perhaps 'roughly right' is a better term. But there is another issue; that of commercial sensitivity. I suspect that a great deal of business research being done remains unpublished due to its absolutely real application and the competitive advantage it brings the client. The client won't want that given away in a journal. These two issues alone illustrate how complex the issue is.

However, a larger percentage of the management research published by the Academy of Management is inductive, qualitative research, so while the Economist's 2007 standpoint is still relevant, I think that things have improved somewhat.

Long may that continue. I feel that hands-on research with practical application should have a key place in business schools. But you might not be able to measure it in journal publications.



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