The impact of business research

Chatura Ranaweera is Associate Professor of Marketing at Lazaridis School of Business.  His main area of research is service and relationship marketing and his background includes a PhD (Cambridge University), MEngM (George Washington University) and a BSc (University of Moratuwa).  Here he discusses the need for research to have a real world impact on business practice and what needs to be done to bridge the gap and implement this change.

Over the years, many have argued that business research needs to have an impact on managerial practice, and even on the society at large. But the perception that there is a wide gap between what stakeholders seek and what academic research produces is still very strong. Has nothing changed? If so, what are the forces preventing change? 

Many journals highlight managerial relevance as a key evaluation criterion for manuscripts. Yet, in the absence of robust ways of assessing impact on a broader set of stakeholders, it is difficult to say with certainty whether and how far things have changed. Nor can we say whether the impact is positive or even negative. How can the impact of research on a broader set of stakeholders be assessed? Relying on peer perceptions is not adequate. Some objective measures are critical. When things get measured, they are likely to get done; thus, a systematic approach to measuring the impact of business research on industry/society will motivate more scholars to produce research that score well on those metrics. Some tools such as Altmetric (https://www.altmetric.com/) help assess impact of research beyond academia. However, their use is still limited. Such measures will have to have broad acceptance, and be valued by faculty and administrators, especially of major research Universities because they are gatekeepers to the research culture within business schools. 

Is there a strong motivation to change the research culture? 

I believe there isn’t because it may work for the immediate stakeholders: The Business school faculty both junior and senior, who have been trained in a particular way to do their research, and administrators who have likely been trained in the same ways. 

When I started writing this piece, I talked to a few of my colleagues who regularly publish in leading journals in marketing. It was by no means a representative sample. But those discussions highlighted the diversity of views; some found managerial relevance important, others found pubic interest and not business interest important, and yet others felt that academic research need not have relevance to a broad group of stakeholders.  In this context, calls for change in research directions may be a distraction to some, which disrupt the models they are used to; and they likely affect the research productivity of scholars trained in the current system in the short to medium term. 

The same applies to journal editors and reviewers who are the gatekeepers to what is published. The reviewers come from the same system of education and training and go through the same tenure and promotions processes supervised by their aforementioned peers and administrators. Journal editors may also lack a strong motivation to change things because by doing so, they may be taking a risk. Journals are constantly monitored in the short term. Disruptions can have unforeseen effects on the perceived quality of journals and their reputations. Do journal editors have a motivation to disrupt their current journal performance metrics and/or risk how the journals are perceived by scholars? I believe not. The conditions under which editors will take that risk, is if there is broad consensus among leading research schools that there is a need to change things; that there needs to be a different model of assessing research impact, which takes into account broader stakeholders including business and society. Some countries are already moving in this direction. It will be interesting to see whether others will follow. I believe good metrics will help in effecting change because they will help understand how much impact business research actually has on business and society. 

‘Successful change has to start with major schools’

Overall, I think a process of successful change has to start with the major schools embracing both the need for a change to research directions and then agreeing on verifiable metrics that measure broader impact. Knowing the present impact with a degree of precision can be a motivator for change. Only once that is in place, that I believe will schools adjust their training of PhD graduates highlighting broader stakeholder relevance in addition to rigour, and scholars will gradually start adjusting the way they do their research and promote their results. 

To reduce resistance to change, there will also have to be pathways especially for junior scholars trained to focus predominantly on rigour and to fill gaps in the literature to move smoothly to meet a new set of expectations, without disruptions to their careers. Maximising security for the immediate stakeholders will help diminish resistance to change.

About the author:
Chatura Ranaweera, Co-editor, Journal of Service Theory and Practice
Associate Professor, Marketing, Lazaridis School of Business
Wilfrid Laurier University
Canada

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