Research that Matters: Thoughts on Reinventing Scientific (Management) Research

Scientific research, and particularly management research, is in dire straits, accused of lack of relevance and impact and an unhealthy preoccupation with theoretical and methodological rigor. Marco Busi suggests some solutions.

The original, noble purpose of universities was to conduct research that would contribute to advancing societal understanding and well-being. And being a scholar automatically implied doing research that matters, that influences the way people live, behave and work.

But a nasty virus is now threatening science’s fundamental role in explaining life’s events and bringing about the innovation we need to progress further, in business as well as society.

The enabling conditions

Stakeholders inside and outside the scientific community have identified and understand well the enabling conditions that facilitate the spread of this virus: competitiveness of science, rewards and career progression systems based on bogus measures of quality, and the “publish or perish” mentality to mention but a few.

In fact, the very policies of a vast part of the academic and scientific publishing worlds – absurdly– feed the virus. As Ben Schiller neatly summed up in a 2011 Financial Times article: “[…] promotion is based on articles few managers read; and […] accreditation bodies and rankings providers count journal entries, and citations, to assess worthiness”.

The symptoms

The symptoms of the virus are also clear to all: lack of relevance and lack of impact.

A prominent voice on this topic, the Journal of Management Inquiry, supports the argument that “a growing preoccupation with theoretical and methodological rigor [may] underpin the increasing generation of theory and research that is irrelevant to managers“.

This is a view firmly held by practitioners as well. Schiller’s FT article quotes Dan LeClair, senior vice-president at AACSB, stating that: “[…] major donors are asking tough questions like ‘you have all these faculty members who you are very proud of, but can you tell me how this research has made a difference?’”

One of the most illustrious management thinkers of all times, Peter Drucker himself, was both a great defender of the importance of scholarly management research and a bemused observer of its remoteness from the very environment it is supposed to study and develop.

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