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Need for responsible research

B-schools must start engaging both government and industry to strengthen financial position for knowledge creation.

PC Biswal | Kolkata |

An editorial in the Academy of Management Journal highlights two key problems with the current state of research in bschools. The first problem is that almost no manager refers to academic journals on management science for insights on adopting new practices or enhancing their management skills. There is also a general lack of awareness among practicing managers about management insights published in academic journals, along with the fact that these insights are almost always absent in journals targeted towards management practitioners.

B-schools and management scientists face a major challenge when it comes to research and producing knowledge that is not only academically rigorous, but also relevant to the industry and practicing managers. There is also a misunderstanding between conducting research to further the field of management science and churning out research papers to get them published in top-tier journals for greater visibility. Moreover, Indian B-schools have adopted a limited approach to research by mixing up above two, which has led to a dearth of relevant knowledge creation in management ecosystem.

This probably also has to do with the fact that b-schools often face considerable pressure with respect to gaining accreditations, higher rankings, and a general compulsion to meet multiple compliance standards. As a result, they end up focusing only on the quantity of research papers published, without any rigor or relevance. At the same time, academicians often face pressure to publish as many research papers as possible during a given year due to the fear of missing their career promotion or even their teaching positions in an institute. It is, therefore, imperative to address this scenario in Indian b-schools.

The biggest drawback in b-school research is the manner in which most of them approach research, considering it as an inevitable cost rather than an investment to create scientific knowledge. There is usually a continuous and sustained focus on teaching in management institutes, while a focus on research is either sporadic or absent altogether depending on the position of the b-school. Secondly, researchers usually emphasise more on the contextual application of methodology to publish a research paper rather than focusing on solving a core business or societal problem. Creation of scientific knowledge should be possible in b-schools provided they clearly understand that publications and research are not same. Research is much more than publication in a journal. Secondly, stop debating between rigorous research and relevant research. Time has come to adopt a culture of responsible research. This can be described as a form of rigorous research conducted through ethical means that creates a positive impact on both businesses as well as the society.

It is imperative, therefore, for academia to address these problems if it is to produce responsible research outputs that actually helps further the field of management, and solves critical social or business issues.

Business schools need to take a renewed approach to academic research, emphasising on conducting relevant and responsible research. This means identifying those areas of study that will have a positive impact on both business and society, and creating the right balance between the interests of the industry and society. Hence, the nature of scholarly research should be such that it leads to positive economic and social outcomes for businesses, as well as offers practicable solutions to major challenges on a local level.

More importantly, the emphasis should be on conducting research through ethical methods. This is because in almost a majority of business schools, the metrics for scholarly impact often include the number of top-tier, peer-reviewed journals a research article is published in. Business schools thus generally refer to these metrics – i.e. how many publications a study appears in – to determine the level of incentives researchers should be given. This in turn leads to academics and research scholars engaging in ethically questionable research methods and practices in order to write papers which these journals are most likely to accept. This is how the industry disconnect further widens, as studies are not conducted keeping in mind their relevance to the industry. Possible solution could be to develop a holistic methodology to measure impactful research by involving not only academia but also stakeholders from outside.

On the organisational front, business schools must provide the faculty and research scholars with the right platform and environment that allows them to engage in more useful and responsible research. At the same time, they must also be provided better and more regular access to funding and training. Leadership in b-schools should plan their academic calendar in a way to facilitate a reasonable period is available for faculty to do research.

Moreover, b-schools are in a race to increase their publication score by incentivising researchers. This is a very limited approach leading to unethical practices. The need of the hour is to cultivate a research culture by adopting both research facilitation and research incentivisation to create management knowledge. This will not be possible until financial strength of b-schools improve significantly. Largely b-schools in India depend on students’ fee with little to no support from government or industry barring few exceptions. B-school leadership must look beyond and start engaging both government and industry to strengthen financial position leading to knowledge creation through responsible research. The scale of partnership between the industry and b-schools is quite limited currently in that industry professionals are invited to deliver sessions or share their experiences with students.

Off late b-schools started nominating top executives in their academic advisory body and board of management to make their research and academic curriculum more industry relevant. However, it is still limited to one side engagement only. It is high time industry should open its door for academia through different possible modes of engagements. One possible way could be to develop partnership with b-schools and engage faculty and researchers to understand business practices as well as core business issues. This will help bringing in effective exchange of knowledge leading to useful and responsible research.