Business Education and Impact: Efforts to Turn the Tide

Despite the survey results we noted in an earlier article, a perceptible shift against the “publish or perish” research culture is building. Increasingly, government officials, business leaders, academics, associations such as Responsible Research in Business and Management, or RRBM, and regulatory bodies have questioned the value and impact of academic publications (see Haley, 2021; Haley et al., 2022). Regulators and grant-bestowing organizations have similarly emphasized a social need for research that engages with broader audiences beyond academic confines (e.g., National Science Foundation’s broader impacts, and the UK’s Research Excellence Framework impact case studies).

This is the fourth of seven posts excerpting and adapting the SAGE Business white paper “Measuring Societal Impact in Business & Management Research: From Challenges to Change.” The white paper includes a core section, written by Usha Haley and Andrew Jack, and complementary essays penned by Ben McLeish and Mike Taylor of Altmetric / Digital Science, Sir Cary L. Cooper at the Alliance Manchester Business School, Renate E. Meyer, WU Vienna / Copenhagen Business School Maura L. Scott, Florida State University.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the major accreditation body for business schools worldwide, has distinguished between outputs and outcomes in accreditation standards: Outputs focus on numbers of intellectual contributions, while outcomes deal with the impact of those contributions. The AACSB has urged moving from outputs to outcomes.

In July 2022, more than 350 organizations from more than 40 countries signed a new concordat based on the 2015 Leiden Manifesto, which proposes research evaluations mainly on qualitative measures and the abandonment of journal-based metrics. That agreement came nearly 10 years after the signing of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which sought to phase out the use of journal-based metrics in appointment and promotion decisions.

Researchers, business schools, and ranking agencies are simultaneously using diverse, though convergent, means to hack the status quo on the external impact of research. For example, the Chartered Association of Business Schools in the UK encourages “Business Schools for Good” to highlight positive impacts on society.

Similarly, DORA’s efforts to refocus research evaluations continue to gather momentum. The British Academy of Management has also contributed significantly to this emerging debate on business schools through reexamining concepts of purpose and how these institutions teach, grow and develop for social impact. The FT, which publishes a series of annual business school rankings, has been consulting on ways to give greater weight to societal impact in schools’ teaching, operations and research functions – including through possible revisions to its FT50 list of leading academic journals.

While rankings are often criticized, they are also influential and therefore have the potential to incentivize reforms. The FT has hosted a “slow hackathon” seeking to explore new models with academics, journal publishers, and providers of impact metrics. However, seeking to identify and to operationalize such measures is not simple. Judgments of “societal impact” remain subjective, researchers can take many years to achieve societal impact, and evaluators may have difficulties both attributing and tracking societal impact.

As a response, the FT has launched a series of qualitative “responsible business education” awards, which use judges within academic and public and private-sector practitioners to recognize rigorous research with evidence of uptake in policy and practice. The FT’s and judges’ efforts have identified some very strong examples – ranging from health to agricultural insurance and sustainability, and seek to identify longer term, quantifiable trends. Recognizing that teaching provides one of the greatest and most immediate societal impacts of research, a related FT award also specifically seeks to identify and to reward strong examples in the teaching of sustainability.

It has also sought with OpenSyllabus to compile a “teaching power index” that tracks the use in different university courses of business-school textbooks, papers and other outputs, to map which institutions are contributing the most.

Despite such efforts to identify and reward external impact, only a handful of business academics have influenced governmental policy through their research or have had their research covered in the media, major indicators of outreach and impact (see Haley, 2021). A Google normative search of top management journals showed that external stakeholders’ interest in these management journals had slipped by about 90 percent over the last two decades. Indeed, Dennis Tourish points out that management scholars increasingly write for themselves: scholars appear to publish primarily to further their careers rather than knowledge, neglect critical issues for bite-sized chunks of easily publishable research, and resort to pretentious prose for illusory theory development. According to the THE survey, about half of the institutions used the quality of the journals in which research is published to judge the success of research collaborations. Only about a third said that tangible impact of the research beyond academia provided the yardstick for success.

Posted And Upcoming Articles In This Series

A Quick Examination Of Existing Academic Impact Metrics And Concerns In Business Education” | Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

“A Decades Long Journey of Marketing and Public Policy Research to Support the Greater Good” | Maura L. Scott

“How Might Societal Impact be Recognized within an FT Top 50 Journal?” | Renate E. Meyer

“Why Don’t Business Schools Publish More Impactful Research?” | Ben McLeish And Mike Taylor

“Some Opportunities For Future Business And Management Research: Employee Health And Well-Being” | Cary L. Cooper

“Medium And Short-Term Recommendations To Move Forward” | Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

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Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

Usha Haley is W. Frank Barton Distinguished Chair in International Business, and professor of Management at Wichita State University. She is also director of the Center for International Business Advancement and chair of the World Trade Council of Wichita. She has over 400 publications and presentations on non-market economies, subsidies, multinational corporations, emerging markets, trade, strategy, and scholarly impact, including eight books. Her latest book is Impact and the Management Researcher.
Andrew Jack is a global education editor for the Financial Times, writing on educational issues around the world and editorial lead for the free FT schools program. He was previously head of curated content, deputy editor of the big read section, pharmaceuticals correspondent, and a foreign correspondent in France and Russia.

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