Business schools around the world are home to some of the most brilliant and well-supported scholars in all of the social sciences. Research feeds knowledge to business education, yet current research is often disconnected from real-world challenges. There is no shortage of problems whose solutions implicate business, from alleviating poverty and hunger to creating clean energy and livable cities. Moreover, there are signs that we are reaching the limits of the lavish resources required for business research. Government funding for research is shrinking in many places around the world while remaining funders increasingly demand to see tangible, especially societal outcomes. If unchanged, the era of unconstrained support for business research may be drawing to a close.
We believe it is time to reorient the ecosystem of business research to produce more credible and actionable knowledge for better policies and practices, and ultimately a better world. It is time to reclaim the high ground for business and management research.
Business and management researchers have a unique capacity to guide the actions of organizational leaders to create a prosperous and sustainable future. Research is a core activity of most university-based business and management schools.1 Yet, both the relevance and quality of research in business schools has been under attack for more than two decades.2These attacks can be summarized in terms of two core issues. The first issue is the widening gap between research and practice, with business research in many domains increasingly divorced from the real-world practices. Because research is evaluated primarily by placement in elite journals and its impact on subsequent research, rather than on its ability to address real-world problems, its link to practice is often undervalued.3 High quality problem-driven research, if not published in the top journals, is often undervalued. The second concern is the quality and integrity of research. Academic evaluation systems can promote bad research practices by encouraging quantity over quality and novelty over replicability, resulting in little cumulative progress in knowledge. The two core problems are connected: relevance is moot when quality is in doubt. Responsible research is about both useful and credible knowledge.
Research in business schools is costly4, and business schools face competition from alternative low-cost education providers that are not burdened by the expense of research. Resource providers, including students, donors, legislators, and funding agencies, deserve to understand how business research provides a benefit to society.
It is not our intention to turn business schools into consultancies. Not every paper needs to solve a current problem, and not every researcher needs to be on the frontlines of practice. Rather, we envision schools adopting a portfolio approach, with a diverse mix of research combining current problems and more speculative and theoretical work.
This Position Paper starts us on a journey toward a substantive rethinking of business and management research and, more broadly, about its evolving roles and expectations in society. Our audience goes beyond the higher education community, and we invite broad participation in this discussion. While scholars, editors, university presidents, deans, professional societies, accrediting associations, funding agencies, and the public (e.g., media) have faulted elements of the current business research ecosystem, Vision 2030 portrays a promising future and advocates principles that underpin its ultimate success.