Business Research Goes Public

Business schools experiment with unconventional methods to get their faculty’s best scholarship into the hands of laypeople and practitioners.
Business Research Goes Public

Most business practitioners are eager to acquire new knowledge that will help them build their organizations, manage their workforces, and improve their leadership. Luckily for them, business schools are producing that knowledge every day. Unluckily, this research is often published in esoteric academic journals that few of them read and is written in a language they don’t readily comprehend.

To ensure their faculty’s research is applied in the real world, business schools—including the four featured here—are increasingly devising nontraditional ways to deliver research findings directly to practitioners. By repackaging their research for the world, they’re bucking the conception that academic research is only for academics.

FOUND IN TRANSLATION

Paul Merage School of Business
University of California, Irvine

hen the Merage School of Business wanted to link its scholarship to practice, it focused on addressing one of the biggest problems of research studies—their often impenetrable academic language. Three years ago, it created Research Translations, a program that “translates” research into language that business leaders can immediately understand, in short-read formats, so that they can quickly find what they need and put the information to immediate practical use. Research Translations is administered through the Merage School’s Center for Global Leadership and directed by Jone Pearce, Dean’s Professor of Leadership.

Each year, the program accepts several doctoral students or professors into the center’s paid Summer Fellows Program; applicants come from both inside and outside the Merage School. To apply, they submit their curriculum vitae and onepage descriptions of research topics that they would like to translate for the public. Their descriptions must explain why their chosen topics are important to the business community and show that sufficient empirical research is available. Last summer, the school received five applications for three spots.

Once accepted, fellows work on translations, each covering the findings of several studies on the same topic, throughout the summer. Fellows submit one-page proposals for topics, including a list of publications they would draw from, to Pearce, who reviews and approves them. Each translation can be no more than three pages long and must include practical knowledge for the business community. Each fellow receives a US$3,000 stipend after completing an approved translation by the August deadline. Translations are next edited by professional writers to make the text more engaging, before they are posted to the school’s website under the fellows’ bylines.

Research chosen for translation must explore problems related to leadership, Pearce explains. For example, fellows have written translations with titles such as “How Leaders May Affect Followers’ Resistance to Change” and “Managing Procrastination at Work.” A recent translation, “How Women Leaders Can Navigate the Labyrinth of Success” by Winny Shen of the University of Florida, draws from a reference list of 25 studies to support the guidance it offers.

The Merage School models its Research Translation program after similar activity in the medical community. Pearce points to the Cochrane Reviews, a collection of reports created by the Cochrane Collaboration in British Columbia, Canada. The reviews summarize and interpret evidence-based medical findings to help the public make better healthcare decisions.

Schools that want to set up similar programs could face two hurdles, Pearce notes. First, it’s challenging to strike a balance between presenting research accurately and summarizing it clearly. While the center could have turned to professional writers for the entire translation process, most writers aren’t well-versed in academic language. Likewise, most doctoral students and professors are so inured to academic language, they often don’t know how to write for practitioners. “I spend a great deal of time working with our fellows to help them draw out the practical conclusions of the research,” she says.

The second, bigger challenge is to ensure that each translation draws from a body of systematic, quality research—not opinion pieces or anecdotes. Schools need to vet translations carefully and distinguish true research translations from faculty-written commentaries based on personal experience, Pearce says.

Pearce hopes to expand the program to include more fellows who can generate more translations over time. “It’s very common for academics to say, ‘Nobody uses our stuff,’” says Pearce. “We want to become a resource that the whole world can use.”

TALKS ON TAP

Victoria University of Wellington
New Zealand

Last year, Victoria Business School’s associate dean for research invited faculty to suggest ways to engage the external community with the school’s scholarship. The winning idea came from Dan Laufer, associate professor of marketing and head of the School of Marketing and International Business. Laufer conceived “Ideas on Tap,” a series of informal monthly research presentations held at The Thistle Inn, a local pub near the university’s campus. Held for the first time in September 2013, Ideas on Tap employs an informal structure that demonstrates to the community that academic research has practical applications for business.

The Thistle Inn was chosen as the venue for Ideas on Tap not only because of its proximity to the campus and government facilities, but also because of its historic significance. Originally built in 1855 and rebuilt in 1866 after a fire, the pub holds a special place in the community. “It is important that the image of the restaurant fit the reputation of the school,” says Laufer.

To choose each topic, Ann Thompson, the Victoria Business School’s manager of stakeholder relations, confers with the faculty presenter in advance. The school publicizes the events by placing spots in the local media and sending emails to individuals on community mailing lists. Such advertising doesn’t just boost attendance—it also builds awareness about the school’s research. The school asks for RSVPs so that presenters know attendees’ employers and job titles in advance and can tailor examples to the audience.

Ideas on Tap topics link to current events and trends. In the inaugural presentation, Laufer explored ways consumers react to product crises, which tied into news of contaminated products made by New Zealand-based milk conglomerate Fonterra. In October, management professor John Davies spoke on sports team management, a topic that appealed to fans and players of rugby, the country’s most popular sport.

The school plans to hold three talks each semester. Each talk lasts just 20 minutes and is followed by a 30-minute Q&A session. That brevity forces faculty to quickly highlight examples and emphasize takeaways, says Laufer.

Each talk has attracted as many attendees as the venue can handle—around 30. The small audience is perfect to support informal discussion, says Laufer. Ideas on Tap also has engaged the community, just as the associate dean of research wanted. Government representatives who attended the first talk on crisis management already have asked the school to arrange crisis communications seminars to train public officials.

Attendance at a February talk on how information technology impacts productivity by Benoit Aubert, professor of information systems, grew so large that the group had to move to a bigger space upstairs. If the trend continues, the school might consider an alternative venue, but would like to keep the intimate atmosphere that The Thistle Inn has offered.

A pub may seem an unorthodox location to highlight business research, but by choosing such an informal venue, business schools can take research out of the ivory tower and into the mainstream, Laufer emphasizes. That kind of engagement, he adds, makes a significant positive impact on the business community—and on the business school’s reputation.

RESEARCH ANIMATIONS

HEC Paris
France

In October, HEC Paris launched HEC Ideas, an animated video series designed to make its faculty research concepts accessible to all. The first video, “How to Bake a Broccoli Quiche: A View on Organization,” is based on the book La désorganisation du monde (“the destruction of the world”) by Rodolphe Durand, strategy professor and director of the school’s Society and Organization Research Centre. The animated film connects Durand’s research on how organizations affect society to examples from everyday life. As Durand advises viewers in the video: “Reorganize yourselves! Reorganize the world!”

The videos are created in partnership with HEC Paris graduate Augustin de Belloy, who now works in the film industry as cofounder and CEO of a company called Left Productions. It was de Belloy who suggested the use of animation to bring research to life. “Academic research no longer seems to be just simply ‘academic,’” says de Belloy. “I believe it extends beyond initial academic circles and challenges our view of the world today. We have created the HEC Ideas series to share this point of view.”

The school created the series to show a much wider audience how its faculty’s research findings applied to real-world challenges, says Delphine Wharmby, HEC’s communications director. The video format encourages—and requires—professors to explain why research concepts are relevant to people’s everyday lives, in a fun format that educates and entertains.

“People tend to browse through information very quickly, jumping from one topic to another, so it is getting increasingly difficult to encourage them to read a five-page research paper,” says Wharmby. “Making short, snappy, fun videos is a way to get people’s attention and trigger their interest.”

HEC plans to release two more videos in 2014. One highlights socially responsible investment based on research by Diane-Laure Arjaliès and Afshin Mehrpouya, assistant professors in the school’s accounting and management control department; the other, smart paths to incentivize employees based on research by Tomasz Obloj, assistant professor in the strategy and business policy department.

The school hopes the videos also will increase traffic to its website and social media accounts, including Knowledge@HEC, a soon-to-be-launched online platform for research and articles on business trends. As of the end of March, its first video had been viewed more than 2,500 times, which is a good showing given that the school has not marketed it heavily, says Wharmby. The school will continue to track the number of times the videos are viewed or shared after the next two videos are launched.

Student and faculty response on campus has been very positive, she adds. “We’ve already had professors come in to volunteer to make our next videos!”

RESEARCH THAT TRENDS

Rotterdam School of Management
Erasmus University
The Netherlands

Business schools often bring their research to the public’s attention through traditional colloquia and public lectures, but many have yet to tap the full potential of social media tools—they haven’t yet figured out how to get their research to “trend” online.

In an effort to fulfill Rotterdam School of Management’s emphasis on “impact-driven” activity, Wilfred Mijnhardt, the executive director of the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), has made it his mission to embrace every corner of social media, from blogs to social networks. The comprehensive and integrated use of social media “is the natural next stage of maturing business schools,” he says. “My social strategy is an example of how this can work to help make business faculty visible on a global scale.”

Plus, social media and analytics tools offer one huge advantage over other communication and marketing methods: In most cases, they’re free.

Mijnhardt takes advantage of a wide variety of social media tools to build an audience:

Blogging. He created his first blog in 2005 through the popular free online blogging platform Wordpress. In September 2011, he created a blog devoted to faculty research topics on the contentsharing site Scoop.it. He recently created a second blog on Scoop.it, to showcase the dissertations of RSM’s doctoral students.

Tweeting. He connected his blog to Twitter, so announcements of new postings get tweeted automatically to his followers.

Digital publishing. Mijnhardt then created online magazines on Twylah.com and Rebelmouse. com, online tools that allow him to automatically republish his blog content in easy-to-read online magazine formats.

Tracking. Finally, Mijnhardt tracks the influence his online activity is generating through Klout. com. Klout generates a score for users between 1 and 100—the higher a user’s Klout score, the more influential the user’s brand. “My current score is around 49, which isn’t bad,” Mijnhardt says. “It gets harder as the number grows higher.”

Most recently, he has started to track his Twitter “mention reach” on Sumall.com and the impact of his research activity on Impact story.org and Altmetrics.org.

Mijnhardt points out that each individual on the recently released Thinkers50 list is very active on social media outlets such as Twitter, and all have Klout scores that are well above 50. “The same logic that helped them build their online identities also works for the ordinary professor.”

Most business schools adopt careful and selective publication strategies. Minjhardt believes they should be no less vigilant about their social media strategies. “Social media gives faculty great leverage for their knowledge production, because it’s fast, flexible, and metrics-driven,” he adds. By using the wide variety of online tools, they can gain control over the distribution of their research and personalize the ways they engage with the public.