Idea Exchange: Publish and Perform

The Idea: Ask professors to "perform" study findings to make research more accessible to the public.

THE IDEA

Ask professors to “perform” study findings to make research more accessible to the public.

THE LOCATION

Towson University’s College of Business and Economics in Maryland.

ACTING ON AN IDEA

Seen any good research studies lately? Bart Debicki hopes that soon more people will answer “yes” to this question. Debicki, a management professor at Towson, is also a stage and screen actor who has appeared in films such as Killing Kennedy. Through performance, he says, academics can make their research more accessible and compelling to nonacademics.

Inspired by that idea, Debicki and Julita Haber, an assistant professor at City University of New York, created “Act on Your Research,” a new kind of competition for business professors. The pair’s idea became the basis of a session at the Southern Management Association’s 2014 Annual Meeting last November. Two months in advance of the session, they emailed registrants to ask them to create short videos or live skits that depict their research. They provided each team with a link to an online document that outlined the principles of great storytelling and the basics of filmmaking.

RESEARCH WITH REACH

Debicki often asks his students to act in his classroom—whether in simulations or through role-playing exercises—so, he asks, why shouldn’t faculty use acting to serve their scholarship? “There is usually a gap between our research and the business community, which rarely reads academic journals,” he says. “A short video about a study’s results and practical implications is much easier to understand than a 30-page discourse written in academic jargon and riddled with high-end statistics.”

Video entries to the inaugural “Act on Your Research” competition are available at southernmanagement.org/meetings/2014/actresearch.asp.

WINNING RESULTS

The competition resulted in a variety of performances—one professor created a stop-motion version of the video game character “Super Mario” to illustrate how executive characteristics affect corporate acquisition. The winning team, which received the US$500 prize, performed its version of “Shark Tank,” evaluating different pitches to demonstrate how an entrepreneur’s passion for an idea can influence that idea’s success.

The judges, who included management scholars and several SMA officers, had access to the videos two weeks before the session and viewed the live performances during the session. Towson University provided the first-place cash award, and other universities provided promotional items in gift bags for each participating team.

The session attracted a large live audience to view the performances and films. The event was so popular that Debicki and Haber will hold the event again this year at SMA’s conference. They plan to create separate categories for video and live performances, find more sponsors, and ask participants to sign a consent form that allows the event’s organizers to post their films unrestricted on social media platforms.