The Essence of Scholarly Impact

Business Educators Call for New Measures of Research Quality.

Scholarly Impact

WHAT IS THE MEANING of scholarly impact? How can researchers know when they’ve achieved it, and how can their schools best reward it? These nuanced questions are the subject of a project from the Academy of Management (AOM), which was undertaken to provide “both a mirror and window to comprehend better the complex, pluralistic nature of scholarly impact.”

The project, conducted by the organization’s Practice Theme Committee (PTC), consisted of a qualitative study and a quantitative survey of members. The PTC received responses from 700 members, who included professors, lecturers, doctoral candidates, and business students. These members were based worldwide, with the majority (57 percent) located in North America.

According to respondents, the top five indications of impact of research include publication in top-tier journals, citations by other researchers, use as the basis of a scholarly book, ability to attract competitive grants, and publication in practitioner-focused outlets. Respondents perceive that the top five audiences for management research are other management academics, managers and decision makers at companies, governments and policymakers, social science academics, and students.

As a group, respondents note that management research currently has the greatest influence over the research and teaching of other management academics. They also recognize strange paradoxes that researchers often face. For example:

  • The majority of respondents believe that scholarship affecting management practice and government policy can be an “intensely” or a “strongly important” indicator of impact. Only a minority (38 percent) note that their own institutions support such scholarship.

  • The majority also believe that interdisciplinary research “definitely” or “probably” can have greater impact than single-discipline research, but they note that such research is more difficult to publish in top-tier journals. Yet many institutions use publication in top-tier journals as a leading measure of scholarly impact.

  • Finally, even though the majority of respondents find that journal lists, journal rankings, and impact factors applied to journals “definitely” or “probably” do not reflect journal quality or scholarly impact, these measures are still used widely by academic institutions to evaluate faculty contributions.

When offered the opportunity to write in more detailed responses, many respondents expressed their frustration with the status quo. One professor wrote, “The academic, theoretical discussion currently taking place in the major journals [has] no impact whatsoever, but nobody dares to admit that.” Another wrote, “Do we save lives? Do we help companies not die? Do we save jobs? If so, these are the impacts. If not, and I suspect we don’t, impact is just citation-based and self-referenced within academia.”

Given that such paradoxes run exactly counter to the aim of management research, respondents recommended several ways that AOM could move past them to help management research have a wider influence on policy and social change:

  • Create broader definitions of scholarly impact beyond citations and top-tier journal publication.
  • Provide incentives and mentorship to encourage faculty to pursue research with greater impact.
  • Place greater weight on publication in practitioner journals.
  • Invest more in translating research for practitioners.
  • Reach out beyond academia to engage with practitioners and others who are “actually on the firing line,” as one respondent put it.
  • Work together with other academic organizations that represent business disciplines to shift the definitions of scholarly impact.
  • The PTC’s report concludes that while scientific rigor and academic productivity will always be important to management research, those two factors alone are no longer a sufficient measure of the extent to which the activities of researchers contribute to the teaching and practice of management. The report, its authors write, is meant to help “AOM’s scholars, academic institutions, and regulatory bodies … identify avenues for more practice-relevant scholarship that would enhance research, put knowledge into action, and achieve scholarly impact.”

“Measuring and Achieving Scholarly Impact” is available at the Academy of Management website.