It is Academic Writing Month at SAGE MethodSpace, and for 2018 we are looking at ways researchers develop a holistic publication strategy. Any strategy should take into consideration the potential for real impact, or making a difference with one’s research and writing. Dr. Melanie Cohen has been organizing workshops at the Academy of Management’s annual conference to engage attendees in thinking about these questions. I interviewed her about this impressive project, and what she has learned.
JS “Research impact” is a current buzzword, reflecting the importance of getting research findings to people who can use them. You have organized participatory workshops about putting research into practice in the field of business for _5__ years. Can you start by telling us what motivates you to organize these sessions for the Academy of Management conferences?
MC The first session that I organized was in 2014, it was called “Translating Scholarship into Practice: How can the Results of Scholarship be Translated into Action by Practitioners?” That session was less of a workshop and more of a panel discussion with experts discussing the successful methods that they had used in an effort to translate scholarship to practice. I soon realized following that session that hearing about others best practices was not useful. Others’ solutions cannot be made to fit into your problems; therefore, panel discussions and lectures were not what was needed. What was needed was group discussions where both scholars and practitioners could come together to understand the questions, think about issues, talk about the problems, try to get to the root of the issue, and perhaps ultimately come up with the few suggestions.
I also question how we think about impact. We think about impact as effect and influence, but I also believe that even more important is the idea of relevance. Perhaps scholarship lacks impact because the relevance to the practitioner is lacking. This is another area that I am interested in exploring in future workshops.
JS What key questions do you pose to launch small group discussions?
MC Through the years, we have been able to refine the questions. These are the key questions that we now focus upon.
- How can we use social media to improve the dialogue between management scholars and management practitioners?
- How should we define “impact” and how should scholars and their academic institutions aspire to achieve impact?
- What do we mean by the phrase “engaged scholarship”? What can we do, as a community of scholars, educators, and practitioners, to contribute to bringing alive the AOM’s vision “To inspire and enable a better world”?
- How do we build a community of management researchers, educators, consultants, and practitioners that can co-create and disseminate knowledge?
JS You have been collecting data from these sessions for a longitudinal study. Can you briefly describe this research? What preliminary observations or findings can you share?
MC We are still in the data collection stage. We have the written notes from note takers, and we have the written note on the tablecloths which are essentially mind maps.
One thing that I did not mention earlier is that following that first session when we decided to forgo panel discussions, for each successive workshop we have employed the world café method as the format for hosting the discussions.
We have at least three rounds of discussion for each question, the participants have the ability to continuously build upon the ideas from the group before. This makes for a much richer discussion as the rounds proceed.
Here are two samples of the tablecloths following the discussions in the workshop. It will take quite an effort to analyze the data. We have data going back to 2015 as well as hundreds of pictures of the tablecloths. We are looking for experts in qualitative research for assistance. [Comment below if you are interested in helping with data analysis.]
JS What suggestions do you have for researchers who want to apply scholarly thinking or findings to policies or practices that help solve real-world problems? In particular, what kinds of writing and/or publishing do you think create impact?
MC There has to be incentive for scholars to publish in non-academic publications. Researchers/scholars need to remember that if they want to have impact in relationship to practitioners, managers, or as some say people in the “real world” then understand that the primary audience for their research is not other scholars. The primary audience is practitioners, managers in the field. Practitioners read publications that have relevance to their work at hand. Again, that pesky word relevance comes into play.
Let’s be honest. Academic publications are not written for practitioners, they are not read by practitioners, practitioners for the most part do not have access to these publications because they are not open access, and most importantly, academic articles are difficult to read. A really interesting question would be, how many scholars read other scholars work if it is not directly related to their own work. In my career, I never heard anyone say that by reading an article in AMJ, they were able to solve the issue in their office.
I think the real question here is how do managers (practitioners) find and apply scholarly concepts to their real world environment. I think what managers sometimes use and like best practices because theoretically they have been tested in an environment. Not the exact environment, but something that people believe is a similar environment. However, as we know best practices are not the solution. They can guide, but are not universally applicable.
JS MethodSpace readers are global, and multidisciplinary. What suggestions do you have for academics who want to stimulate discussion about translating scholarship to practice?
MC I often think about and discuss this issue in two ways. First, as an academic, I get to think about the research problem, how I want to conduct the research, and what questions I want to ask. And in some cases, I have the luxury of time. Second, as a practitioner, I don’t know what the issue or problem is until someone walks into the office and presents the problem. In this case, I don’t have the luxury of time to solve the problem. I need to rely on experience, knowledge, and if I’m lucky enough to have read something at some time about a similar issue and I’m able to recall it.
I have seen many academic papers presented at the conferences that confirm the obvious about organizations. These papers are presented as if there is groundbreaking findings. If these researchers could spend a month inside the organization as employees/workers they would know how organizations actually operate and could gear research more toward the issues that exist. I think for research to be more meaningful, have impact, and be relevant, there needs to be greater interaction between researchers and practitioners.
JS Any other lessons learned that will benefit academic researchers and writers?
MC Translating scholarship to research is not an easy issue to resolve. This is an issue that has been discussed and grappled with for decades with no true answers or true resolution. Until scholars are incentivize to publish in non-academic publications then the discussion will continue and continue and continue.