Answers to Exercise
12.4 Putting Dissemination into Practice
Debate the proposition that: ‘The public dissemination of social science results is harmful to the integrity and progress of research’. This can be done with different groups taking the pro or anti line.
Certainly there are those in the research community who oppose the current emphasis on impact, relevance and engagement because they do not believe that the policy is in the best interests of the production of knowledge in the long run and, as a consequence, in the best interests of taxpayers who ultimately fund the research being conducted. Take, for example, James Ladyman’s characterization of the need to disseminate research: ‘the impact agenda is distorting research priorities and distracting academics from their core activity, which is to produce scholarship for the consumption of their peers, who are usually the only people equipped to understand it and interested enough in it to bother trying’ (Ladyman, J. (2009) letter in the Times Higher Education Supplement)
The issues – if you wish to argue that the public dissemination of social science results is harmful to the integrity and progress of research – include:
- how a disconnected group (users and the community more widely) can possibly be equipped to fully understand the definitions of concepts used by researchers and how these relate to the current and past research ideas;
- that new knowledge might come as much from blue sky research (and therefore arise from the interests of the researchers themselves) as much as from the current interests of users or the public which might well be very short-term in nature;
- that if research is only conducted around topics related to stakeholder interests then a whole range of societally important research might never be conducted.
Like education and social legal studies, management and business research is an applied discipline that exists to inform and add value to the practice of management and business. If the needs of business are ignored then the field of study would forgo its right to be seen as distinct from other social sciences.
This is not to say that management and business research needs only to speak to managers and those in positions of power in organizations but, as within all social sciences, the aim should be to inform how organizations can be improved for the benefit of society as a whole.
There is an ongoing argument with accreditation bodies and research councils which suggests that the focus of research conducted for the academy and research needed for a changing world have become unbalanced and that more needs to be done to promote research relevance and to communicate the findings of research, not just in academic journals, but in forms that make it accessible to a whole range of users including the public.
An argument can be made that the engagement agenda is a response to a general demand for research in our field to have increased public value as well as driving innovation. This pressure is not going to go away. Maximizing the impact of what researchers do requires a strategy to be established in advance of research activity (and therefore requires academics to know the concerns and issues for organizations and individuals) – something very different from what we do now.
Identifying, estimating and achieving impact is not a core skill of the research community, partly because academics haven’t been particularly training to do this. These skills take time to acquire and are perhaps still being ignored.
In terms of how knowledge is disseminated, it is misleading to assume that knowledge and change in organizations can only take place if information goes to leaders within an organization. Change can take place through individuals becoming more aware of the issues, how this affects their views and how those views might be changed.