MONROVIA, LIBERIA - AUGUST 15: Young men show off their ball handling skills in the West Point slum on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. Poor sanitation and close quarters have contributed to the spead of the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through bodily fluids. The epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four West African countries. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
The use of therapy and cash payments in Liberia has been proven to reduce violent crimes. © Getty

On subjects from climate change to knife crime and racism in recruitment to kidney transplants, business school professors are conducting research geared towards making a positive impact on society.

Despite criticism that much of their activity focuses on abstract, abstruse and overly academic topics with little resonance beyond the higher education sector, a survey by the Financial Times shows a rich and varied range of research by faculty on topics with strong social value.

Bill Glick, professor of management at Houston’s Rice University, maintains, however, that such examples remain too rare. Much business school research, and public funding for it, is “underperforming”, he claims. 

He argues that talent and resources are too often channelled into theoretical work read by few people with limited application: “There is an emphasis on quantity over quality and novelty over replicability.”

Prof Glick helped found the Responsible Research in Business & Management Network (RRBM), which at its inaugural conference in Rotterdam last year hosted more than 60 academics determined to make business schools’ research more relevant to society. It will hold a second event in London this summer.

The virtual network’s vision for 2030 spells out the aspiration that by that year business and management schools worldwide will be “widely admired for their contributions to societal wellbeing”. Their “timely and cutting edge” research, it adds, will produce “well-grounded knowledge on pressing problems”.

Some observers suggest that the often esoteric orientation of research is partly a legacy of reforms in US management education after the second world war. The changes were designed to bridge a gulf between the practical work of business schools and more traditional academic disciplines.

Over time, this has led to a divergence between the needs of business for hands-on training and academia’s preference for peer-reviewed theory. The result has been publication of research in a limited range of specialist journals with limited readership.

Global Responsible Research Summit 2019 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Founded by Bill Glick of Rice University. Press image.
Bill Glick, (L) professor of management at Houston’s Rice University, says that much research is focused on theoretical work read by few people with limited application

Today, many business schools in emerging economies, founded with a more practical focus and strong links to companies, have joined the chorus for reform. “We need research that is relevant to business,” says Konstantin Krotov, head of the graduate school of management in Russia’s Saint Petersburg university.

There is growing pressure for change and accountability from government and philanthropic funding agencies. UK regulators have introduced the Research Excellence Framework, for instance, which requires universities to provide evidence of their impact. Similar systems have been launched in Australia and the Netherlands.

Yet the science of measuring the impact of research remains in its infancy. Most performance measures rely either on: inward-looking validation by academics citing each other in journal articles; broader references in the media or social networks, or anecdotal case studies of success.

It may take years after publication before academic research finds practical applications in changing policies in the private or public sectors. The original authors, meanwhile, may never be credited.

Moreover, top researchers may not be the best teachers to share their work effectively with students. Mike Taylor, head of metrics development at consultants Digital Science, argues that intermediaries such as bloggers can play a bigger role in bringing academic work to the attention of decision makers.

Academic publications alone are a reductive way to assess the broader impact of business school research. Wilfred Mijnhardt, policy director at the Rotterdam School of Management, suggests taking into account a fuller range of “outputs”, including dissertations, grants awarded and patents.

He is among those exploring ways to weight the value of total research by analysing whether articles refer to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet that approach still falls short of judging the quality of the ideas themselves, since it may represent “box-ticking” rather than providing important new insights.

To aid the debate, the FT asked business schools to select up to five papers by their academics, published in the past five years, that they considered to have social impact. It then used Altmetric, a service owned by Digital Science, to quantify the online resonance that each had with the wider world beyond universities, drawing on references ranging from academic citations to social media posts.

The top 100 results, broken down by Altmetric’s individual categories, some of which are set out in the columns below, were striking for their variety. 

The highest scoring paper overall was Brain Drain, submitted by the Rady School of Management at the University of California in San Diego. It sought to test whether carrying a smartphone, even without looking at it, can impair cognitive performance. 

The work that received the most references in policy documents produced by governments and organisations outside academia was from the University of Exeter in southwest England. It was on the use of therapy and cash payments in Liberia to reduce violent crime.

The most references on Mendeley, a platform that hosts discussions among academics, came from a paper submitted by Corvinus University of Budapest on the conceptual framework of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

While such early measures are unlikely to gain universal approval, they feed a growing debate on how research can help improve society.

Business School Research with Social Impact 
TitleJournalBusiness SchoolAltmetricBlogsPolicyTwitterMendeley
Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive CapacityJournal of the Association for Consumer ResearchUC San Diego - Rady School of Management39562912846520
Model and manage the changing geopolitics of energyNatureWarwick Business School78220124130
Whitened RésumésAdministrative Science QuarterlyRotman School of Management71861255292
‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristicsBMC MedicineHanken School of Economics717375513393
Ethnic diversity deflates price bubblesPNASMIT Sloan School of Management40190174188
Quantifying the Impact of Scenic Environments on HealthScientific ReportsWarwick Business School39911369137
New Business Models to Accelerate Innovation in Pediatric Oncology TherapeuticsJAMA OncologyMIT Sloan School of Management383002914
Consumers underestimate the emissions associated with food but are aided by labelsNature Climate ChangeDuke University Fuqua School of Business 33970146132
Are There Environmental Benefits from Driving Electric Vehicles? The Importance of Local FactorsAmerican Economic ReviewTuck School of Business at Dartmouth College32872216196
Do Pro-Diversity Policies Improve Corporate Innovation?Financial Management (1972)Poole College of Management, NC State University259504330
Anticompetitive Effects of Common OwnershipJournal of FinanceIESE Business School2564028265
Impact of multiple food environments on body mass indexPLoS ONEArizona State University246505319
We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup FundingAcademy of Management JournalLondon Business School24420154269
Are men getting more emotional? Critical sociological perspectives on men, masculinities and emotionsSociological Review Hanken School of Economics2370043376
Lending practices to same-sex borrowersPNASIowa State University Ivy College of Business2321012320
Navigating by the Stars: Investigating the Actual and Perceived Validity of Online User RatingsJournal of Consumer ResearchEsade2273046314
The critical role of second-order normative beliefs in predicting energy conservationNature Human BehaviourUniversity of Exeter Business School215308195
When Patients and Their Families Feel Like Hostages to Health CareMayo Clinic ProceedingsTexas A&M University - Mays Business School2100028459
Neurobiological Mechanisms of Responding to InjusticeJournal of NeuroscienceRotterdam School of Management,2104113578
Success and LuckPrinceton UPCornell SC Johnson College of Business183140663
Social media? It's serious! Understanding the dark side of social mediaEuropean Management JournalGustavson School of Business17100646294
Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping pointNature FoodUniversity of Exeter Business School16630850
Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on MaterialitySSRN Electronic JournalHarvard Business School16450124108
Social Responsibility Messages and Worker Wage Requirements: Field Experimental Evidence from Online Labor MarketplacesOrganization ScienceColumbia Business School154125140
Thinking, Fast and Slow? Some Field Experiments to Reduce Crime and Dropout in Chicago*Quarterly Journal of EconomicsUniversity of Chicago Booth School of Business15344117242
An Inconvenient Truth: How Organizations Translate Climate Change into Business as UsualAcademy of Management JournalUniversity of Sydney Business School1526062364
The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment RecommendationsStrategic Management JournalHarvard Business School/London Business School1490145730
Economic Development and Forest Cover: Evidence from Satellite DataScientific ReportsWU Vienna1452067141
Germany’s decision to phase out coal by 2038 lags behind citizens’ timing preferencesNature EnergyUniversity of St Gallen1453021531
Entrepreneurship and well-being: The role of psychological autonomy, competence, and relatednessJournal of Business VenturingHanken School of Economics137002151
Understanding the Perception of the ‘Migrant Work Ethic’Work, Employment & SocietyUniversity of Bath, School of Management13010721
Reducing Crime and Violence: Experimental Evidence from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in LiberiaAmerican Economic ReviewUniversity of Exeter Business School13036160150
Which Healthy Eating Nudges Work Best? A Meta-Analysis of Field ExperimentsMarketing ScienceInsead127008255
Disaster on the horizon: The price effect of sea level riseJournal of Financial EconomicsLeeds School of Business, University of Colorado, Boulder123106888
Analyzing Approaches to the Backlog of Untested Sexual Assault Kits in the U.S.A.Journal of Forensic SciencesStanford Graduate School of Business115108716
How to SHIFT Consumer Behaviors to be More Sustainable: A Literature Review and Guiding FrameworkJournal of MarketingUBC Sauder School of Business1090026412
Middle Managers and Corruptive Routine Translation: The Social Production of Deceptive PerformanceOrganization ScienceIESEG102003657
Political ideology and the discursive construction of the multinational hotel industryHuman RelationsGustavson School of Business990012538
Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action RevisitedOrganization Studies (01708406)IESE Business School942159528
Reimagining the Future Public Service WorkforceSpringerBriefs in Political ScienceBirmingham Business School9100970
What is the optimal speed limit on freeways?Journal of Public EconomicsWharton85018573
Analysts’ and Managers’ Use of Humor on Public Earnings Conference CallsSSRN Electronic JournalTexas A&M University - Mays Business School8520858
Active Remediation: The Search for Lead Pipes in Flint, Michigan24th SIGKDD ProceedingsUniversity of Michigan Ross School of Business82008647
Firm Turnover and the Return of Racial Establishment SegregationAmerican Sociological ReviewMcGill University, Desautels Faculty of Management82507739
The Future of RetailingJournal of RetailingBabson College82101411237
Gender Bias, Social Impact Framing, and Evaluation of Entrepreneurial VenturesOrganization ScienceInsead801019117
The IPBES Conceptual Framework — connecting nature and peopleCurrent Opinion in Environmental SustainabilityCorvinus Business School7925772166
The decline of science in corporate R&DStrategic Management JournalDuke University Fuqua School of Business 771022128
24-Karat or fool’s gold? Consequences of real team and co-acting group membership in healthcare organizationsEuropean Journal of Work and Organizational PsychologyLancaster University Management School760010987
Medicaid and Mortality: New Evidence from Linked Survey and Administrative DataNBERUniversity of Michigan Ross School of Business7410320
Participation in local food projects is associated with better psychological well-being: evidence from the East of EnglandJournal of Public HealthUniversity of Exeter Business School7100284
A carbon price by another name may seem sweeter: Consumers prefer upstream offsets to downstream taxesJournal of Environmental PsychologyUBC Sauder School of Business71202517
Playing the trump card: Why we select overconfident leaders and why it mattersLeadership QuarterlyAmsterdam Business School710010430
The Commercial Market For Priority Review VouchersHealth AffairsDuke University Fuqua School of Business 69214830
Enhancing Kidney Supply Through Geographic Sharing in the United StatesProduction & Operations ManagementUniversity of Chicago Booth School of Business6300012
Explaining the Persistence of Gender Inequality: The Work–family Narrative as a Social Defense against the 24/7 Work CultureAdministrative Science QuarterlyDeGroote School of Business, McMaster University63108755
Seizing the Ethical High Ground: Ethical Reputation Building in Corrupt EnvironmentsJournal of Management StudiesChina Europe International Business School60001837
Do Government Audits Reduce Corruption? Estimating the Impacts of Exposing Corrupt PoliticiansJournal of Political EconomyHaas School of Business, UC Berkeley590079171
Assessing Recent Determinants of Borrowing Costs in Sub-Saharan AfricaReview of Development EconomicsSt John's University58506219
Content trends in sustainable business education: an analysis of introductory courses in the USAInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher EducationLoyola University Chicago5410727
Innovations in the Business Models of Modern Slavery: The Dark Side of Business Model InnovationAcademy of Management ProceedingsUniversity of Bath, School of Management53102719
Introducing a Circular Economy: New Thinking with New Managerial and Policy ImplicationsCalifornia Management ReviewCambridge Judge Business School530086220
The effect of Beijing's driving restrictions on pollution and economic activityJournal of Public EconomicsCheung Kong Graduate School of Business491136160
Lean in messages increase attributions of women’s responsibility for gender inequality.Journal of Personality & Social PsychologyDuke University Fuqua School of Business 49006359
The Market for Financial Adviser MisconductJournal of Political EconomyStanford Graduate School of Business48001371
Do Plant Inspections Predict Future Quality? The Role of Investigator ExperienceManufacturing & Service Operations ManagementIndiana University Kelley School of Business4700023
Energizing through Visuals: How Social Entrepreneurs Use Emotion-Symbolic Work for Social ChangeAcademy of Management JournalIESEG47007646
A Review and Typology of Circular Economy Business Model PatternsJournal of Industrial EcologyESCP460046332
Understanding the Diverse Scaling Strategies of Social Enterprises as Hybrid Organizations: The Case of Renewable Energy CooperativesOrganization & EnvironmentEmlyon46007125
Conceptualising the public health role of actors operating outside of formal health systems: The case of social enterpriseSocial Science & MedicineGlasgow School for Business and Society 46018196
Unions, Salaries, and the Market for Teachers: Evidence from WisconsinSSRNYale School of Management45105923
Is Housing a Health Insult?Intl Jnl Envtl Res and Public HealthUniversity of South Australia44111448
History and Organizational ChangeJournal of ManagementGustavson School of Business440064325
Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and “Evasion” Institutional WorkBusiness & SocietyUniversity of Bath, School of Management441010158
The product and sector level impact of a hard Brexit across the EUContemporary Social ScienceDublin City University Business School4010950
Equity Vesting and InvestmentReview of Financial StudiesLondon Business School400116128
Growing up without financeJournal of Financial EconomicsIowa State University Ivy College of Business3810359
Do institutional investors drive corporate social responsibility? International evidenceJournal of Financial EconomicsRotman School of Management35001344
Bowing before Dual Gods: How Structured Flexibility Sustains Organizational HybridityAdministrative Science QuarterlySaïd Business School353024239
The Effectiveness of Smartphone Apps for Lifestyle Improvement in Noncommunicable Diseases: Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysesJournal of Medical Internet ResearchBI Norwegian Business School350081129
Breaking the Glass Ceiling? The Effect of Board Quotas on Female Labour Market Outcomes in NorwayReview of Economic StudiesUniversity of Chicago Booth School of Business342016158
Implications of climate change for the sugarcane industryWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate ChangeMacquarie Business School33102338
Underemployment and the Lack of Wage Pressure in the UKNational Institute Economic ReviewStirling Management School, University of Stirling320035
The Demand for Energy-Using Assets among the World's Rising Middle ClassesAmerican Economic ReviewHaas School of Business, UC Berkeley325410101
Splitting and blaming: The psychic life of neoliberal executive womenHuman RelationsUCD Smurfit School31203625
Improving HIV Early Infant Diagnosis Supply Chains in Sub-Saharan Africa: Models and Application to MozambiqueOperations Research MIT Sloan School of Management3000325
Trade, education, and the shrinking middle classJournal of International EconomicsTuck School of Business at Dartmouth College3010097
Collective Emotions in Institutional Creation WorkAcademy of Management JournalAalto University School of Business3010769
The Behavioralist Goes to School: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Educational PerformanceAmerican Economic Journal: Economic PolicyUC San Diego - Rady School of Management300512284
Experiencing haptic roughness promotes empathyJournal of Consumer PsychologyCheung Kong Graduate School of Business3030799
Contesting the Value of “Creating Shared Value”California Management ReviewHEC Lausanne3010541126
Age at arrival, parents and neighbourhoods: understanding the educational attainment of immigrants’ childrenJournal of Economic GeographyAalto University School of Business280022
Social Entrepreneurship Research: Past Achievements and Future PromisesJournal of ManagementESSEC Business School270053367
How Dark Is Dark? Bright Lights, Big City, Racial ProfilingReview of Economics & StatisticsKent State University 2721922
Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee ProductivityManagement ScienceWashington University: Olin Business School25001193
Where’s dad? Exploring the low take-up of inclusive parenting policies in the UKPolicy StudiesBirmingham Business School25003716
The Roles of Networks in Institutionalising New Hybrid Organizational Forms: Insights from the European Renewable Energy Cooperative NetworkOrganization StudiesEmlyon24002869
Shaping and Being Shaped: How Organizational Structure and Managerial Discretion Co-evolve in New Managerial RolesAdministrative Science QuarterlyUniversity of South Australia24202885
International business and human rights: A research agendaJournal of World BusinessEmlyon24004452
Intellectual disability and autism: socio-economic impacts of informal caring, projected to 2030British Journal of PsychiatryMacquarie Business School24004711
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