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A Summary of the Report of the Commission on Management Research (January 1994).

Building Partnerships: Enhancing the Quality of Management Research

Managers, and their organisations, face an uncertain world in the 1990s. They must operate in ever more competitive markets within an increasingly global economy, and cope with rapid technical and organisational change Both private and public sector organisations are undergoing unprecedented restructuring as they react to external change and move to safeguard performance and the delivery of effective services.

In this changing environment, the quality and success of managers - whether they are directors, line managers or entrepreneurs - is critical. Good management underpins organisational effectiveness and ultimately underwrites the economic performance and quality of life in the UK as a whole.

Research into the problems, solutions and success of management processes, and the ways in which organisations can best adapt and thrive in a changing environment, has much to contribute to good management. Research can contribute directly to management practices and to informing policy makers. It has a particular role to play in analysing change, in pinpointing critical factors in success or failure, and in bringing forward new perspectives and methods of management.

But management research and education in the UK, as in other countries, has reached a crossroad. Business schools continue to expand and many of them are now engaged in reviews of their course provision to meet the changed demands of the 1990s. At the same time, the value and quality of some management research has been questioned by academics, Sunders and users alike. Rather than ignore these concerns, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) decided to meet them head on by establishing the Commission on Management Research. The task of the Commission has been to review current problems and to set out a strategy to solve them.

Management research faces a double challenge: it must be both of high academic quality and of relevance to users. Hence the analysis and recommendations of our report are based around two major themes: supporting quality and supporting relevance through building partnerships.

Supporting Quality

Our consultations have shown that many of the high quality management researchers in the UK are to be found in just a few business schools which have, over several years, invested in research and researchers, and have developed strong records for high quality research. The majority of business schools, however, have not developed their research strengths. Many of them are relatively new, all have seen a very rapid expansion of student numbers, and many - particularly in the former polytechnic sector - have not had the financial resources to invest in developing research. Nevertheless, many business schools without an established research record do contain individuals with research skills and support small teams of researchers capable of generating high quality research. The Commission has made five recommendations designed to sustain existing, and to develop new, centres of excellence.

Central to these recommendations is a call for business schools, their host institutions and their researchers to invest more in research. Successful research depends upon a long-term investment in human skills and research careers, underpinned with adequate policy and administrative support and resources such as libraries. databases and computing equipment.

We recommend to those institutions, business schools and researchers wishing to sustain or improve research quality that they invest in the development of human skills and research through the provision of research careers, resources, training and policy and administrative support (Recommendation 1).

With adequate support and commitment from institutions, the Commission believes that many existing ESRC schemes could be developed and expanded to provide vital resources for supporting and developing management research. A new Management Research Development Initiative would provide new blood research fellowships to sustain existing centres of excellence and, particularly. to assist the development of new centres.

We recommend to the ESRC that it establishes a Management Research Development Initiative (Recommendation 2).

Research training, through the well established PhD route, is vital to sustain longer-term development of research capacity in this field. Yet it has often proved hard to attract management students to ESRC postgraduate research studentships. The Commission recommends, in parallel to the existing scheme, a new scheme of sponsored PhDs. Sponsorship would both increase the level of stipend, and hence attract more students, and would increase the relevance of the research by linking the student with a business sponsor.

We recommend to the ESRC that it maintains the existing quota of studentships and initiates a sponsored Management Postgraduate Training Scheme (Recommendation 3).

Increasingly, academics, particularly those in business schools, find time for research squeezed as student numbers grow, teaching loads increase and other demands, such as the need to undertake consultancy work, escalate. The Commission welcomes the ESRC's recent moves to protect research time through new fellowship schemes, but believes these must be expanded - partly through sponsorship - if they are to make a significant contribution to sustaining and developing quality in management research.

We recommend to the ESRC that it expand its provision of postdoctoral and senior fellowships and establishes sponsored fellowship schemes (Recommendation 4)

Similarly, the ESRC has established new schemes to link academics through networks, thus strengthening social science as a whole by increasing contact between institutions and researchers. This is a welcome, but under-resourced, development that should be expanded, particularly for cross-disciplinary and international networks which should also involve the users of research.

We recommend to the ESRC that it expand its networking resources policy to allow rapid exchange of ideas and information among management researchers and interested users (Recommendation 5).

Building Partnerships

Quality is only part of the challenge facing management research. Our consultations with users have also revealed widespread concern about its relevance. Research is often considered to be on irrelevant topics or poorly communicated to users. The Commission believes that relevance can be improved through building stronger partnerships between users and researchers, and developing the skills of both teachers and managers.

Practitioners and policy makers in business and the public sector will be more committed to using research results if they have been involved in the development of research projects and the setting of research agenda. The Commission proposes that a new Management Research Forum (MRF) be set up to facilitate agenda setting, the exchange of views about research and the development partnerships between researchers and users. The MRF will provide a central forum for debating research priorities, establishing best practice and encouraging exchange of information and views between researchers and users. Led by a Board with a membership drawn from users, policy makers and researchers, the MRF will generate frequent reports on priorities for research, and its value for managers. These reports will influence both the priorities of the ESRC and researchers.

We recommend that the ESRC co-ordinates the foundation of a Management Research Forum (Recommendation 6).

Research, like management, is a problematic and complex process. Its results need to be communicated to managers in a language they can understand and its relevance to practice made clear. This requires improving researchers' communication skills. Management teachers, and managers themselves, also need to be aware of how to interpret and use research results. Such skills should be developed through teaching in business schools.

We recommend to institutions and business schools that they enhance the skills required for knowledge exchange through improving researchers' communication skill, and the abilities of both lecturers and managers to appraise research results critically (Recommendation 7).

These initiatives should be accompanied by detailed requirements that researchers involve users in their research. ESRC-funded management research projects, the Management Research Development Initiative, the sponsored postgraduate studentships and fellowships, and the research networks proposed in the Commission's report should be accompanied by a user strategy. This strategy would identify particular user communities relevant to the project, specify how these will be involved in developing the research, and how the results will be disseminated to them after it is completed. At the same time, the major assessments of research quality in universities conducted by the Higher Education Funding Councils should also incorporate assessments of user strategies.

We recommend to the ESRC that it incorporates assessment of relevance in the development, management and dissemination of research (Recommendation 8).

We recommend to the Higher Education Funding Councils that they incorporate assessment of research relevance alongside their periodic assessments of research quality (Recommendation 9).

Improving Funding

The implementation of the recommendations above would do much to improve both the quality and relevance of management research. They will also increase funding for management research as funding bodies recognise the increase in quality and business recognises the increase in relevance. But there is also a need for increased funding to reflect the special importance of management research to the UK economy and the country's quality of life. The ESRC will need to ensure that its research portfolio, which can be significantly expanded if it encourages and develops proposals that are co-funded by business, adequately reflects this importance. Equally, the funding formulae of the Higher Education Funding Councils need updating to increase money to this field to reflect both its importance and the growth of business schools.

We recommend to the ESRC that it implements measures designed to increase cofunding and that it brings forward proposal for a greater number of cofunded Grants, Programmes and Centres in management research (Recommendation 10).

We recommend to the Higher Education Funding Councils that their funding formulae are updated to take account of the growth of business schools, to recognise the key contribution they have to make to the UK economy, and to reward collaborative research (Recommendation 11).

The Research Councils fund about one-quarter of university-based management research. The ESRC is a key body for management researchers not only as a Under but also by providing leadership in developing research capacity. The Commission has brought forward proposals to improve the quality, relevance and funding of management research. It hopes that its recommendations will influence all of social science but believes that management researchers should be prepared to take a lead in improving their own field and ensuring its relevance to users.

We recommend to the ESRC that it implements our key recommendations even if this means introducing changes for management research before other areas (Recommendation 12).

The Commission

The Commission met for one year from December 1992 to December 1993. It consulted widely and held a number of seminars and discussions with academics and managers.

Terms of Reference

1. To review the current status and infrastructure of research into public and private sector management in the UK, including resources for research training.

2. To identify examples of best practice in research endeavour and to identify factors that inhibit successful research.

3. To make recommendations to the ESRC and the management community on how best management research might be supported and strengthened.

4. To report to the ESRC and thereafter the British Academy of Management (BAM) by December 1993.

Membership

Professor George Bain (Chair) London Business School
Mr John Barber Department of Trade and Industry
Professor Bill Daniel Policy Studies Institute
Professor Christine Edwards Kingston University
Professor Arthur Francis, University of Glasgow
Professor John Goodman, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology
Professor Anthony Hopwood, London School of Economics and Political Science
Mr Peter Morgan, Institute of Directors
Professor Andrew Pettigrew, University of Warwick
Mrs Elizabeth Ranson, KPMG, Peat Marwick
Professor Andrew Thomson, Open University
Professor Kieron Walsh, Birmingham University
Mr Roger Young, Institute of Management
Professor Robin Wensley, University of Warwick
Mr Andy Boddington (Convenor), ESRC

Copies of the full report are available from Economic and Social Research Council