RRBM (www.rrbm.network) Brief Status Report
June 15, 2020
Prepared for the participants of the 2020 Responsible Research Virtual Summit on June 29.
Origin: RRBM was founded in 2015, by 24 senior business professors around the world (10 countries) representing the five core business disciplines of accounting, finance, management, marketing, and operations management. Supporting this group were the leaders of four institutions, AACSB, EFMD, Aspen-BSP, and PRME. They authored the position paper which has the support of 85 co-signers, two of whom were business leaders, Sir Mark Moody-Stewart, then chair of the Global Compact Foundation and, Mr. Paul Polman, then CEO of Unilever.
Mission and Vision: RRBM is dedicated to inspiring, encouraging, and supporting credible and useful research in the business and management disciplines. The position paper begins with vision 2030: “In 2030, business and management schools worldwide are widely admired for their contributions to societal well-being.” To realize this aspiration, seven responsible research principles were articulated with a clear statement of the need for a coordinated effort among different stakeholders of the research ecosystem (comprising internal groups of students, scholars, deans, journal editors, university leaders and external groups of businesses, public and private funders, accreditation agencies, ranking organizations, publishers, and alumni) to change the way research is being conducted, evaluated and rewarded. This transformation will require a change from a focus on publishing for esteem and reputation to a focus on creating knowledge to enable businesses to become a force for good to create prosperous, just, and sustainable societies.
Accomplishments: There have been a few modest achievements in the past five years.
- Increased awareness. In addition to the position paper, the RRBM co-founders have written additional articles for journals read by deans, editors and scholars. Between 2016 and 2019, they made over 70 presentations about RRBM to a variety of audiences at international and disciplinary conferences. The RRBM community now has over 1500 registered endorsers, co-signers, founders and institutional supporters. We have published 14 issues of our bimonthly newsletter VOICES. RRBM Readings section on the website contains articles, books, and media news on related topics by the larger scholarly community and the public, e.g., Mr. Polman’s 4/14/2020 article “COVID-19 may be a turning point for responsible business” in Fortune and Andrew Jack’s 2/24/2020 report on academic research in Financial Times. RRBM held its first global responsible research summit (RRS2019) on July 1, 2019, bringing together 60 leaders of the internal stakeholders to discuss and to develop ways to advance responsible research, including personal commitments of actions from each of the 60 leaders in attendance.
- Journal initiatives. There have been many special issues encouraging research on timely topics (e.g., Journal of Marketingspecial issue on “Better Marketing for a Better World”). Leading journals are also encouraging research on important topics through editorial statements (e.g., Academy of Management Journal, April 2020 editorial calls for focusing research “From that’s interesting to that’s important”.
- Awards for exemplary responsible research. The disciplines of management, marketing, and operations management have each created an award program, recognizing published research papers or books that exemplify the seven principles of responsible research. The European Finance Association introduced a similar award for papers submitted to its annual conference, from 2020.
- Accreditation standards. AACSB International has revised its accreditation standards for 870+ business schools globally to encourage a greater emphasis on the “societal impact” of business school’s research and teaching programs. The new standards require that a “school demonstrates a commitment to positive societal impact as expressed in and supported by its focused mission and specifies how it intends to achieve this impact”. Further, the section on Thought Leadership, Engagement and Societal Impact (standards 8 & 9) calls for impactful intellectual contributions, engagement with a wide variety of external stakeholders to create and transfer credible and relevant knowledge, and documentation of research exemplars that have had a positive societal impact. This strong focus on societal impact was inspired by the chief accreditation officer’s participation in RRS2019 and support from many RRBM community members engaged in re-writing the standards. EFMD is planning to include RRBM principles in its next revision of the EQUIS accreditation standards.
- Leadership by deans. After RRS2019, several deans committed to include societal impact as part of the faculty role. The four Chinese deans who participated in RRS2019 initiated a similar summit on Dec 12, 2019 among the top ten business schools in China. They collectively commit to taking the lead in advancing “Management Research for a Better Society” among the almost 250 Chinese business schools.
Current Projects. We have a number of ongoing initiatives pushing the frontier of RRBM.
- RRS2021, London. This invitation-only summit was planned for June 28/29, 2020 but was postponed to June 27/28, 2021 due to the pandemic. The purpose is to explore the opportunities for collaboration between internal and external stakeholders for creating credible and useful knowledge to inform policies and practices for a better world.
- Doctoral education. We are creating online seminars and courses to help students to learn how to engage in responsible research. The first online pro-seminar will be offered on June 16, 2020. Responsible research will bring not only useful knowledge but also a meaningful and purpose-driven research vocation among young scholars.
- Regional Business School Consortia. The top ten business schools in China are collaborating as a consortium leading the transformation of business research. RRBM principles will support the Chinese government’s policy on new research assessments with increased emphasis on quality and local relevance. A group of schools, led by Wharton, is discussing the possible formation of a consortium of leading US business schools. A similar effort is being considered for Europe.
- Societal impact honor roll. A task force has been developing a system of recognition for publications that contribute to a better society through credible and useful research. It is currently creating a methodology and metrics for efficiently evaluating publications for possible inclusion in the honor roll based on principles of responsible research.
- RRBM governance. As a grassroots movement, RRBM has proceeded without a formal structure and without any financial resources. EFMD, a founding partner, contributed a part-time program manager and hosts the RRBM website. We are in the process of applying for U.S. 501c3 non-profit status with a new set of Bylaws and new officers beginning next year. We hope the new leadership will heighten the impact of RRBM toward vision 2030.
Challenges. There are many obstacles to this movement. We identify four among many.
- Weak to no external stakeholder engagement. So far, our efforts have concentrated on internal stakeholders. RRS2021 will be our first opportunity to engage external stakeholders. It has not been easy to identify business or other leaders interested in business research given the history of limited contributions to practice from business school research, especially in recent years.
- Potential value of business research contributions is not well understood. We have not done a good job to show to both our internal and external stakeholders that business schools can contribute important knowledge for business practices. Business scholars have made important contributions in all disciplines in the decades between 1960 and 1990 (we refer to this as the “golden era” of business research). The contents of the business textbooks even today are filled with theories and ideas developed in the “golden era”. With proper reorientation toward purpose-driven research, business schools can become the center of intellectual power again, as stated in vision 2030 of the RRBM position paper.
- Resistance from successful scholars. We have faced resistance from senior scholars who have succeeded under the current paradigm. The change may threaten their security. They also use the pretext of academic freedom by asking “who decides what we should study?” They forget that their freedom is much more limited now, by having to cater to the requirements of editors and quantity requirements of the school’s promotion committees. They don’t have the freedom to work on projects that are important and meaningful because these problems may require non-traditional methods and longer time horizon for the research.
- Individual powerlessness to change incentive structures. Many scholars, particularly junior scholars, are excited by meaningful problems but driven by the “publish or perish” culture. To survive, they need to focus on research that will pass the scrutiny of editors and reviewers. The current system is killing their passion and warping the character of research.
Prospect. We believe there is reason to be optimistic. The pandemic is a wakeup call for many, including, we hope, faculty in the business schools. Citizens are calling for more responsible leadership, we are calling for more responsible research. During and after the 2008/09 financial crisis, the management research community was largely silent. There was no research to understand why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. The financial crisis was not a crisis of finance, but a crisis of poor management and governance in the finance and investment sector. Management researchers certainly can seek to understand and solve this big puzzle of how and why it occurred. During that time, working on new problems that have never been published in a journal was not wise, and perhaps even suicidal. In the past two months, many scholars in management, marketing and operations management have written papers or are conducting research about the social science aspect of the pandemic. Scholars, both senior and junior, do not seem to worry if these research projects will be counted in their next performance review. Something has changed. With journals more willing to publish research “that’s important”, some of these efforts will have a fair chance of being published. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a virtuous cycle when important work is appearing in the journals, encouraging more scholars to work on important problems.
We are naïve to believe that everything will be well and good. Resistance in the name of (misunderstood) academic freedom and a (wrong) belief that counting publications in the A-ranked journals removes the subjective element of the review process are still formidable forces. The scientific community is a self-regulated system. We set up our own rules and we can self-correct. After all, school leadership (most deans) and journal editors are part of this scientific community because they are scholars who have earned their status with impressive research records. RRBM is a self-correction movement. Hopefully, we can pick up the pace after the pandemic with weakened resistance and strengthened reflections on our responsibilities as “public servants” of our societies. As a community of caring scholars and enlightened social scientists, we can rise up to meet our professional duty in contributing credible and useful knowledge to facilitate a better world.
By RRBM Working Board