For many years, business schools have sought an appropriate balance of rigour and relevance in relation to their activities and the impact upon their stakeholders. Concern over impact has helped spawn a number of systems of research assessment aiming to incorporate and measure that elusive impact. Meanwhile Accreditation and Rankings bodies have tended to focus on the more easily measurable publications and salaries. However, things may be changing…

Now accreditation bodies are taking an active approach to valorising research and scholarship with impact, providing institutional support to ensure that impact is valued in quality processes. This week is not only the first online AACSB ICAM Conference but also an important week for the presentation of new standards that will really value business school impact.


A New Standard

The new AACSB Standards 8 and 9 – Impact of Scholarship and Engagement & Societal Impact will require schools to demonstrate that they engaging for the betterment of wider society. The new standard 8 places a strong emphasis on the impact of research at the business-school level and the use of those “intellectual contributions” for stakeholders of the school.

Standard 8: Impact of Scholarship

The school’s faculty collectively produce high-quality, impactful intellectual
contributions that, over time, develop into mission-consistent areas of thought
leadership for the school. 
The school collaborates with a wide variety of external stakeholders to create
and transfer credible, relevant, and timely knowledge that informs the theory,
policy, and/or practice of business to develop into mission-consistent areas of
thought leadership for the school.


The school’s portfolio of intellectual contributions contains exemplars of basic, applied, and/or pedagogical research that have had a positive societal impact, consistent with the school’s mission.

Meanwhile, the new Standard 9 considers the ensemble of the school’s activities and how these engage with initiatives and actions to have an impact.

Standard 9: Engagement and Societal Impact

The school demonstrates positive societal impact through internal and
external initiatives and/or activities, consistent with the school’s mission,
strategies, and expected outcomes.


These new Standards are the results of efforts to produce relevant research with societal impact among the world’s top business schools. Not least the hard work of a number of dedicated academics convinced that business schools have a key role to play in addressing societal challenges at the local, regional, national and international level.


Many Actors for Impact

Furthermore it is not only the Americans pushing forward this impact agenda as the revised EQUIS 2019 Standards & Criteria included Chapter 9 supporting ethics, responsibility and sustainability and underlining business school responsibilities to promote globally responsible citizens and managers of the future. For EQUIS accredited schools must demonstrate this impact in their mission, strategy and activities while providing evidence in regular activities, education, research, and interactions with stakeholders and the community.

These Accreditation trends in fact represent the culmination of a number of initiatives that have sought to promote ethical responsibility and impact on wider society among the business schools including the United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Management (PRME) initiative, the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) initiative, the Business Schools Impact Survey (BSIS) as well as various national level initiatives. Notably amongst these is the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM), which draws support from both EFMD and AACSB, as does GRLI. In addition RRBM has engaged a wide range of Deans and journal editors from around the world.


Time for Impactful Leaders

The recognition by Accreditation bodies is an important step but there is a key role for school leaders to promote this impact agenda and now they have the support of accreditation standards to leverage change. At the 2020 AACSB Deans’ Conference we identified that many schools are already doing exciting work in promoting the impact of their research and encouraging academics to go beyond the journal articles. Many leading Deans are already demonstrating a commitment to impactful scholarship and research, providing inspiration for others to follow – they can now count upon encouragement to institutionalise and valorise these efforts.

Now at a time of global health crisis with COVID-19, the importance for business schools to have a relevant impact in their research and teaching is even stronger. There is some way to go, as all actors in the business school ecosystem – Deans, editors, rankings organisations, etc. – will need to take advantage of these new signals from the Accreditation bodies and move towards valorising societal impact. Nevertheless, it is an important sign this week from the AACSB and marks a step change for business schools, their faculty and wider society.


This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Mark Smith is Dean of Faculty at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France and a co-signer of the RRBM Position Paper. Chris Earley Dean at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.