Reach, relevance, and impact: how business and management research is helping society
Scientific research is high on the agenda of the new Government. Rumours abound of a planned shake-up of research funding, the possible introduction of a new funding body, and even more ambitious projects like levelling up the research institutions in the North of England to create a “knowledge supercluster”. All of this is said to be in the service of ensuring the UK comes in at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, making it a world leader in new technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things, new forms of resistant materials, green technology, and more.
It is never a bad thing to support new developments in science and technology, and the recent focus is very timely. However, the positive influence of these developments, no matter how promising, is never a given, and history is replete with examples of breakthroughs that were never capitalised on, never widely disseminated, or which only served to exacerbate social issues. The Government’s 2018 Industrial Strategy itself highlighted four ‘Grand Challenges’, all of which will require more than a scientific understanding to take advantage of effectively. ‘Artificial intelligence’, for example, will require effective organisational oversight and a firm grasp of business ethics. ‘Dealing with an ageing society’ will require effective organisational reforms to social care. ‘Clean growth’ will require widespread compliance from, and integration with, industry. The UK’s ‘Pioneering mobility technologies’ are already seeing stiff competition from not only established research centres but also challenger institutions from East Asia and beyond.
To guarantee that these technologies have the desired impact on our economy and society over the coming decades, we will need to ensure that that they are deployed effectively, that they provide growth and development for businesses and industries of all ages and sizes, and that the workers and leaders of the British economy will have the skills to master them. It is in this context that research into business and management will become ever more essential. Far from a narrow focus on making profits, business and management research has a broad and growing remit in addressing how people, resources, and systems operate, and university business schools of all shapes and sizes are endeavouring to rise to the challenge. Below are but a few examples of the areas business and management research are influencing, some of which you may find surprising. If you want to find out more, you can even come and interact with some of them yourself at our upcoming Research Exhibition, taking place on 18 March at Nottingham Trent University.
Harnessing the power of disruptive technologies
Technology can be great at giving us what we want and telling us what to hear, with tailored goods, services and information available at the touch of the button. However, one of the attendant risks is that by distancing ourselves from the supply chains that feed us, we fail to see the aggregate, hidden costs of our technology.
Many business schools are trying to change this, using their intimate knowledge of supply chains to use technology and data to monitor efficiency and vulnerability. Several partnerships, featuring business schools at the universities of Southampton, Portsmouth, Bedfordshire and Nottingham, are repurposing new technologies embedded in supply chains to monitor wastage, delivery times, and even the quality of fresh produce in real time. This focuses on not only accumulating but intelligently using large newly accessible data suggests a smarter, more applied route for emerging technology that still allows us to access luxuries it has afforded us.
Meanwhile, research elsewhere is using technology to overcome alienation and break down social barriers. Life-changing work undertaken at York Management School, for example, has created collaboratively-produced videos to highlight the situation of trafficked migrant workers in the UK. More than just documentaries, the videos allow access to the lived experiences of migrant workers in a way that is powerfully emotional; and, importantly, can be widely shared using our increasingly expansive and integrated social networks.
Empowering entrepreneurs and small businesses
Small Businesses make up over 93% of UK businesses, providing a £2.2 trillion annual turnover to the economy and employing 16.6 million staff. They can count some of the UK’s most agile and cutting edge companies among their number and will be a vital part of developing and implementing new technologies. However, they are also often the most vulnerable to big shifts in the economic landscape, as they often have the smallest safety nets and the least access to funding for training and development.
Many business schools have recognised this and are tailoring their business support directly towards small businesses. Aston Business School, for example, has been helping small businesses get their innovative products to market through in-house servitisation initiatives, ensuring that the creators of new tech can be supported and continue to develop. This has assisted 80 SMEs and created a GVA of £31.25 million to date. Others have put their efforts into bringing higher-level funding into the reach of local firms; Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School, has helped to create 250 jobs in local small businesses through initiatives which channel national-level funding, and is also one of several regional partners for the digital training programme Leading to Grow.
Enabling inclusive and sustainable growth and prosperity
It is increasingly clear that business of the future must be socially responsible. This is certainly true in areas like employee wellbeing and environmentally-conscious practices, for example, but an often under-recognised area is ensuring businesses support their local communities, an area business schools lead on. One vital step business schools are taking in realising this goal is removing the barriers to research and going out into the communities they influence, creating a vital link between the theory of business and management and encouraging safe and sustainable practice of our day-to-day lives.
One of the most exciting recent examples has come from Somalia. Insights from a project run by Aston Business School are helping the UN incorporate local businesses into the international peacebuilding mission, such as involving local telecoms companies in helping fight the spread of cholera. Research on cultural participation by Nottingham University Business School is driving community participation in business on four continents, whereas, just down the road, Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University is has built a framework for ensuring members of the LGBT+ community feel safe and welcome when participating in community sports in the UK.
As you’ll no doubt appreciate, this is just a limited snapshot of what business and management research is accomplishing at present. Despite a consistent decline in real-terms funding for the discipline, examples abound of how business schools are looking to build real connections with the wider world and make a positive impact on society. Make sure to keep yourself informed with the latest developments in business and management at our Research Exhibition, as well as keeping an eye on our channels as we share case studies on the impact of leading research projects.
By Anne Kiem, Chief Executive, Chartered Association of Business Schools