How Rapid Research Can Create Practical Impact

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How can insights in academic journals lead to real-world impact? Find a model in “Entrepreneurship Rapid Response Research,” a new format at the Journal of Business Venturing Insights.

This article is the second in a series about how management journals can help researchers achieve real-world impact.  

 Management researchers want their work to impact practice, and academic journals often seem like an obstacle to that goal. The journal publication process is slow, journals prioritize theoretical over practical insights, and journal articles are often filled with jargon.  

Entrepreneurship Rapid Response Research (ER3), a new format at the Journal of Business Venturing Insights (JBVI), aims to address these issues. It’s one example of how management journals are using innovative formats to foster research impact.  

We (PabloSuwen, and Garima) have been studying the ER3 format at JBVI by interviewing the authors of ER3 papers and analyzing the documents, emails, and other materials generated in each of their projects.  

Below, we explain the origins of ER3 and the evolving format, and identify lessons for researchers, reviewers, and editors interested in research impact. 

A crisis drives a new publication format

In October 2019, more than a million people took to the streets in Chile to protest social inequality. The protests caused widespread damage, with almost 10,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) reporting damage; approximately 100,000 people risked losing their jobs.  

Rodrigo Frias, head of early-stage investment at the Chilean Economic Development Agency, saw entrepreneurship as both an immediate and long-term solution to social inequality. He knew that the Agency needed to rebuild the lost infrastructure and create solutions for addressing the larger issue of inequality. He approached Pablo, an entrepreneurship researcher, for evidence-based solutions that the Agency could deploy.

“Post-disaster” entrepreneurship research has grown massively in recent years. However, on his own, Pablo found very little to assist the Agency’s efforts. The whole experience was frustrating, for Pablo and Rodrigo.  

During the same time, Pablo was an editor at Journal of Business Venturing Insights (JBVI). In that role, he was working with other JBVI editors to advance the journal’s mission of producing research relevant to practice. In February 2020, JBVI launched a new initiative: The Entrepreneurship Rapid Response Research Initiative (ER3). They opened a space in the journal for research that would make practical contributions with theoretical implications, and not the other way around.  

One of the topics they tackled was “Reorienting entrepreneurial support infrastructure to tackle a social crisis”: a focus spurred by Rodrigo’s question. 

ER3 incorporates translational science and rapid response research

The ER3 Initiative is based on two key ideas: translational science and rapid response research.  

Translational science emerged in biomedical science. It describes a research process that moves lab (scientific) discoveries to health interventions. Projects draw on existing research, but with a focus on answering a well-defined practical problem, rather than conducting a comprehensive review of prior work. For example, one of the most downloaded ER3 papers asks “What coping strategies do startups employ in the course of crisis management?”  

Rapid response research emphasizes a speedy research process, because of the urgency of the problem being addressed. Policymakers often support such rapid response research in order to tackle pressing problems: e.g., epidemic disease, disaster relief or political crisis. Teams of researchers, and practitioners pool their expertise. With ER3 papers, from start to finish, each one takes from a few weeks to a few months.  

To our knowledge, the JBVI initiative is the first time that management journals have introduced rapid response research using translation science.  

The ER3 process differs from the traditional management journal approach in several other ways. The graphic shows key elements of the process.

 
 
  1. ER3 involves a problem owner. A practitioner invested in the problem (the “problem owner” is part of the research team and often one of the authors. For example, for the paper addressing the situation in Chile, Rodrigo Frias of the Chilean Economic Development Agency was the problem owner. Problem owners help academic researchers define the problem and make sure that the research is relevant, timely, and responsive. At the same time, the team must also recognize the broader range of stakeholders invested in the issue (see next section for details).  

  2. ER3 draws on interdisciplinary expertise. ER3s bring together an interdisciplinary team. For example, in a paper on crime and entrepreneurship, authors came from a business school, developmental psychology, policy studies, and (the problem owner) from an innovation incubator. This interdisciplinarity yielded solutions (Table 1 of their paper) that spanned levels and actors (including entrepreneurs, mentors, and policymakers). 

  3. ER3 emphasizes synthesis. The lead author is responsible for synthesizing team member inputs and making sure that proposed solutions address the problem owner’s needs. 

For example, Pablo led the development of the ER3 paper on social crisis and entrepreneurship, in response to the situation in Chile. As lead author, he synthesized inputs from Trenton WilliamsNick Williams, and Wim Naudé. Each  author helped frame a solution relevant for the Chilean Economic Development Agency, as well as other similar agencies. They drew on their research on spontaneous venturing after natural disasters (Trenton), entrepreneurship and social resilience after European  economic crises (Nick) and the crisis of entrepreneurship policy in Europe (Wim).  

Lessons for how journal publication processes can support research impact

Our study of JBVI’s Entrepreneurship Rapid Response Research Initiative identifies lessons for others interested in research impact. Here are a few implications for researchers, reviewers, and journal editors. 

For journal editors: 

1. Rigorous research can be fast: Traditional research takes years to publish while managers need evidence-based answers today. The translational research underlying ER3 can bridge this difference in time horizons. ER3 projects draw on the years that the researchers have spent in developing knowledge on a topic. Researchers use this  knowledge to quickly produce evidence-based answers to problems of practice. The format of ER3 projects —interdisciplinary teams, the problem owner as part of the team, and solutions drawn from translational research — can be adopted by other journals interested in publishing research that impacts practice. 

For researchers: 

2. Problem definition is a processER3 projects show that it is important to define the problem and hence the solutions in an ongoing way. In these projects, researchers and problem owners spend a lot of effort in defining and redefining the problem throughout the project. This evolution of the problem definition is unlike the traditional research process in which research problem/question is largely fixed upfront. However, change in problem definition is important since it is tightly linked to the solutions published in ER3 papers. Researchers interested in impact of their research can adopt a similar process of letting their problem definition change through interactions with problem owners.  

3. Move from problems to issuesProblem-driven research such as in ER3 can be seen as the work of consultants, not academics. One thing differentiating the research from consulting is that researchers must engage the problem owner as representing the many people who are touched by the problem. Researchers zoom in on a problem specific to the problem owner and zoom out to the larger issue. With the paper on crime and entrepreneurship, the specific problem was ‘how can entrepreneurship ecosystem members attract investors and entrepreneurs in our most dangerous cities. The larger issue was ‘alleviating crime through entrepreneurship’. This practice of zooming into the problem and zooming out to the issue can help researchers provide solutions that address the problem but also build knowledge around critical issues. 

For reviewers: 

4. Reviewers can broaden focus. Reviewers are seen as gatekeepers of theoretical contribution through research. However, in ER3 projects, they also take on the role of gatekeepers of impact. Reviewers, who are generally authors of prior ER3 publications,  challenge the researchers on not just the theoretical implications of their ideas, but also on the audience and relevance of the solutions proposed in the paper. Reviewers at any journal can take on this responsibility to elevate solutions for practice to the same level of importance as theoretical contributions.  

Management journal publication processes needs an update, even a transformation, so that research impacts practice. ER3 is one way to achieve this.  

Do you know of other innovative formats? Write to us at info@nbs.net. We will compile a list and share with the research community interested in seeking impact on practice. 

About the Authors 

Garima Sharma is an Assistant Professor at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University. Her research focuses on how businesses can solve the social and environmental problems we face today. She studies how business and its decision makers act, think, and organize to manage the tension in social and profit goals. She also sees researcher-manager collaboration as an important piece of the sustainability puzzle. In her research, she asks how research and practice communities bridge their differences to generate knowledge related to intractable social and environmental issues.  

Pablo Muñoz is Chair in Entrepreneurship at Durham University Business School in the UK. His research looks at how entrepreneurship creates value for society. With a focus on engaged scholarship, he explores how individuals can use entrepreneurship to overcome challenging circumstances and build a more sustainable future and how we can better conceptualize and measure the value of entrepreneurship. He has published more than 40 research papers in leading outlets across management, innovation studies and regional and environmental studies. Currently, he is also Professor at the Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile and serves as Associate Editor in the Journal of Business Venturing Insights. 

Suwen Chen is a PhD candidate in Impact Investing at the University of Edinburgh, intending to use academic research to make a real difference and to help transform our world into a more loving, caring, and sharing place. Before her doctoral program, she worked in communication, advertising, and marketing  and then received her MBA from Edinburgh. Her focus is on social entrepreneurship and innovation and she is an active volunteer at various charities and social enterprises.   

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