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How to Blend Research and Impact


Cocreation is an answer, say Tima Bansal and Garima Sharma. They discuss their research journey and their conclusions, now in press at AMJ.

On the go? Listen to this podcast on Spotify or iTunes.

Garima Sharma writes:

“I will be honest,” said a senior scholar on a panel at the Academy of Management (AOM) meeting a few years ago. I had asked a question about research impact. “You need to put your head down and work on getting published. Impact will come.”

I was somewhat disappointed but not entirely surprised. As a postdoctoral fellow at that time, research impact was not a phrase that I heard often. It was never a part of my PhD training. In our research methods discussions, impact was a rather irrelevant task. Answers like the one I received were not uncommon.

When I did hear about impact, it was passive and linear. Passive in the sense of “If you build it, they will come.” We release research insights into the world and, somehow, somewhere, they will be used. Linear in that we consider impact once the research project is over. It’s an afterthought at best. Work that you do once you have tenure.

And then I found the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). Tima has led NBS for over a decade now. Research impact has been central to NBS’s mission. Tima unabashedly argues that sustainability issues can only be addressed when you bring researchers and managers together. Science cannot be done in isolation. So NBS actively translates research insights for practice. It also defies the linear view of research impact by facilitating a process of knowledge cocreation.

I bought into the idea but had little understanding of the challenges that come when researchers and managers combine rigor and relevance. I had the opportunity to study this process with Tima for two years. After a long and constructive review process, our efforts culminated in an article at the Academy of Management Journal.

In this podcast, we discuss the insights from the article and our own experience with cocreation.

This research project changed how I view research and our role as academics in finding solutions to challenges such as poverty and climate change. Most importantly, I see more and more peers caring about the research impact. In junior faculty consortia at the AOM meetings now, I hear the frustration of junior faculty in not having tools and guidance for engaging with practice. They want to share their insights and make a difference. I see more and more senior faculty such as Tima encouraging rather than dismissing this quest for research impact. I see us embracing a generative tension, in which scholars don’t sacrifice rigor but seek the relevance of research insights for practice. 

I hope that this paper will be another voice in this evolving conversation. Pragmatically, the paper’s research context shows one way to co-create knowledge across boundaries, including practices which helped researchers and managers in our context navigate differences. Theoretically, we offer a new understanding of cocreation, one built on process ontology.

Symbolically, I am excited that an empirical paper about research-practice knowledge cocreation is in our field’s premier journal. It offers one of many toeholds for researchers climbing the long hill of research impact.

Take a listen. I hope you use the insights and take forward the necessary conversation on research impact and cocreation. You can write to me at sharmag@unm.edu and to Tima at tbansal@ivey.ca.

NBS has also curated a broader library of resources on cocreation, and I encourage you to explore and contribute to it.

About Garima Sharma

I am an Assistant Professor at the Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico. My research focuses on how businesses can solve the social and environmental problems we face today. I study how business and its decision makers act, think, and organize to manage the tension in social and profit goals. 

I also see researcher-manager collaboration as an important piece of the sustainability puzzle. In my research, I ask how research and practice communities bridge their differences to generate knowledge related to intractable social and environmental issues. 

Find out more.

About Tima Bansal

Tima Bansal is a Professor of Strategy at the Ivey Business School. She is also the Founder of the Network for Business Sustainability.

She has received significant accolades for her scholarship in business sustainability: most recently, in 2017, she was presented with the Organizations and Natural Environment Distinguished Scholar Award by the Academy of Management, and in 2012, she was awarded a Canada Research Chair to pursue her efforts to make business both profitable and sustainable. Her research targets the interplay between business strategy and sustainability.

Find out more.

NBS’s Co-Creation Initiative 

NBS seeks to help researchers navigate the path of co-creation with practitioners: integrating academic and practitioner knowledge for unique insights. Review our many existing resources and subscribe to our academic newsletter for new co-creation guidance. 

We also hope you’ll contribute your own insights. Please share your interest by emailing Garima Sharma

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  • Garima Sharma

    Garima Sharma is an Assistant Professor at Kogod School of Business, American University. Her research focuses on sustainability, social entrepreneurship and related tensions of purpose and profits. She is also interested in understanding how research impacts practice, and has created many resources on co-creation for NBS, available here: https://nbs.net/cocreation/. Garima has published in many journals and is on the editorial review boards of Academy of Management Journal, and Organization & Environment. Garima received her PhD from Case Western Reserve University, after which she was a postdoctoral fellow at NBS and Ivey Business School, Western University.

  • Tima Bansal

    Tima Bansal is the Founder of the Network for Business Sustainability and Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the Ivey Business School (Canada). She also heads Innovation North, which helps businesses create value for themselves and society simultaneously over the long term.

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