As researchers, we seek to resolve unanswered questions; test answers presented by others and refine our understanding of a given phenomenon. After developing our proposals, gathering and analysing data, we write and submit our articles to scholarly journals hoping for a nod from our peers. When we do get such affirmation, we give ourselves a pat on the back, happy that we have done our share in building knowledge. But have we really? When can we say that the research we do makes a difference? Journals today report impact factor — a number that reflects how many other scholars have cited one's work. Although a decent indicator, has it been widely accepted merely because it is convenient? At the end of the day, shouldn't impact be ultimately assessed in terms of whether our work has reached the people who shape policy and decisions and have actually led to positive change?
Of course, such a question presupposes that government and industry leaders, policy-makers and practitioners actually read academic publications. Yet a criticism sometimes hurled at academics is that our research is isolated from the real world. And our critics are not entirely wrong. Some academics formulate research problems based on a review of literature without input from current realities. They get caught up in dissecting a phenomenon — even when the world has since changed and moved on.
RESEARCH THAT MATTERS
It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.
Research as a Knowledge Product
One way to ensure that the research we do matters would be to take some lessons from business management. What if we viewed research as a knowledge product? A basic principle in strategic management is ‘know your market’. Business people will naturally care about providing products and services that are marketable. Applying this principle as researchers, we need to ask ourselves ‘who is our audience?’