Blog: Importance of Practice and Impact

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About the author:Dr Isla Kapasi is a lecturer in the Management Division and member of the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies. Her current research interests include: critical entrepreneurship studies, low-income enterprise, and engaged scholarship.

Impact and relevance? Let’s be engaged scholars 

Menu teaser: Reflecting on the purpose of academic research and how we engage with stakeholders.

Climate change is going to be a hot topic at the forthcoming G20 summit in Japan. It is one of the many areas to which academic research is called upon to make contributions and a positive impact on both knowledge and practice. One approach to tackling such global challenges might be engaged scholarship. Engaged scholarship is defined by Professor Van De Ven as “a participative form of research for obtaining the advice and perspectives of key stakeholders (researchers, users, clients, sponsors, and practitioners) to understand a complex social problem”. 

Given a context in which (UK) researchers are encouraged, incentivised or required (in some cases) to better engage across a variety of research stakeholder communities, it is hardly a surprise that the concept (and application of) engaged scholarship is on the increase. Consider the importance of Impact in the Research Excellence Framework and later the creation of the Knowledge Exchange Framework in November 2017. Thus, the ‘incentives’ for engaged scholarship are high and call on us (social science) researchers to consider how we think about and conduct research. 

In this context, in early April 2019, I attended an event hosted by Professor Monder Ram of CREME (Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship) at Aston Business School entitled “Putting Engaged Scholarship to Work: Projects, Partners and Progress”. This event was an excellent opportunity to reflect on engaged scholarship, which requires considerations of practical activity, but also scrutiny regarding what we mean by concepts of relevance, impact and engagement. As the new co-chair for the Entrepreneurial Learning, Practitioner and Policy Special Interest Group (ELPP SIG) at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE), the timing could not have been better. 

Over the course of the two-day event, both theoretical and practical conversations regarding engaged scholarship occurred, with several important questions for the academic community emerging, including: 

Q 1: Why are we here?

Professor Ram, CREME, opened the event with the powerful question “Why are we [researchers]here?” Through describing a research project, informed by an engaged scholarship approach, I had the opportunity to not only learn about the process but also to witness some very powerful outcomes as a result of the research, including the creation of a new job role for CREME’s research partner, ACH social enterprise. A key takeaway from this presentation is that we need to ask big questions about why we are researchers and what we are seeking to achieve by being part of the academy. 

Q 2: What questions are we asking? What conversations are we having? 

Professor Mark Hart, Aston Business School,delivered a reflection on his experience of building a peer-to-peer learning environment for business owners. As a result of this direct engagement with business owners, Professor Hart described how he had changed his research practices to better reflect the real issues that his research participants actually experience in business. Consequently, Professor Hart is asking new questions of his research that has made for richer, more targeted research, which meets the needs of an end user community and provides value in the form of “invisible theory [translated to]practical outcomes” for practitioners. A key takeaway from this presentation is that as academics we need to inspect our dominant conversations and engage in both critical and engaged scholarship – let’s reframe some of the ways of thinking about entrepreneurship that have become entrenched (the growth agenda anyone?) and then build some new streams of research. The ISBE conference can lead the way on these conversations and new research directions. 

Q 3: How do we do it? Ontology and the act(s) of engaged scholarship

So how might we approach engaged scholarship? What do we need to think about to both underpin and practice engaged scholarship? Professor Julia Rouse, Manchester Metropolitan University, encouraged us to think about the accountability and transformational potential of Engaged Scholarship and whether it might sometimes need to be blended with Activist Scholarship in an Engaged-Activist approach in order to create change for the marginalised. To follow, Professor Daniel King, Nottingham Trent University,focussed on the methods of undertaking an engaged scholarship approach. Consideration of the power dynamics of the research relationship and of what research participants get as a result of contributing to research is important. Thus some key takeaways include considerations of what do we (academics) need in order to participate in engaged scholarship? We may need to explore (and change) institutional ‘incentives’ and constraints to conducting engaged scholarship. In addition, when considering the ‘how’ of engaged scholarship there needs to be respect for research participants as knowledgeable actors within the research, an awareness of power dynamics, considerations of the language used, and an investment of time and care in building and continuing to nurture relationships.

Q 4: Should we be engaged scholars? Critical inspection of engaged scholarship concept and researcher reflexivity 

Finally, I think, we, as academics, need to be critical of the concept of engaged scholarship in and of itself – what are our responsibilities as academics in this debate and what actions should we, could we, or will we take? Researcher reflexivity will be crucial to our thinking on this matter. Thus, while engaged scholarship continues to gain ground as an area for debate (and practice) in the academic community, we need to explore and consider its meaning and application, especially given that such action is shaped by a myriad of, sometimes, conflicting factors. As researchers we are obliged to remain critical of the ‘forces’ that move us towards embedding this approach in our research work. 

In summary, considering #EngagedScholarship raises valuable and important questions, both for myself and no doubt for the wider ISBE community. As co-chair of the ELPP SIG, I am interested in how we can build on these central questions to continue to develop a community of (critical) engaged scholars from the ISBE network, and beyond, which is passionate about participating in these conversations, and in action, that will ‘bridge divides’ between research and practice.  

I encourage you to consider these questions and look forward to powerful discussions with you via social media (@IslaKapasi), at the next ISBE conference (Newcastle, 2019), and in publication.   

Social:           @ISBE_ELPP @IslaKapasi @AinurulRosli

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