The workshop that I attended this afternoon shone the light—brightly—on a serious problem that has troubled the research community for many years: relevancy. That academic researchers want to study SMEs and SMEs want to access up-to-date research does not necessarily make for a healthy and meaningful interchange.
Jo Lumb (Leeds University) hosted a great session which involved the lived experience of a SME business owner and a career academic. The role play (using live material) was delightful. It served to highlight the problem: that researchers and SME business owners typically talk past each other. The discussion went like this: researchers tend to be motivated by rigour, qualified statements and a drive to publish; whereas SME business owners look for quick results, clear recommendations and common sense language. Consequently, neither "side" respects the other to any great extent.
The challenge for the delegates in the room was to identify options to address the problem. Our table thought that the primary issues were ones of communication and of achieving a common understanding of what was required. One one hand, researchers need to get off their high-horses, to produce meaningful research with clearly articulated answers to the "so what?" question. On the other, SME owners need to accept that their businesses are not unique, and that off-the-shelf "instant" answers are unlikely to provide sustainable answers to their problems.
Another idea that was discussed was to ensure that researchers spend some time in the field, to get a feel for what their research subjects experience every day. Few if any of the career researchers present had spent any meaningful time at all doing this. Just imagine how reliable any medical research might be if the researcher was not a doctor or medical specialist? SME research strikes me as being no different. Perhaps the time has come for SME researchers to down their research tools to spend some time working in and amongst those that they wish to investigate. Maybe then research requirements and outcomes will have more meaning, and the two parties will no longer be as ships in the night.
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.