Contributing to societal debate

Bridging the gap between academic research and real-life application is critical for business schools if they are to offer any real value to the world. RSM is no exception and so it is leading the charge to ensure that the results of its research activities are not only shared with the business community but are also used to make positive contributions to public debate, policy-making decisions and broader society.

Story by Kevin Titman

Long gone are the days when business schools and universities explored and exposited management issues purely for the sake of publication in esteemed journals. While this remains a crucial part of any academic institution’s reason for being, reaching out to businesses, decision-makers and the community at large figures highly on the list of strategic priorities of RSM.

Get the message out

‘We as academics have a triple responsibility, which I have dubbed Academia 3.0,’ says Henk Volberda, professor of strategic management and business policy and director of knowledge transfer at RSM. ‘Our core activity is to conduct research activities and disseminate the results, while stage two is to share it with companies for practical application and learning. Stage three is to try to impact concrete issues affecting the general public through an academic but also practically focused lens. It is essential that we strive continuously to get our message out to the world, for its benefit.’

Tools to succeed

Recent developments at RSM in this direction have taken a variety of forms, from live, in-person debates and dedicated publications, webinars covering areas such as supply chain management and customs law, through to blogging, and involvement in programmes by organisations including the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the Red Cross and healthcare institutes. Other activities include knowledge labs, and scholarships for NGOs.

Live stream debate

One of the key tools in this endeavour is the online platform RSM Discovery, which, along with the school’s print publication of the same name, seeks to bridge the gap between theoretical investigation and real-life application – but in an altogether more interactive format. The site provides videos and podcasts designed to present the fruits of existing research in a more user-friendly, digestible manner. In September of this year, a live debate was streamed via the site on the theme of the future of work. Two more RSM Discovery Live events are planned for February and May of next year on the same subject and exploring the implications for employees and management respectively.

Broadcasting a message

With such an array of tools at their disposal, RSM faculty can now truly get the message out to the public as well as to the corporate domain, achieve increased visibility, accessibility and credibility for the school in so doing, and make a difference. For Lucas Meijs, professor of strategic philanthropy at RSM, this is not only an opportunity to display expertise but also to create a hunger in society-at-large to understand what the school is doing and get involved. ‘A top school like ours cannot and will not stand aside from issues affecting businesses and people. It is also essential that we maintain the most regular dialogue possible with our stakeholders. This is far removed from traditional lecturing – this is getting everyone involved and bringing them together via relevant debate.’

Opportunities and obligations

Just as participants can glean new insights into corporate and social issues, so too can RSM benefit from the live and virtual format of such debates. The objective is to showcase the opinion and input of RSM researchers but to the advantage of the paying participants from outside the academic sphere who choose to get involved. According to Klaas Wassens, executive director of the RSM Master in Customs and Supply Chain Compliance, this is a chance to be seized upon – and also a duty of the school. ‘The fact of the matter is that many academic institutions are supported by public funding, so it is not only in the interest of a school like our own to engage in this kind of dialogue for reasons of visibility but also something we owe. We want to develop scenarios and propose solutions for the common good.’

Reasons to participate

RSM Discovery and the various related activities and initiatives are a part of an on-going project. Its mission is to be an inspiring force of positive change. The objectives are clear, while the advantages for participants from outside the school are numerous. The events (both virtual and live) provide a window into the work and findings of a top school of management, offer takeaways for business practitioners, and the chance for the public to influence research activity by committing to a concerted joint effort between the academic and business worlds in order to have a say in future governmental and organisational policy. It’s a rare opportunity not to be missed and one made possible by the desire of the school to break out into the outside world and make a mark that is not purely academic but is, of course, still rooted in rigorous research.


This article was first published in RSM Outlook winter 2016. You can download RSM Outlook here.

Business-Society Management , Faculty & Research , RSM Outlook , Strategic management and entrepreneurship , Sustainability , 2016 Winter RSM Outlook