Enhancing the Practical Relevance of Research

by Michael W. Toffel

Executive Summary — Research is relevant when it has the potential to improve the decision making of managers or policymakers. Elaborating on his remarks at the 2015 Production and Operations Management Society conference, Toffel explains why research relevance matters and how scholars can increase the relevance of their research. Journals, professional societies, and doctoral programs can also foster research that is more useful and influential in society at large.

Author Abstract

This article seeks to encourage scholars to conduct research that is more relevant to the decisions faced by managers and policymakers. I define relevant research papers as those whose research questions address problems found (or potentially found) in practice and whose hypotheses connect independent variables within the control of practitioners to outcomes they care about using logic they view as feasible. I provide several suggestions for how scholars can enhance research relevance, including engaging practitioners in on-campus encounters, at managerial conferences, and at crossover workshops; conducting site visits and practitioner interviews; working as a practitioner; and developing a practitioner advisory team. I describe several ways that scholars can convey relevant research insights to practitioners, including presenting at practitioner conferences; writing for practitioners in traditional crossover journals and in shorter pieces like op-eds and blogs; and attracting the interest of those who write columns, blogs, and articles about research for practitioners. I conclude by describing a few ways that academic institutions can encourage more relevant research, focusing on journals, professional societies, and doctoral programs.

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