Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" (Albert Einstein)

Yesterday I attempted, and failed, to get to the Reading Whiteknights campus without getting lost. My third attempt to do it seamlessly. I am, however, picking up a fairly well mapped knowledge of the suburban side streets of east Reading. The reason for going over there was to join colleagues from Greenlands (we must nowadays avoid saying "from Henley" in the context of meetings within the Business School) in a research awayday - our first stab at bringing the two faculties together to discuss a research agenda.

It's not going to be all plain sailing.

If Henley (here I use it to mean the College) was known at all for research, it was best known for either the type of faculty-led enquiry that is likely to lead to practitioner adoption, or the type of practitioner-led problem that required more rigour in investigation than most companies are prepared or equipped to do. This is sometimes referred to as "Mode 2" research.

Reading was, and is, very well known in the circles that know these things for its "Mode 1" research agenda, which is driven by successful applications for grant monies from public bodies and measured by the amount which reaches publication in the 4 and 5-star refereed journals in the area of the research being carried out.

So which one rules? Or do you do both? These questions are not at all trivial because a lot of other things affect and are affected the direction you take. If publication is key for institutional and personal position and reputation, then those undertaking that type of research need the luxury of time and training to focus on it. If practical application and excellence in delivery are important, then other things follow.

The College faculty were most recently drawn up around five schools of thought leadership. These, of course, are not to be abandoned - they feed a lot into the MBA programme, for example, but they do need to adapt to whatever strategy for research that the new Business School decides to follow.

The Merger, which in many ways was always a good match, will find that the Devil is very much in the detail. It is actually quite exciting to be part of such a discussion. For many of the Greenlands faculty, the door to scholarship beckons, while for the Whiteknights faculty, there is a chance to bring their agendas face-to-face with end-user organisations and managers. Let's hope that both ends of the research continuum continue to be valued.


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