Management research in the heritage workplace

An article in the Times Higher Education magazine last week suggested that an understanding of the reliance on management research in the workplace can help academics plan their own dissemination strategies. The article drew on research investigating the use of management research within the healthcare sector, published in Human Relations, and commentary by Gerry McGivern, Professor of Organisational Analysis at Warwick Business School.  It considered the relationships that academics undertaking management research may need to form with practitioners in the workplace in order to not only get the best out of the research aims, but also to enable knowledge transfer and uptake of ideas from the academy into the workplace. Issues around ‘knowledge management’ within organisations are relevant to this, meaning that academics have to spend time understanding what organisations need to think about and understand in their operating and strategic environment. The article notes that long term relationships are often crucial, and that traditional published results in academic journals may include a level of theoretical and statistical details that may be (shock!) “boring and/or baffling” for busy managers. 

The context for the study drawn on is interesting, as healthcare has become an area of intense management research interest over the past few years.  But it is more fundamental than just being about dissemination – and what of other sectors, such as heritage? I have been arguing like a broken record for two decades that management research in the sector is under-developed: to the detriment of a sector (like health) which is having to transform itself in a pressured financial environment, and which is also partly reliant on a volunteer work force, and also has complex and changing operational structures and policy contexts. Management research developing theoretical and practical concepts that are relevant to the sector is going on, and is being applied – but arguably not enough, and the sustained longer-term knowledge exchange relationships between heritage and management are patchy. Much management research where it does touch on sector issues is often more critique or case study / evaluation driven – and whilst I am not being critical of this type of analysis, it suggests there is an opportunity to develop onwards from these more limited knowledge development interventions. 

A challenge, without doubt, is that much management research is inaccessible – either, as noted, due to its opacity and ability to engage the more general reader; or it is hidden in academic journals where those in the sector who would find it most useful would not necessarily know to look. Additionally, if they did find it, it may well be hidden behind paywalls, and still on gaining access need that ‘translation’ – or as McGivern suggests, ‘the “safe spaces” where “knowledge leaders” get a chance to “engage with research, innovate and shift practices.”‘

With my combined academic / trustee hat on (for The Heritage Alliance & BEFS) I’ll be continuing to work on how we can better facilitate the nexus between heritage practitioner and manager researcher.  

Author: Ian Baxter

Heritage management / historic preservation academic at Heriot-Watt University; Vice-Chair of the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS); Trustee of The Heritage Alliance. Obsessed by administrative histories of heritage organisations, heritage signs, and the design of site guidebooks.

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