Monday, June 11, 2007

Organization Studies Workshop: Keynote by S. L. Rynes

The Third Organization Studies Summer Workshop was organized in Crete in early June. The event was well organized and raised many important issues. The gap between theory and practice was one of the recurring theme. The same theme was also phrased as the question how to combine successfully scientific rigor and practical relevance.

The first keynote speaker was Sara L. Rynes, Professor at University of Iowa, who discussed the theme how to make research relevant to practice. She is the editor of Academy of Management Journal. She emphasized the values of pluralism in research and welcomed respect for co-produced research, based on an inductive and social constructive approach. This means that researchers should work in collaboration with practitioners gathering qualitative data in real-world cases. She used her own experience from the 1990s as an example.

She showed how ready-made questionnaires may not succeed in bringing up utterly important factors. Through open interviews the researchers had figured out the importance of recruitment in job choice. Sara also called for broader views of relevance and research that develops insights that helps managers. She referred to Jim March in mentioning the combination of academic and experiential knowledge. Academic research can produce generalizations and frameworks which need to be applied through human intuition and contextual understanding.

Sara Rynes also emphasized the idea that usefulness to practitioners alone is a deficient vision for organization studies. She mentioned the book Freakonomics in which N.N. brings up important findings that may be “inconvenient truths” for many. I also very much agreed with the conclusion that for longer term and for the society as a whole, researchers need to be certain kind of watchdogs. Researchers should be allowed to have the role that is commonly attributed to free press. If this role is not fully appreciated the society does not function as well as it could.

It may, of course, be convenient for the leaders to think that the researchers can support directly their aspirations and policies. This is, however, bound to lead both to bad science as well as into a declining nation. If a decision makers fail to listen to the inconvenient questions that researchers may ask they finally are going to make much less optimal decisions than through taking into account even the critical voices. This does not, of course, mean that the scientists should be made the primary decision makers.

Towards the end of the presentation, Sara Rynes mentioned that researchers within organizational studies ought to be think more about data mining. This was nice to hear for us three, Sari Stenfors, Tanja Kotro and Timo Honkela who participated the workshop as Kulta project researchers. The project develops methods for modeling and simulating changing customer needs. In addition to practice theory and qualitative research, data mining and other adaptive informatics methods are in a central role in the project.

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