Enhancing the Social Relevance of Accounting Research

Posted by JOCHEN PIERK - Dec 19, 2023

What is the value of accounting research for diverse stakeholders? While this question is certainly very difficult to answer, let alone quantify, we often hear concerns regarding the lack of relevance beyond academia. Publishing high-quality research that addresses relevant research questions, however, is only the first step toward social impact beyond academia. Other criteria for accounting research to extend its social impact include translating it into accessible language for non-academics and effective dissemination. In other words, if our research findings are either not read or understood, our field likely does not have a large impact on society.

While dissemination is not isolated from the question of what is relevant research, the recent article Dissemination of Accounting Research (Garcia Osma, Mora, & Pierk) published in the European Accounting Review and this blog focus on dissemination of accounting research to non-academic stakeholders. Here, we summarize the findings of the paper regarding the empirical evidence on the dissemination of accounting research findings, survey evidence on dissemination practices and motives, and recommendations of what can be improved.

Our empirical findings indicate that accounting substantially trails similar disciplines across several dissemination measures (e.g., news articles, policy documents, patents, blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook). The survey responses point at multiple factors underpinning this finding, from limited relevance of research for practice, policy making, and the general public, to lack of incentives, time, training, and support infrastructures. Interview data suggests differences exist in the support that individual researchers receive from their institutions, with potential consequences for successful dissemination.

While this sounds not very encouraging, the good news is that we as accounting researchers have ample opportunities to improve this situation, either individually or by shaping the mindset and infrastructure of journals, faculties, and schools toward successful (accounting research) dissemination.

Recommendations for individual researchers

A key recommendation for individual researchers is to start dissemination efforts early by aligning research questions with user interests, engaging with regulators, and building networks with institutions. Translation is crucial, and we encourage researchers to use executive summaries, blogs (like this one), and social media for wider reach. Additionally, some media outlets are interested in covering accounting research, for example, phys.org and The Conversation, which both mainly cover academic research. Also, Forbes or Harvard Business Review cover accounting research regularly.

Recommendations for faculties and universities

While individual researchers might be able to improve their dissemination efforts, we suggest that research teams or institutions (faculties/universities) should take the lead. Extrinsic incentives are crucial (e.g. promotion and tenure decisions), prompting a reevaluation of metrics by universities and accreditation systems. However, caution is needed to avoid oversimplified metrics and ensure a balance between subjective measurement and relevant assessments. Since it is not easy to shift the incentives to disseminate, releasing constraints might be more useful, i.e. making dissemination less costly. To facilitate dissemination, universities can establish science communication infrastructures, provide training, and consider including translation and dissemination training in their doctoral programs.

Recommendations for journals and associations

For certain types of dissemination, the relevant unit in terms of successful engagement may be journals or associations rather than individuals. Journals and associations are more likely to succeed in building networks of contacts, hiring professional writers, or even facilitating specific training particular to the accounting discipline. Associations can also organize committees that prepare comment letters, or respond to calls for literature reviews, incentivizing academics with the potential publication of academic versions of such reviews.

In conclusion, we urge researchers to enhance the dissemination of their findings. Presently, incentives for dissemination are minimal, but we believe it is crucial for social impact, a trend likely to grow not only for accounting research but across all disciplines. Accounting should not lag behind due to misconceptions about its relevance. While encouraging institutions to boost incentives and ease constraints, we emphasize that researchers, especially research teams, must proactively design communication strategies.


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