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The academia-practice gap: Driver for progress or indicator of ivory tower?

Special issue call for papers from Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

Joint Guest Editors

Edeltraud Guenther, Chair of Environmental Management and Accounting, TU Dresden, Germany
Rodney Irwin, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Geneva, Switzerland
Peter Saling, Director Sustainability Methods, Ludwigshafen, Germany
Stefan Schaltegger, CSM, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany

What's the special issue about?

As in other disciplines, environmental and sustainability management accounting and reporting has attracted an increasing number of scholars who highlight a perceived academia-practice gap and recommendations for more fruitful interaction is called to enhance knowledge creation, dissemination and implementation. The importance of this interaction can be observed at the beginning of the research process as well as at its end: Funding institutions often require letters of intent by corporations to collaborate with the applying researchers in order to make sure that tax money is spent fruitfully and does create value for the economy and society. Many scientific journals stress the interaction by requiring a section on practical implications of the research conducted. Nevertheless there is a huge body of literature observing a research-practice gap. And in most of the cases the gap is perceived to be negative.

This leads to a number of questions.  Can tensions in the academia-practice gap also be a source for positive forces and stimulate innovations? Is a gap necessarily always negative? Following the idea of Stoke (1997, p. 73) research can be inspired both by the consideration of use, i.e. a practice link, and by a quest for fundamental understanding (Figure 1). Along those two dimensions he differentiates three types of research: pure basic research (what the scientist Niels Bohr was famous for his model on the structure of atoms and his work in quantum mechanics), use-inspired basic research (what Louis Pasteur was famous for by developing a deep theoretical understanding of the role of bacteria for hygiene) and pure applied research (what the inventor Thomas Edison was famous for with inventions like the light bulb).

Figure 1 - Usefulness and increased fundamental understanding as value of research

Research in environmental and sustainability management accounting and reporting is often based in the two right quadrants of the matrix. For example, research on Environmental Management Accounting is use-inspired if scholars analyze the underlying decision situations in order to get a deeper understanding of decision-making processes, whereas it is pure applied research if best practice case studies on Environmental Management Accounting or Sustainability Reporting are presented. But would we also accept pure basic research with no consideration of use as appropriate in the field of sustainability accounting and reporting?

Following the idea, that a quest for a fundamental understanding of phenomena in our economy does not necessarily need to be linked to an immediate consideration of use, an academia-practice gap could even stimulate the development of new ideas and concepts. In this case research would be intendedly ahead of practice and new economic models could emerge from the strive of practitioners to close the gap.

While this view of a research-practice gap may reflect an idealistic picture from an academic perspective, practice is sometimes ahead of academia, too. Experiments, pilot studies and new pragmatic approaches developed in practice are then analysed by academics in the strive to close the gap between practice and academia to better understand and theoreise corporate practice.

But what type of interaction is fruitful and what type is not? And under which circumstances?

On the occasion of the 20th conference of the Environmental and Sustainability Management Accounting Network (EMAN) the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ) invites submissions for a special issue on the question whether and what kind of gaps exist, how the academia-practice gap is manifested in research on environmental and sustainability management accounting and whether and how it can be overcome.

We invite submissions on the following questions:

  • How can the academia-practice gap (or practice-academia gap) as a construct be defined in environmental and sustainability management accounting and reporting?
  • How can the academia-practice gap (practice-academia gap) be measured in environmental and sustainability management accounting and reporting? What characterizes a negative gap (hindering innovation and dissemination), what a positive gap (supporting innovation and dissemination)?
  • How can the academia-practice gap and the practice-academia gap be evaluated in environmental and sustainability management accounting?
  • Why do we need a positive gap?
  • What kind of gaps create fruitful discussions and innovation towards sustainability solutions?
  • How do companies make sure that R&D departments are ahead (i.e. always create a gap to current practices of the company) and stimulate further development of improved practices in the organisation?
  • What kind of gap is not fruitful, reduces motivation and does not inspire practice and creating solutions?
  • What kind of gaps initiate the creation of even larger gaps?
  • What are success factors of positive academia-practice interactions?
  • What are causes and drivers of negative academia-practice interactions?
  • How do researchers and practitioners communicate?

We encourage scholars to answer the presented questions by means of systematic reviews on the gap literature in management and accounting journals, theoretical and conceptual analyses, case studies or surveys. While this special issue does not seek case studies which only describe research-practice gaps, papers are welcome with all kind of theoretical analyses, single in-depth case study analyses, comparative case study and statistical examinations, and further approaches as long as the focus on the investigation of types of gaps, reasons for gaps, as well as drivers and approaches for closing gaps.

Tentative schedule:

  • Call for papers: November 2016
  • Submission of ‘peer-review ready’ documents to Emerald via the ScholarOne Manuscripts system by: May 30, 2017
  • Peer review/paper revision process: August 2017 – February 2018
  • Submission of final version of all revised papers: March 2018
  • Authors informed of decisions and/or about minor changes by: May 2018
  • Submission of all documents for conversion to uncorrected proofs by: June 2018
  • Publication of Special Issue: mid 2018
  • Submissions are being made through ScholarOne Manuscripts
  • For full submission requirements please see the author guidelines.