Within the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), quite some lively discussions take place amongst participants and faculty members about the role of research in society, the aims of academic knowledge creation and the impact one wants to achieve. Everyone agrees in the end that the ultimate purpose is to strive for credible knowledge with practical applications. This philosophy of engaged scholarship underlies the DBA programme and also the research charter of Vlerick Business School.
What is the purpose of academic research at a business school and how can we ensure that it effectively serves this purpose? Who can you name as an author on a scientific publication? And why shouldn't you keep research data on a USB stick? These are just a few of the topics covered in Vlerick Business School's new research charter. “Furthermore, we are an institutional partner of the Responsible Research in Business & Management (RRBM) network and also acknowledged the Flemish Committee for Scientific Integrity (VCWI). All these elements show that Vlerick attaches great importance to good academic practice,” say Programme Director Brecht Cardoen and DBA Manager and Research Manager Eva Cools.
Academic research institutions must always pay close attention to two issues. On the one hand, there is ethics: can you prevent your research from causing more harm than the potential benefit of what you might ultimately discover? Integrity also plays an important role. Has the research been carried out correctly and can you trust the results. “Errors can also stem from ignorance and certainly aren’t always deliberate,” says Eva. “Take the aspect of authorship, for example. On the one hand it’s important not to forget anyone, but you mustn’t add anyone who shouldn’t be there either. To call someone an author, they must satisfy four conditions: making an intellectual contribution, helping to write the manuscript, helping to write the final version and being liable for the full content of the scientific article. Obviously we had guidelines for this in the past, but thanks to the Charter (which emerged from broad consultations with all the professors and researchers) we now have an official document that has everyone’s support. Within the Ethics and Integrity courses for our doctoral students, these guidelines are discussed to weapon new researchers with the necessary context when becoming part of an authorship discussion.”
“The aim of the charter is to safeguard good academic practices and provide a framework that helps to avoid academic misconduct. In addition to clear guidelines on authorship, the Charter describes the role of the Academic Ombudsman and the Research Ethics and Integrity Committee.If disputes arise over matters in the Charter or questions or comments on the working methods of an academic colleague, the relevant parties within Vlerick can contact our independent Academic Ombudsman, who is also the scientific ombudsperson for the DBA programme. If we cannot find a solution in this way, the matter will be referred to a special internal committee consisting of Vlerick professors. The final decision ultimately rests with the dean. These kinds of procedures are also described in the Charter.”
"However, the charter is not just about guidelines. It also provides an answer to the question of why we conduct research. What is the role of research at our business school and more specifically, which research philosophy underlies the DBA programme? And how can we be sure to achieve this goal? “Research for its own sake is out of the question in the DBA programme,” says Eva. “Our research is based on three pillars: it must be accurate, relevant and have a broad impact.”
• Meticulously designed research allows for genuine integrity, reliability and accuracy. If someone else is doing the same study, it must produce the same results, irrespective of the researcher in question.
• The research must be relevant to as many stakeholders as possible from both the business world and society as a whole, addressing challenges that businesses and society are currently facing. Research topics are selected on the basis of this practice and are theoretically substantiated.
• The research results must be disseminated as widely as possible so that they also serve a purpose outside the research world itself.
In2020, Vlerick became an institutional partner of the Responsible Research in Business & Management (RRBM) network. By signing the RRBM vision paper, we endorse the principle that academic research should play a role in the development of knowledge that benefits businesses and the wider society, both locally and globally, with the ultimate goal of creating a better world.
“Our Charter is fully in line with their vision of the role of research. From the outset, our research aims to be relevant to both business and society. In concrete terms, this means that you involve the stakeholder of your research in defining the research question. That may seem obvious, but it isn’t in the academic world. On the other hand, from a practical point of view we also try to reconcile these questions with the gaps that still exist in that field of knowledge, allowing us to go into sufficient academic depth. Worldwide, we can see that the impact of research is becoming increasingly important and we are also committed to this. Within the DBA programme, participants are asked to reflect from the start on the impact they want to achieve for themselves (personal and career-wise), but also on their business, sector and society as a whole. This needs to be specified in an impact plan.”
Finally, Vlerick Business School also acknowledged the Flemish Commission for Academic Integrity (VCWI) as an advisory body. The VCWI can give a second advice on integrity issues after the research institution itself has provided advice on the matter – at Vlerick Business School it’s the Research Ethics and Integrity Committee that plays that role. In addition to second-line advice, members can also contact the VCWI for the exchange of knowledge. In this way, the VCWI aims to achieve standards across all Flemish research institutions.
Bert Seghers, Secretary of the VCWI, praises Vlerick's Charter: “This succinct and accessible document provides a good overview of the guidelines on good science at this research institution. The Charter includes a code of conduct on academic integrity, copyright guidelines, the regulations for confidential advisers and whistleblowers and the regulation for dealing with comments. Incidentally, Vlerick’s whistleblowing scheme goes beyond that of most other institutions.”
“The Charter, as well as our membership of the VCWI and RRBM, makes it clear that we genuinely focus on applicable and proper research. We wish to promote a solid research culture, not just reactively but also proactively. We also hold internal workshops on a regular basis to ensure that this subject remains alive and well within Vlerick. Also within the DBA programme research ethics and integrity are covered in each of the different course weeks, either by focusing on a specific topic (e.g. how to handle your data, academic publishing,…) or by making sure proper methodological and statistical guidelines are shared to ensure good academic practice. After all, it is often not only a question of right or wrong; ignorance also comes into play,” Eva concludes.