Senator Cynthia Villar’s critical remark on the Department of Agriculture’s decision to allocate a substantial portion of its budget for research of the National Corn Program stirred up a hornet’s nest in academic circles. “Baliw na baliw kayo sa research,” she said, adding, “aanhin ninyo ba ‘yung research?” This triggered strong reactions from netizens, with some even resorting to ad hominem attacks against the good senator. One even made a reference to the aggressive real estate development activities of the Villar family in agricultural areas, saying that in the future, there will be no object for research anymore for the agricultural sector ‘dahil nakamkam nyo nang lahat ang lupa!’ Clearly, the provocative statements of the senator, even if driven by good intentions, take on a certain color because of her family’s business interests. This is an issue that can be discussed in another article.
For today, I want to dwell on an important point that surfaced from this issue―the perception not only among our legislators but also among the general citizenry that research has no practical value. In an attempt to defend herself a few days after her now oft-quoted statement, she said: “Aanhin ba natin ang research kung hindi naman mapapakinabangan? Kung may research nga tapos wala namang application, it won’t benefit our farmers.” This statement is illustrative of a long-running conversation / debate in academia about what type of research must be undertaken in universities, especially in a developing country like the Philippines. Should we undertake fundamental research meant for publication in scholarly journals that are read only largely by a small group of people interested in the advancement of knowledge in a particular discipline, or should we undertake applied research that will have immediate use by practitioners?
As a teacher of management action research at De La Salle University (DLSU), I have to deal with our graduate students’ initial misconceptions about what research is for, something not quite different from Senator Villar’s own notion. There is the prevailing view that research is “too theoretical” and does not have much relevance. We can’t blame them since much of the research that are currently undertaken in academia are of such type, those that favor ‘rigor’ over ‘relevance’.
In DLSU’s MBA Program, we have made some inroads in convincing our students that research and practice do not have to be mutually exclusive. Over the past five or six years, we have exposed our students to Management Action Research, which seeks to address problems or issues that our students face in their workplace. Action research requires them to reflect upon their decisions and actions (first-person inquiry), to collaborate with their bosses, colleagues, and / or subordinates―who serve as their co-researchers―in trying to understand the problem situation they are trying to address (second-person inquiry), and to make use of the concepts and frameworks they have learned from various MBA subjects they have taken (third-person inquiry). Since this is a research subject, they are supposed to document how they attempted to solve workplace issues, to report the results of the change initiatives they undertook, and to generate useful insights that others exposed to similar conditions and circumstances can learn from.
Over the past few years, we have produced hundreds of graduates that have made concrete contributions to the organizations they work for through their action research projects. These projects range from improving the efficiency of work processes in a bank, to reducing workplace stress and turnover of employees in a BPO company; from empowering employees that led to better customer experience in a clothing retailer, to improving the processes of a family business resort that also strengthened the relationship between father and son; and from increasing the sales of a trucking business by reducing the paper work that their sales people have to handle, to saving millions of pesos by reducing rework through the enforcement of quality control standards.
Some of the action research projects did not end up with spectacular results, but revealed weaknesses in the structures, processes, and work cultures of the organizations that our students work for. A better understanding of what led to failures opened up opportunities for these organizations to solve problems using alternative approaches. These are also documented in the action research projects of our students, which will allow others who have read their papers to know what they need to avoid or watch out for when they introduce change initiatives in their own companies.
We are confident that our MBA graduates now appreciate the relevance of research and reflective practice in their own organizations, and will be among a new generation of business leaders who will advocate this among their colleagues. We are hopeful that, in the not-too-distant future, “baliw na baliw sa (action) research” will be viewed in a more positive light.
Raymund B. Habaradas is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU), where he teaches Methods of Research, Qualitative Research, and Management Action Research. He is also the holder of the Ramon V. del Rosario Professorial Chair in Entrepreneurship, and the Director of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD). He welcomes comments at [email protected]
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.