‘Working Toward Shared Prosperity’ Dialogue
Michigan Ross partnered with the Aspen Institute to convene a dialogue among academics and practitioners in business, labor, government, and nonprofits to translate research findings about employment and prosperity equity into useful insights for practice.
Call to Action
The organization of the economy is at a turning point that is creating deep insecurity around the future of work, employment, and opportunities for upward mobility. Careers were replaced by jobs, and now jobs are being replaced by gigs. There is a sense of pervasive uncertainty in the pathways forward for both citizens and businesses. Research in business schools has the opportunity and the responsibility to inform the choices made by business to help create a more humane, democratic, and equitable future, yet the incentives for business scholars to translate their insights to practice are limited.
This convening aimed to bring together a highly diverse group of researchers and practitioners to share insights based on rigorous research and translate these insights into practical guides for public policy and business practice, as well as to better inform choices going forward. And by providing a forum for sharing research with practitioners, it aimed to provide an example for future researchers who might seek to have a positive impact on practice.
“Working Toward Shared Prosperity: An Academic-Executive Dialogue” took place October 24–26, 2018, at the University of Michigan after 14 months of planning. The event was explicitly organized as a dialogue, not a standard conference. Outside of three plenary sessions—which were themselves organized as dialogues among executives, academics, labor leaders, and journalists—each breakout session was led by “conversation starters” who shared their findings and experiences (for instance, with field experiments among garment workers in India, ethnographies of the gig economy, big data analytics on changing labor markets, and practical problems in business and labor).
By inviting an unusually diverse mix of researchers and practitioners, designing the dialogues around “choice points” faced by business (for example, “The COO’s Dilemma: Choice Points in Operational Design;” “The CFO’s Dilemma: Capital vs. Labor;” and “The CEO’s Dilemma: Workers and the DNA of a Company”), and carefully organizing the format of the sessions, the event produced extraordinarily rich, knowlageable, and insightful dialogues useful for informing practice. The convening further advanced the agenda of research-to-practice by building in sessions on teaching innovations around these topics, in order to shape business school curricula.
The convening had several aims. First, it challenged researchers to think through the practical implications of their work for business, labor, and policy, and to convey them without jargon, PowerPoint presentations, or regression tables. Describing one’s research to CEOs, labor and nonprofit leaders, public servants, journalists, and foundation executives required participants to exercise a different set of muscles than those used to present to other academics, which should inform the direction of future research.
Second, the conveners partnered with The Conversation, an independent news site that supports academic authors, and brought its publisher and its senior business/economics editor to attend the full conference and meet with faculty researchers to write up a series of accessible pieces to publicize research-based insights from the convening (still in process at this writing).
Third, the event aimed to create an exemplar of what collaborative translation can look like.
Last, the participants left with useful insights for teaching and for management.
The Aspen Institute Business and Society Program; The Conversation