Did the AIM fail to hit its targets?

In a recently published paper, Stuart Macdonald, Visiting Professor at the School, critically assesses the performance of the Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM)

The AIM was established by the UK government in 2002 for the sake of advancing the scholarly standing of management research within and beyond the academy. This cause was, for the many management researchers concerned, in sore need of advancing. Of the 778 awards made by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), just 19 went to management researchers. This dubious achievement is made all the more concerning by the fact that the discipline of management, staff and student head count wise, is by far the largest of the social sciences.

After spending in excess of £30million over the course of more than a decade advancing this cause, the AIM was recently wound up. How did it do? The results of a Technopolis-Group commissioned evaluation of its performance will, executive summary apart, remain confidential. Consequentially, the paper which my co-authors and I recently published in the British Journal of Management represents, for now, the only publicly available analysis of the AIM’s performance. Our verdict, which attracted the furious resentment of academic referees and the detailed attention of quite a few lawyers, is far from positive.

Our paper’s most significant and sustained criticism of the AIM concerns the organisation’s elitism. Senior AIM fellows, representing 8% of the organisation’s membership, ended up consuming 55% of the budget. This means that rather than funding the best research, the AIM ended up funding the best researchers. This is a subtle but important distinction. The AIM sought to liberate all the researchers it backed from the stultifying form-filling and bureaucratic nit-picking characteristic of contemporary UK higher education. What ended up happening in practice, however, was that already established management researchers used the AIM to both consolidate and exacerbate their privilege. In as much as all management researchers might have needed an AIM, some management researchers in fact benefited at the expense of many.

That is to say, rather than furthering the interests of management researchers in general, the AIM facilitated the exploitation and extension of existing advantages. Inequalities with the playing field were not levelled out, in other words, they were perpetuated. AIM funding was a proxy for quality, on the one hand, and the best management researchers guaranteed the AIM’s claim to excellence. If this all sounds a little too self-referential and circular that’s because it was. While our analysis of the publishing patterns of the AIM’s designated elite revealed much by way of research cliques and publication silos, it revealed little by way of the networked and collaborative management research infrastructure which the AIM sought to bring about.

The fact that the AIM was originally created for the sake of raising the profile of management research in general has been quietly forgotten. Representatives, spokespeople and those most involved in AIM were curiously reluctant to discuss these criticisms with us in any great detail. AIM was wound up in 2012, having devoted most of its generous funding to the furthering of the interests of the already established elite. The problems that have beset management research for decades seem set to remain.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

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