Marie Gardner, Head of ICAS Research, looks at the advantages of using academic research to provide evidence for the development of policy and influencing change.
‘Why does accounting research matter’ is by no means a new question but one that continues to be asked. Some have even advanced that it is increasingly being asked, or that at least the discourse is strengthening that questions a gap between academic accounting research and research that meets the practical needs of standard-setters and practitioners. And legitimately so, given that government funding as well as funding from other sources, such as ICAS, contribute to financing academic research. But how can quality academic research best be made relevant to regulators, standard-setters, practitioners and other stakeholders interested in policy-making debates, even if this relevance does not result in immediate impact and change?
Accountancy as a social applied science is in a constant state of flux, as it seeks to measure and faithfully represent the financial, economic, and increasingly social and environmental realities of the business world, where the parameters and needs of this world themselves continue to evolve. Robust and reliable academic research which not only recognises those changes but helps accountants navigate and address them is crucial to the development of the profession.
ICAS is committed to base its policy decisions and implementation on sound evidence. We gather this evidence in a number of ways:
- Convening groups of members and non-members who are experts in a particular subject or have experience of a particular issue to help develop proposals;
- Commissioning surveys, market research or consultancy; and, centrally in the context of this article,
- Commissioning academic research.
Two members (a former member in the case of Lisa) of the ICAS Research Panel, Mario Abela and Lisa Evans, have written an article available on icas.com, which highlights the benefits of academic research:
- Independent of vested interests
- Rigorous, impartial and reliable
- Generates new ideas and innovation
- Provides challenge to norms and preconceptions
- Normally based on theory or contributes to the development of theory
- Develops new knowledge and understanding
- Is subject to scrupulous scrutiny and review
- Impacts on policy development – which can sometimes only be apparent incrementally over longer time periods
- Value for money as funding received by academics covers only a fraction of the full costs of the research.
There are some challenges for academic research, however, to engage with and add value to the profession. Some of those key challenges are the timescale necessary for appropriately robust and considered research and the lack of understanding that advancements from research can seldom be attributed to a single project but usually result from incremental findings from related studies over a period of time; access to suitable and current data which in many cases is dependent on the access which the profession consents to provide; and the impenetrability of some academic articles to non-academic readers.
None of these issues are insurmountable, and because important research questions often arise from practical problems, it is crucially important that academics and the profession work together, for mutual benefit, to ensure that the research is relevant, and therefore to maximise its usefulness for the profession. Such co-operation allows the research conclusions to be disseminated to a wider audience, for follow up discussions to guide future research, and for well-designed and effective change to take place for the benefit of our profession and wider society.
Academic accounting research continues to make useful contributions to policy and practice, but this requires a close relationship between the academic and professional accounting communities. Given the current challenges facing the profession, rarely has there been a better time for the two communities to enhance their co-operation.