Bringing scholars and business leaders together through Impact Pathways

Centre for Operations and Supply Chain Research

Dr Gary Graham is Associate Professor in Operations and Supply Chain Management at Leeds University Business School, and a member of the Centre for Operations and Supply Chain Research. He is also Joint Associate Editor for IJOPM Impact Pathways Section. Dr Graham's research interests include: investigating disruption and change in the logistics and supply chain sectors, and smart cities and sustainability.

Gary Graham

In January this year, Professors Constantin Blome (Chief Editor), Jan Godsell, Jens Roehrich, Ann Vereecke and I worked together to establish the Impact Pathways section for one of the world’s leading operations and supply chain management journals – the International Journal of Operations and Production Management (IJOPM). We set out on a mission to bring scholarship and practice much closer together, so that our work would be more relevant and timely and also be able to shape and influence practice and scholarship.

Our Impact Pathways articles are only 3,000 words long. As these are shorter and not subject to the extensive and rigorous review process of the more conventional journal articles, we were hoping to attract scholars and offer them prompt and efficient review decisions. Our aim was to replicate the style and tone of a kind of European version of Harvard Business Review, but purely dedicated to Operations and Supply Chain Management Scholarship.

We wanted people to be bold and authoritative with their articles. To synthesise and critically interrogate their industry interactions not solely to confirm a theory but actually look for a pathway forward for scholarship. Authors have two reviewers review their paper and then can do one set of edits, revising it to a publishable standard in accordance with our Pathway objectives. Further details are available here.

We were predicting a slow start and vigorous lobbying of scholars to attract the right scholarship and diversity of submissions. Then came along the coronavirus, with the unexpected outcome of providing a great impetus for the submission of works.

There was a mad scramble to capitalise on COVID-19. Two major pathways came out from this. One addressing research opportunities for a more resilient supply chain and another exploring coronavirus, tariffs and trade wars and supply chain evolution.

As well as COVID-19, other pressing themes included: digital change, the impending issues surrounding 5G, and 3D Printing processes.

An Impact Pathway example: how COVID-19 is affecting supply chain management

An Impact Pathway Article I submitted is part of an on-going six-month study of supply chain management in the automobile and infrastructural equipment sectors.

What is evident from this Impact Pathway is that COVID-19 is a crisis not for supply chain managers but for supply chain leaders who are being forced to manage beyond a functional supply or operational role such as quality assurance, procurement, to a more strategic task environment encompassing demand information management and translating this into plant and global network decisions.

It takes global supply chains months to recover from a few days of disruption. COVID-19 caused unprecedented “ripple” bullwhip effects throughout the global supply chain and as a result it will now take several months until production can recover in the automobile sector. It also posed, and is posing, huge cash flow challenges. The digitalisation of demand and supply networks is an increasing part of a more exploratory rather than exploitative global supply chain management post-COVID-19. Supply chain managers may be competent in a stable area where the main task is efficiency but the uncertainty with the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 period requires leadership and rapid decision making to remain solvent and survivable. We are in the era of survivability now, not stability. We have compressed five years of supply chain evolution into six months - what Charles Fine defined as supply chain evolution at “clockspeed”.

Firms have clearly been dragged into implementing their Supply Management 4.0 philosophy with manufacturers moving their supply networks from exploitation to exploration. They are responding to change and rethinking each product category capabilities beyond the two-week window.

There are great opportunities for exploring future pathways for manufacturing businesses post-COVID-19. With anticipatory and upturn in demand predicted (pent up demand in the first and second quarters 2021) firms are having to re-evaluate how their business model and demand forecasting fits in. For instance, automobile suppliers are constructing demand control towers to anticipate future demand, be more accurate in their forecasting and speed up the efficiency of that demand translation into plant and network decision making.

Co-creation and joint-intervention

So, Impact Pathways enable scholars to work with leading executives and jointly write work or present evidence and data to open up future research agendas and scholarship now and for future generations. Traditionally, impact has been about your work being translated or used by industry. Impact Pathways are more about co-creation, impact evolution and joint intervention work. They are not practice-led or academic-led but practice-oriented and driven by the desire to be relevant and influential immediately. The beauty of them lies in their ability to make your work influential beyond academic circles and open your research to leading executives around the globe.

… my digital transformation impact pathway piece you published is generating a lot of interest - not only from academics, but also from a large number of business leaders and consultants etc. I am already receiving requests from businesses […] to give talks to senior leaders etc.

Professor Feng Li, Head of Technology and Innovation Management, Cass Business School.


My LinkedIn post on the research pathway paper has 6000+ views in 24 hours and many researchers are commenting publicly or directly that they are going to use the paper – thank you for the opportunity.

Professor Remko Van Hoek, Professor of Supply Chain Management, Walton College of Business.

The speed at which the Impact Pathways have been shared and engaged with has been helped through disseminating the Emerald EarlyCite article (an accepted article which is available online to be shared and cited before appearing in the publication) on social media. The industrial interest and engagement with the authors have come from LinkedIn and Twitter. The key issue here is the speed and reach of message diffusion regarding their work.

If you are a scholar or industrialist working on a rapidly emerging supply chain area in this recovery phase of COVID-19, or are looking at new aspects of digital change or 5G etc, or some unique and novel area of research investigation, then contact me by email and I will provide information on how to submit your work. We really encourage you to have a go at this and put real-life scholarship back at the forefront of leading business and management journals agendas.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.