When the sequel is better than the original

It is often claimed that the sequel is never as good as the original. This might be true for movies or book sequels, but when it comes to research publications, old ideas can definitely be developed and improved. In 2011, we published our first “straitjacket” article in International Journal of Managing Projects in Business. The article was called “Breaking out of the straitjacket of project research: in search of contribution” and encouraged researchers interested in project studies to broaden their perspectives, draw inspiration from more general management theories, and try make more impact on other research domains. The analysis and arguments we proposed drew inspiration from the 1971 article by Murray Davis, “That’s interesting”, where he outlines what makes theories interesting, and sometimes even famous. Our paper was in 2012 awarded with an Outstanding Paper Award at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence. Now, we got the sequel of this paper published in Project Management Journal©. In this new article we continue where we ended in 2011 and provide, what we have called, an “escape artist’s manual” consisting of strategies and practices for how researchers could think about and design project studies to enable contribution beyond the home domain. In other words, this time we do not only argue that it should be done, but explain how it could be done.

The strategies we suggest are both scientific, discursive, and to some extent social. In short, we argue that it is necessary to understand key assumptions and challenges of the domain to which a contribution should be made. The contribution needs to be formulated according to the agenda of the recipient domain. If some key assumptions are challenged, it is more likely that a contribution will have an impact. In order to be able to do this, it is necessary to demonstrate discursive competence. That includes an understanding of the history of the domain, how research is most commonly articulated, which seminal references there are, and be able to develop a feeling for the intellectual lingua of the domain. There is also a social dimension in this since it is facilitated by attending conferences, seminars, or other research gatherings of the recipient domain to better understand how the research agenda is defined and discussed.

We wrote this sequel as a response, and perhaps parts of the solution, to the debate on how the publish-or-perish culture has made many research areas narrow-minded and focused on exploitation of domain knowledge rather than engaging in exploration. Instead of building protected boxes in which narrow-minded research can continue to be published, we suggest that interaction between different domains is a way to expand knowledge, stimulate intellectual debate, and make greater contributions to science at large. Additionally, many of the urgent challenges today, such as the Corona pandemic and the climate crisis, are not neatly packaged problems solved within a single research domain. Thus, our paper is not only about how to make project research contribute to other domains; it is more generally applicable when trying to break out of a narrowly defined research box in order to make fruitful contributions to a broader academic community and engage in many of the urgent challenges of today. In this way it is also clear implications on research policy.

This second “straitjacket” article is called “Project studies beyond the straitjacket: An escape artist’s manual” and it is part of a special issue on Advancing Theory and Debate in Project Studies. As authors, we believe that the sequel is actually better than the original. Read them both and give us your opinion!

The article is published as open access and thus available for everyone to download here.