Theory and practice hand in hand


The definition of poverty was the outcome and discussion theme during 2009 conference on Chronic Poverty, at Manchester University in UK. While seemingly important theoretical questions were addressed, and highly interesting econometric results presented, the conference itself was, and 10 years of research a priori this closing conference, a place of yet more reports but less solutions. Meanwhile, rather than problematizing too long on what the issues are, we, researchers and practitioners alike could and can focus more on how to solve a problem or tackle a challenge theoretically, empirically, operationally, strategically, and finally practically.

The outcome of 2018 ESMAC (European Social Marketing Conference) conference in Antwerp, Belgium, was “let’s join the forces” for solutions.

While a doctoral student presents her findings about healthy taglines of food packages that nobody reads or follows in UK, a practitioner from France informs that they have also researched these taglines and came to the same conclusion with the doctoral student, and thus simplified the ones in France. The result is that simplified healthy marks are read and followed, and even producers change their products to reach more healthy levels of their commodities. Theory of taglines is developed while solving a practical challenge.

A research from Australia shows how both internal design of army canteens and product development in their food made Australian soldiers to eat healthier and in less stressful manner. The findings were based on extensive ethnographic observations during several occasions in the canteens. For many young solders, it took 7 minutes to eat while after the research findings healthy take-aways were available. Take-aways solved the problem of quick snacks at the canteen. A former army procurement officer from Canada commented the results: Canada had done similar interventions with similar resupia_2_2018.jpglts already 20 years ago but at that time there was no forum for sharing Canadian experience. Now the two ladies were discussing their findings in Antwerp conference joined by other interested from several other countries.

Masters’ graduate Daniela Sumelius from Hanken presented her Master’s thesis findings about how to get young people to volunteer more. She co-operated with Citizen Forum (Kansalaisareena) for her work. While earlier research conducted on the area informs us that motivation follows when there are opportunities and ability to act, her results showed that highly motivated young people in Finland lacked opportunity to volunteer. The theory changed from motivation-opportunity-ability (MOA) to opportunity-ability-motivation (OAM) and at the same time informed the practitioners to create opportunities and strengthen abilities rather than trying to motivate the already motivated young people. A researcher from UK was listening, googled the thesis, and was eager to replicate these actions in his own university.

Doctoral candidate Jonna Heliskoski from Hanken on the other hand presented her theory development of systems thinking for social challenges. She compared Nordic School customer-dominant logic and service-dominant logic with social marketing research. Her work was positioned to social marketing and services research, but the references were partly from the domain of macromarketing. She had found theoretical similarities between the different research fields, and her research approach on systems has informed several municipalities in Finland to improve their social services. A representative from Nestle particularly came to listen to her presentation in order to improve social actions that her employer takes.

While back home, my colleague returned from her trip to ServSIG 2018 conference in Austin, pia_3_2018.jpgTexas, and told me that social issues were discussed in that conference too, under the umbrella of transformative services.

Thus, “let’s join the forces” as one of the participants said in ESMAC, to make the world a better place to live!


Pia Polsa

Associate Professor in Marketing



1. Pia Polsa and Daniela Sumelius in front of the conference venue in Antwerp

2. Jonna Heliskoski presenting at the ESMAC conference

3. Belltower of the Antwerp Cathedral