The Research Practice Gap: Why is Evidence-based Practice so Hard to Achieve.

There’s has been some recent articles in the social science literature (nursing, education, management, HR, etc. ) about Evidence-based practice (EBP) or the research practice gap that exists in very many fields.  Why is EBP so difficult to achieve and why do so many solution articles leave me so underwhelmed.  I will offer a reason for the difficulties that I have not yet heard in a convincing manner.

Problem: Using research across different practices is basically the same problem as the transfer of learning or knowledge across contexts.

Reason for the problem: it takes work. Knowledge is closely tied to the contexts of production.  There may be theories and prior research that are applicable to a specific practice, but it takes work to contextualize that knowledge, see its applicability to specific contexts, and change the resulting practice.  What is that work:

  • Establishing a broad practitioner knowledge-base in order to know that the applicable theories and knowledge exist.
  • Knowing how the existing problem or practice can be reframed or re-understood in the light of this new knowledge.  It’s not just using knowledge in a new context, it is re-producing that knowledge or sometimes producing knowledge that is unique to that context.
  • Making changes and dealing with side problems common in change management.
  • Developing a feedback methodology for evaluating and adjusting practice changes

Solution;  we need practitioners with better skills and better tools:

  • A larger knowledge-base and a better network (or community of practice) that allows practitioners to tap into the cognition distributed across practitioner networks. In someways practitioners, because they need to be generalist, need a larger knowledge-base than do researchers who can restrict themselves to specialty areas.
  • Skills in problem framing:  re-conextualizing knowledge, hypothesis generation and testing, setting up experimental and other feedback methodology
  • Skills in communication and change management.  Understanding what to do is one thing, understanding how to get it done is another thing entirely.

Better tools. Many article speak like there is broad consensus on what practitioners should do like that consensus already exists.  That does not seem like the paradigmatically defined world of science that I know.  I think there is hard work yet to be done in writing practice standards and guidelines for best practices in most areas.  They are important however, as standards will form the basis for practitioners to be able to create measurement tools to measure how their practices are conforming, creating a deep understanding of their practice.  A measurement tool will also provide a practice compliancy pathway for changing practice.

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