A Marketing Plan for Promoting Evidence-based Management

What is needed for Evidence-based management to be a relevant business concept.  I believe it will move in that direction when managers can clearly understand the incentives for using it, when they easily understand how to translate and integrate it into their current responsibilities, and when they understand how to change the relevant behaviors.  This issuer can be seen as a marketing problem and, as said by Nancy R. Lee (2009), “words alone don’t often change behaviors.  We need products, and incentives, and convenient distribution channels as well”.  (Nancy’s topic is social marketing to alleviate poverty and associated problems, but the principles can equally apply to a poverty of business acumen, a topic that should include EBMgnt).  Lee’s recommended approach in this podcast is a standard market approach broken down into a 10 step plan:
A Ten step Marketing Plan
  1. Provide a clear rationale and statement of purpose
  2. Conduct a situational analysis with organizational strengths and weaknesses and environmental opportunities and threats
  3. Segment the heterogeneous market; then choose, prioritize and strategize for the needs of specific target audiences.
  4. Identify the behavior(s) to be changed, emphasizing simple and doable tasks.
  5. Listen to the voice of the customer for perceived barriers and reasons why they do not perform the behavior now.
  6. Form a positioning statement describing how you wish the audience to view the behavior and its benefits.
  7. Develop a strategic mix of marketing tools that include the right: product, price/ incentive, placing and promotion
  8. Develop a plan to evaluate outcomes.
  9. Budget for implementation
  10. Plan how the campaign will role out.
This approach wold most likely fall under consultative model of business services.  Besides marketing to specific segments of the management services market, it would also require the development of quality products that can support the needed behaviors and understandings.  These products are likely to be mostly educational and conceptual in nature and would include concepts to help scaffold needed changes to behaviors and business processes.  Also need would be additional appropriate distribution channels to build on the recognition and pre-knowledge of concepts.  These could be business schools or professional organizations and publications.
I find this approach interesting because:
  • It acknowledges the difficulty in changing behavior and understandings,
  • It acknowledges that the goals of managers and researchers are different and
  • It acknowledges that academic and scientific research would benefit from a well-formed translation strategy.
It would be nice to know if anyone can see any problems with an approach such as this, or would know of any other similar approaches.
Nancy R. Lee on How Social Networking Can Create Change for the Poor, podcast accessible on itunes or at http://www.whartonsp.com/podcasts/episode.aspx?e=04d8fe16-c7e4-45be-a441-7d33a83384e8

Educational Reform through Non-linear Active Pedagogy

My last post on representational choices was not about philosophy as much as it was about pedagogy, bringing educational methods closer to performance (replacing a focus on the ability to know with a focus on the ability to do).  A closely related tangent to that discussion are recent moves away from linear reductionist approaches to teaching to active holistic approaches.

First was Sir Ken Robinson’s web video on the need for emphasizing creativity in education.  His message for educational reform can be summarized as the need to replace standardization and conformity with personalization.  Conformity was an emphasis of education during the industrial age, but the information age requires innovation, creativity and diversity.  Technology can enable personalization in education that supports these ends and this is the direction in which education should move.

A second reform that seems to be in progress now is the proliferation of freshman seminars, undergraduate research courses, learning communities, and other types of liberal arts pedagogy that is non-linear and introduces students early on in acts of doing intellectual work, as opposed to learning about intellectual work.  (Reference – Liberal Education Takes a New Turn)  As I’ve noted before, acting and thinking are very closely associated with each other in the neurological networks we call our brains. Learning to do something is very natural and easy. Learning about something, and then expecting that to lead to an ability to do, is very awkward as a human learning process.  All of these new pedagogies looks at big issues holistically and builds performance skills while looking at these big issues.  This is also similar to a previous post where I looked at Indiana U’s new pedagogy in their history department using decoding the disciplines.  They also are to replace the knowledge of history with an ability to do history (through interpretation evidence and argument).

This does not mean that all attempts to reduce learning to small chunks that are structured linearly are wrong or misguided.  It is more a dialectic approach where the minds seems to be helped by both a linear reduced progression of knowledge, but only as it is overlaid upon a holistic view that is oriented toward action and respects the individual intellectual diversity that is natural in all human populations.

More on Representations and Doing

My last post was not advocating that we abstain from all representations in education and assessment; that is simply not possible.  What I am advocating is for a carefully evaluation of the representations we choose and how we choose use them.

In example: it’s common to engage in classroom training, based on representations of work actions, with follow up assessments based on recall of those representations.  We are not really interested in representation recall, we’re interested in performance.  Many recall items have limited validity for actual performance or at least this correspondance has not been evaluated.  It is easy to assess if these representations can be recalled, but what do we care if simple recall has a limited impact on performance.  The actual actions needed in the work setting frequently have limited correspondence to the classroom representations and as a result have limited utility.

A better way is to provide multiple ways to support work actions that can include classroom activities, but can also include informal social media tools, communities of performance, searchable web-based tutorial and onsite performance support tools like coaching and collaborative teams.  These tools will likely make use of representations, but those representations will be more closely related to the actual actions required.  With learning assessments and with educational programs, it is always better to choose representations that are more closely related to and valid for actual performance.

Another example is Liz Coleman’s (President of Bennington College) TED Talk regarding the reinvention of liberal art education.  She proposes a more active program of education.  Instead of learning about what ever subject is at focus, it is about learning to actively do.  Rhetoric, design, mediation and other ways of doing education gain prominence because of the ability to actively do intellectual work; to act on challenges, not to recall words (representations) that  are useful only for talk about challenges.  Her great takeaway line: “There is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators”.  What is needed are participants.

There Is No Learning without Doing

Learning is doing as doing is learning.  The primary biological purpose of neurological activity is found in how it is associated with motor activity in ways that allow an organism to couple with its environment through movement (Maturana, H.R. & Varela,1992).  The problem with many educational activities is in how they over emphasize representation and under emphasize the activity that is the true target of learning.  Most classroom activities focus on manipulating symbols and leads to the recall of these symbolic representations.  Problems occur in the gap frequently seen between representations and an inability ability to act based on those representations.  What is needed instead is a holistic approach that creates a new portfolio of actions to replace an old portfolio (Zeleny, 2008).  The outcome of learning activities, the test of learning if you will, should be the performance of new activities not the recall of representations.  Zeleny gives an example of this type of thinking through his assessment approach to strategy.  Strategy is not found in plans and statements.  It is found in the action a company takes.  If you want to know what a company’s strategy is, look at the actions they take and the structure of those actions.  Do not look at what they say.  Talking does not convey their strategy, acting does.

Workplace learning is moving beyond the classroom to a holistic approach to performance improvement.  Emphasizing learning transfer is not going to significantly help performance unless it can recognize that learning is about doing, not in grasping representations of doing.  Real learning is not learning about doing, it is learn to do.  Classroom training may occupy a small part of any program, but most training and performance support must focus on the location where actions are performed and focus what is actually needed to support doing.


Zeleny, M. (2008). Strategy and strategic action in the global era: overcoming the knowing-doing gap International Journal of Technology Management, 43, 64-75.

Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J. (1992). The Tree of Knowledge: THe Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Doing Development in the Workforce: the Integration of Talent, Organization and Economic Development

I believe that workplace and adult learning is the intellectual location where society can focus in making the largest functional gains for society development and economic progress.  It’s not that K-16 and graduate education are not important, it’s just that tradition learning institutions have received the bulk of study, while workplace learning has been relatively ignored.  First, I’m perceiving that the terms and definitions of workplace learning are not clear or well defined.  Training, talent development, human resource management, knowledge management, organizational learning, organizational development, etc. . .; individually these areas tend to be ill-defined and together contain many overlapping and duplicate commitments.  Understanding what’s going on requires looking more at the goals of specific actions rather than understanding the terms that are given.

For me, this is the beginning a research project to try to better understand this general area as a personal development project for 2010.  Initial ideas and biases that I’m bringing to this project will constitute initial posts.

Development – I’m going to focus on development as an over-riding term to understand this area, which I will define as the cognitive, intellectual, moral or social aspects of people and their contexts as they come to perceive, understand, and act in ways that change or expand the scope or complexity of their function in specific contexts over time.  Note the highlighted people and their contexts above.  Action or behavior is a function of people and their contexts and it’s generally useless to try to separate where the effects of people start and the effects of contexts end.  The development any organism is always directed toward it’s environment and, functionally, the organizism is the development of the environment is just as critical as the development of the organism. The function of a person is structurally linked to the environment.  Developing talent in any organization must also be accompanied by development in the organization.  If one person is to develop by increasing the complexity in which they are able to function, than the organization (i.e. other people) must also develop to handle that increasing complexity.  For instance, there is no principled disjunction between talent development and organizational development; they must proceed hand-in-hand.  This is clearly supported by Barab and Plucker (2002) who draw on ecological psychology, situated cognition, distributed cognition, activity theory, and legitimate peripheral participation to support this idea.  From a common sense perspective you can understand that when an employee who is able to respond to his environment with more adapted complex ways, the organization must also respond to and understand this new level of complexity too.  Since an organization is structured by its relationships (Maturana & Verela, 1992), changing the relationships changes the organization.  Individual learning must also be accompanied by team learning and any individual than learns must be responsible for passing this along to his team and to the organization.  Individual development, team development and organizational development must be one integrated process.

Next up I hope to explore the phrase “All doing is knowing and all knowing is doing” (Maturana & Verela, 1992, p. 27)


Barab, S.A. & Plucker, J.A., (2002).  Smart People or Smart Contexts? Cognition, Ability, Talent Development in an Age of Situated Approaches to Knowing and Learning, Educational Psychologists, 37(3), 165-182.

Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J. (1992). The Tree of Knowledge: THe Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Philweb, The Human Being: Definitions: Developmental Psychology; http://www.phillwebb.net/topics/human/HumanDef.htm

Frames for Using Evidence: Actions, Processes and Beliefs

As a follow-up to my last post, there are three frames of reference that are important to my thinking about being evidence-based.

  1. The unit of analysis is action, not thinking.  Evidence-based programs are often focussed on decision-making, but action is a better focal point.  Why is this?  First, focusing on actions helps to make a direct connection from evidence to consequences and outcomes.  Second, Our actions and thinking are closely related.  Actions gets at both thinking and acting.  Neuroscience has recently begun to confirm what psychology (Vygotsky) and philosophy (Wittgenstein) have believed for a while: that cognition is closely tied to muscle control and acting.  That there is a neurological link between doing and thinking.
  2. Evidence-based information is best directed toward practices, processes or programs. Much of the evidence-based literature is directed toward decision-making. and while this is important, many aspects of practice are made up of decision that are organized by repeatable processes, programs or protocols.  The intense effort that is sometimes needed in order to be evidence-based may be more justified in the wider effect sen in focusing on the programs and processes that support everyday decision-making.
  3. The basis for most thoughtful actions is theory or belief. These may range from extensively developed nomothetic theoretical networks to well-founded beliefs, but the relevance of evidence-based information is on it’s effect upon these beliefs and theories that in turn guide decisions and program actions.  There is no such thing as facts without theory or belief.  The role of evidence is to support (or fail to support) the beliefs that underly actions.

4 Types of Evidence-based Practitioner Information Needs

This is a thought in development, not a finished product.  I currently can think of 4 different types of evidence-based information that would be of interest practitioners: the structure of practice, the scope of practice, the applicability  (the level of confidence that the evidence is applicable to your specific context), and the measured consequences of practice (intended or unintended).
1. Form – How should my practice be structured according to the evidence from best practice models and all forms of evidence.  What do we know about how the practice or protocol should be structured.  Is there evidence for a correspondence between the theoretical proscribed structure and the actual practice I’m reviewing.
2. Scope – What different aspects should be included in my practice.  What different types of actions are important for goal achievement.  Does my local process include all aspects demonstrated to be important in a successful practice.
3. Applicability – Do the models generalize well to my specific situation.  Just because research was valid for college sophomores does not necessarily mean I should have confidence that the evidence generalizes to my situation.
4. Consequential – Are my local measures consistent with and confirm what the evidence predicts should happen. Include intended and unintended consequences.  In addition to external research information, local measures should  also be an important source for generating evidence.

Concept clarification of Evidence-Based Management

My current series of post are centered on clarifying the meaning of being evidence-based and a recent article (Briner, Denyer & Rousseau, 2009) falls right in line with this task.  The article focusses on 4 key points in clarifying EBMgmt.

1. EBMgt (Evidence-based Management) is something done by practitioners, not scholars.

One caveat here, the implication that practitioniers do not need to be scholars.  The type of scholarship and scholarly activity may be different, but evidence-based practice is based on scientific inquiry and requires a certain level of knowledge and thought.  People often talk of this being a knowledge age, which if true, will mean that more and more people need a better understanding of various forms of scholarship.  Understanding science is often a foundation of educational programs designed to prepare evidence-based practitioners.  The scientific tasks of practitioners will be different than other types of scholarship.  It is scholarship focused on what’s relevant to practice and it’s true that practitioners often find current scholarship irrelevant, but there is a type of scholarship that will drive the evidence-based movement.

2.EBMgt is a family of practices, not a single rigid formulaic method.

Determining the validity of one’s practice focuses on the total context of practice.  Both it’s method and the type of evidence required is multifaceted.

3. Scholars, educators, and consultants can all play a part in building the essential supports for the practice of EBMgt. To effectively target critical knowledge and related resources to practitioners, an EBMgt infrastructure is required; its development depends on the distinctive knowledge and skills found in each of these communities.

Well said!  I also hope that we see related innovative thinking in these communities as well.

4. Systematic reviews (SRs) are a cornerstone of EBMgt practice and its infrastructure, and they need to possess certain features if they are to be informative and useful.

I believe the infrastructure needs should focus on systematic reviews that go beyond what work in a simplistic fashion.  It should focus on the total needs of practitioners who are developing their practice by means of scientific inquiry.  Major et al (2009) in the December issue of American Psychologist is a good example of a through review process.  Their article reviews the empirical research on the links between abortion and women’s mental health, a highly contested and politicalized issue.  They first look at how relevant concepts and research questions have been framed by various studies.  They consider various problems with the data before analyzing the results organized by different parameters.  Because of their comprehensive approach, their conclusions not only provide a good empirical summation, but will also contribute to practitioners’ understanding of the relevant issues from a number of different perspectives and how it might relate to different practices.

My next post will focus on what types of knowledge (and hence what type of infrastructure) might be needed by the scientific inquiry of practitioners.


Major, B., Applebaum, M., Beckman, L., Duton, M.A., Russo, N.F. & West, C. (2009). Abortion and Mental Health: Evaluating the Evidence, American Psychologist, Vol 64 (9) pp.863-890

Briner, R.B., Denyer, D. & Rousseau, D.M., (2009). Evidence-Based Management: Concept Cleanup Time? Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 23(4), pp. 19-32.