The Practitioner-Research Divide Beyond Marketing

Neil Anderson and his colleagues has given a lot of thought to the divide between research and practice in Industrial, Work and Organizational (IWO) Psychology. While I don’t know much about this discipline a lot of the problems seem quite familiar.

They note problems within psychology with a trend towards parts of the discipline with higher impact factors and higher publication rates. This is challenging because it is somewhat self-reinforcing. (Trends towards a sub-discipline publishing more increase impact factors which strengthen the trend).

One interesting piece of analysis they do is on academic-practitioner publication and they note a major drop off in all practitioner publications over time in some of their major journals. (This analysis is hard to do perfectly as some journals were created later and seem especially academic heavy but the idea is pretty clear.) “Collaborative papers between academics and practitioners have remained at a low, but relatively constant level” (Anderson, Herriott and Hodgkinson, 2001, page 397).

These authors blame stakeholders for driving research down an unhelpful path. They outline four quadrants and argue stakeholder incentives are driving towards Puerile Science. Their model is helpful to envisage what they mean.

“We present a simple 2 x 2 model along the dimensions of relevance and rigour, with the four cells occupied by Popularist, Pragmatic, Pedantic, and Puerile Science, respectively. We argue that there has been adrift away from Pragmatic Science, high in both relevance and rigour, towards Pedantic and Popularist Science, and through them to Puerile Science.” (Anderson, Herriott and Hodgkinson, 2001, page 391). I guess you can guess that a lot of academic work is in the pedantic box, very well done but essentially pointless.

This drive to the puerile isn’t in the long term interests of the stakeholders but it happens. They note the familiar problem of academics acting as gatekeepers and how this can drive academia towards irrelevance.

They see the solution as collective action to ensure Pragmatic Science dominates their field. I’m not as optimistic as I might be but let us hope.

Read: Neil Anderson, Peter Herriot, and Gerard P. Hodgkinson. “The practitioner‐researcher divide in Industrial, Work and Organizational (IWO) psychology: Where are we now, and where do we go from here?.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 74, no. 4 (2001): 391-411.