Involving Practitioners as Knowledge Partners

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Opportunities, Challenges, and Recommendations

Bridging research and practice is an exciting frontier of management research. It offers tremendous potential — but it’s not always easy.

NBS recently interviewed four researchers who’ve made such bridging a priority. These scholars attended a recent Academy of Management Journal workshop on “New Ways of Seeing.” They described different ways of engaging practitioners, the benefits, and the challenges.

Here are some highlights from the video.

Opportunities from working with practitioners

In collaborating with practitioners, researchers developed new methodologies, gained unique insights, and found research questions relevant to practice.

Angela Passarelli (College of Charleston) studies how to improve coaching in organizations. In her recent research, practitioners — management/leadership coaches — “actually coached for us in the study,” explains Passarelli. Involving the coaches provided validity to the study’s findings. Passarelli also worked with practitioners to make sense of the results. “We find it’s really interesting to understand what [practitioners] find interesting… Those interpretations… help us adjust what our interpretations are.”

Sometimes, the benefits are more personal. Chang Lu (University of Alberta) worked with a prominent Indigenous (First Nations) scholar for his research on how Indigenous populations effect change. His colleague works on Indigenous empowerment as a researcher and community leader; she was able to share both academic and practitioner perspectives. Lu now considers her to be his “Indigenous mother” and she considers him to be her “Chinese son.”

Why don’t all researchers partner with practitioners?

The researchers identified a number of challenges. For example:

Researchers and practitioners speak different languages. Passarelli’s research involved neuroscience; this meant that those involved in the study had to be tri-lingual in the languages of neuroscience, organizational behavior, and practice.

Communication styles may be different. Robin Schnider (University of Zurich) described needing to make best use of practitioners' time. “You have to make sure that you … get feedback on the stuff you really want to because [practitioners] have really limited time. Time is running out really fast.”

Goal alignment can be challenging. As Lu worked with his Indigenous colleague, he found that she and her family focused on making tangible change in the community while his initial goal was to make theoretical contributions.

How can we tackle the challenges?

Amanda Williams (Erasmus University) recommended overcoming challenges by working with practitioners from the very beginning. She explained: “If I were to do it again, I would start … co-creating the research with practitioners…from the research question, trying to get alignment about what the outcome of the research should be.”

Several researchers advocated creating democratic spaces for dialogue. “I think exposure is key,” says Passarelli. Such spaces support two-way conversation and are neutral for both parties.

Lu recommends entering into the world of the practitioners:

“I had to involve myself more deeply in the discussions around First Nations. I went to the communities more often and also I went to the conferences and discussions between Indigenous scholars. Over time, I learned their language and I found that actually when they talk about practical implications, when they talk about how we can actually affect real change, they actually borrow some insights from the work I do. And then over time I learned how to translate my work into language that they could understand and comment on.”

Lu, Passarelli, Williams and Schnider agree: working at the intersection of research and practice is rewarding. Challenges arise, but can be addressed.

What has been your experience in projects that involve researchers and practitioners? Share your perspectives in the comments section.

Resources

NBS provides resources that support co-creation. Stay up-to-date by subscribing to our regularly released Researcher Updates.  Here are several recent products:

You Said, We Listened: What Resources Can Bridge the Research-Practice Gap. In March, NBS asked researchers: "What kinds of resources will help you co-create knowledge with practitioners?" Here's what you told us. We are responding to what we heard in the survey by sharing others’ stories and experiences of co-creation.

How to Maintain Productive Tensions. How can researchers co-create knowledge with practitioners?  Researcher Jean Bartunek describes how different perspectives can spark learning.