Bringing research and practice together

The US National Science Foundation funded the Collaboratory ( which has the mission to “bring(s) educators and researchers together to develop more equitable innovations for STEM teaching and learning. It is a massive project! I am mentioning it because it hits closest to home on the age-old “bench to bedside” (the medical equivalent) debate that exists in every profession. I think the principles explored in the Research + Practice Collaboratory might have relevance to our discussion. So what are some key questions here:
Trivial: why do researchers not research what practitioners identify as their urgent needs? Why are research results not helpful for practitioners? Why do practitioners not access research results? [All of these questions have some seemingly straightforward answers that can – at times – be misleading in their simplicity. They normally gear us towards better, easier, more digested ways to bring ideas from one side to the other.
Less trivial: What are the values, goals, incentives, etc. that drive practitioners (in all their diversity) and researchers (in all their diversity)? What are fundamentally different ways in which practitioners and researchers think about the same problem (should they even focus on one)? How are researchers deal with “wisdom from practice”?
Really complicated: What is the level of complexity that is inherent to the communication system? [Example: education research is really difficult because a classroom, for instance, is way more complex as a system than, say, a temperate Northern forest – but we do not acknowledge that to our own peril] How does this level of complexity impedes our ability to develop evidence-based heuristics that could guide practice across contexts?
Totally unbelievably complicated: If the answer is 42, what was the question?


4 thoughts on “Bringing research and practice together”

  1. In answer to the trivial question

    The reason researchers don’t investigate the questions practitioners want answered may be because the reward system encourages publication (papers and citations) and not solving problems. (There is an exception – practitioners who conduct their own research to improve their own practice)

    Why do practitioners not access research results? Probably because they find research results irrelevant and unhelpful. And perhaps insulting: an Australian study shows about 80% of sci comm activity is in the deficit category, which researchers explicitly or implicitly categorise as condescending, old-school and ineffective.

  2. Amen! And some SciComm journals make it clear that applied research (which might be based on solving practitioner questions) cannot be published unless embedded, based on, or (best) advancing theory. Of course, practitioners can’t access journal articles hidden behind pay walls and in university libraries, and if they did they would find the reading difficult (even if it addressed relevant questions and could be helpful). Note that I am not against advancing theory or conducting studies based on theoretical frameworks. It is just that not all applied research neatly fits within a clearly defined theoretical framework.
    There is the option to pair research articles with practitioners and discuss – on an associated blog, for instance – the relevance of the research to practice. Not all articles would be appropriate for such an exercise, but it might help…

  3. A recent article by a team in New Zealand addressed some of the reasons that practitioners (or, at least, scientists who want to communicate) find the research literature difficult to use:

    Salmon, Rhian A, Priestley, Rebecca K, & Goven, Joanna. (2017). The reflexive scientist: an approach to transforming public engagement. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 7(1), 53-68. doi:10.1007/s13412-015-0274-4

    [I’ll post the article in a separate thread — I don’t see how to do it in a comment]

  4. Thanks, Toss, could you share the “80%” study from down under? We have just come to very similar, even more extreme results in a highly representative study of scicomm practice in Germany (yet unpublished).

Comments are closed.