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Increasing Relationships Between Academia and HR Industries


Emma Donaldson-Feilder and Rachel Lewis from Affinity Health at Work explore current use of evidence based practise and propose increased collaboration between industry and academia.  

In recent years the Evidence-Based Management and Practice movement has sought to improve the way evidence is used to support practice within Human Resources and Occupational Psychology. 

In this week's post, we suggest that there should be more collaboration between academia and industry to achieve evidence-based practice. We also discuss the limitations of the current model and propose improvements.

The existing evidence-based practice model

In 2009, Rob Briner and colleagues proposed an evidence-based practice model, which describes evidence-based management or evidence-based practice as ‘making decisions through the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of four sources of information’ (Briner et al., 2009, p. 19).

The model suggests that four sources of evidence be used:

  • Practitioner expertise and judgement – for example interviews with managers about their experiences
  • Stakeholders’ preferences or values – the stakeholders will be determined by the problem/question, for example it be may be experts or employers, these insights may not be accessible through the other three types of evidence
  • Context, local evidence – for example collating previous data from the organisation or evidence gathered specifically regarding this question/problem
  • Evaluated external evidence – for example, academic or practitioner research or case studies from comparable organisations with comparable problems
Reading between the lines

The model also suggests that the following steps be used to gather the four types of evidence:

  • Establish clear questions to be addressed
  • Data collection
  • Apply inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Data analysis
  • Develop and test outputs                                                                                                                   

The pros and cons 

Academic and practitioner research both have strengths - academic methodology is designed to be very controlled, replicable and publishable; and practitioner approaches can focus on a very specific situation within an organisation.

However, the control found within academic methodology may limit the applicability of the research to other situations; and the practitioner approach may be too limited in its focus and not draw on a wealth of available evidence regarding that situation.

Using evidence-based practice aims to bring together the strengths of both academic and practitioner approaches, resulting in a broader perspective being taken.                                                                                     


Practical issues when using the model

While the theoretical model is sound, when it is applied practically some issues arise.  In particular, we have found that the application of uniform inclusion/exclusion criteria risks leading to only academic data being used in the solutions and practitioner data being excluded from the analysis.

As mentioned, academic literature is controlled and replicable but limited in breadth. 

By comparison, problems in real organisational contexts are complex and affected by numerous factors; as a result, it is not possible to address organisational issues in an ‘academic’ way as it is not possible to control or replicate conditions.

This in turn means that practitioner findings may not meet the kind of inclusion/exclusion criteria applied to academic research.


An example

We recently used an evidence-based practice approach to carry out research into how to develop positive manager behaviour.

Our study found a clear contrast in the focus of practitioner and academic literature. 

Practitioner literature mainly focused on the methodology of management development – the development and content of the intervention.

In contrast, academic literature focused on the impact of individual differences in the manager participants.

Meanwhile, stakeholder input concentrated on the significance of the organisational context in which the managers worked. 


Inclusion is key

If we had chosen rigorous exclusion criteria such as those applied in systematic reviews, the only data that would have met the exclusion criteria would have been the academic data.  This would have greatly limited our understanding, as examining the academic data alone would have suggested we needed to focus only on the managers. 

The practitioner and stakeholder literature offered essential additional information about management development methodologies and organisational context. 

It was therefore critical that the different sources of data were all used as they brought a variety of approaches and ensured that a practical solution was generated.


A new way of using the evidence-based practice model

To ensure that evidence-based practice achieves its aims of increased collaboration between academia and practice, we suggest that the following guidelines be applied when using the evidence-based practice model:

  • Ensure a broad perspective is taken on the utility of diverse data sources
  • Create relevant exclusion criteria for the different sources of data to allow the best evidence to be gathered within each area
  • Openly and transparently identify the data sources in the outputs

The broader approach recommended here, in which academic and practitioner literature is recognised equally, will help develop solutions that are evidence-based, practical and usable.  It will also challenge academics to take a broader perspective on the questions they address and the approaches they take.


To discuss further, please feel free to contact Emma or Rachel via:








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