Bridging the Gap: The Oxford Review on the problem of academic-practitioner distance

David Wilkinson, Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Review, has written an incredibly insightful piece on the gap between the world of research and that of business– what he deems the “academic-practitioner distance.” It both underscores the mission of Ethical Systems and spotlights the reasons why it is in the best interest of both communities to close this chasm.

Wilkinson shows how “The gap isn’t just a physical one, [extending to] a gap of perspective, language, understanding and thinking.” 

Each group has its own fences that keep learning siloed. Wilkinson explains that for practitioners:

“They are immersed in the day to day challenges and issues faced. They are, however, part of the culture and, as a result, things are often hiding in plain sight. Further, regardless of remonstrations to the opposite, they are subject to the pressures of the politics of the organisation and their departments / functions.”

And for academics:

“There is no doubt that our universities conduct valuable and useful research that can help organisations become much more effective. In fact they produce lots of useful research that organisations could use. As the call for more evidence based practice increases, and with good reason, a rather large problem arises. Hardly anyone outside of academia has access to the research, has the time to find it, and even if they do find it understanding it is a nightmare. There is a very real and damaging academic – practitioner distance.”

The main issue, as Wilkinson points out, is that “the people with the more pure forms of objective (-ish) evidence are in academic institutions and the people with the grounded know-how of the realities are in the organisations, with a few bridging the gap…Given that most practitioners and consultants don’t have the time or expertise to find, translate and turn the research into something useful and practical it’s like we have two different universes operating next to each other, both largely ignoring the other.” 

Further, as Wilkinson points out, “The best and most up-to-date evidence, based on good research using the very latest techniques can take years to permeate into the workplace, if indeed it ever does. We frequently find really useful and potentially game changing research that has been published in some obscure journal that hasn’t even been cited by other academics, let alone seen by practitioners.” This gets to the heart of why we see such a gap in the knowledge and application of lessons from relevant research

We appreciated that Wilkinson cautions that previous partnerships between organizations and universities have been more “transactional than mutually transformational,” explaining “Universities see organisations as a potential source of funding and data, and organisations see universities as a source of external consultation and the odd research project. This is not a transformational relationship.” Industries like aviation and medicine, however, represent a more ideal picture of how ongoing research and real world application can function hand in hand.

This is the gap that Professors Jonathan Haidt and Linda Trevino recognized in their piece in Nature Human Behavior: Make Business Ethics a Cumulative Science. Wilkinson’s piece spotlights the fissure Ethical Systems is looking to fill in the area of business ethics research, with thoughtful curation of research by leaders in their field and the creation of new tools that help companies benefit from the peer review and validation processes that academic work depends on. Our mission is to blend the best of both approaches to provide opportunities to build better societies through ethical business behavior.

We urge you to read the entire piece on the Oxford Review here >>


*Academic-Practitioner Distance, illustration courtesy of David Wilkinson