I am a card-carrying member of the scholar-practitioner special interest group in the Academy of Human Resource Development and a big advocate of grounding my everyday work in the research and theoretical underpinnings of our field. But I’ve caught myself maybe not doing that when I should.
I’ve recently had occasion to try to conceptualize some pretty tricky activities in our work – how we create a business case, how we “do” instructional design, how to use social media for learning, how we think about questioning in the context of consulting… What I have been able to do, I think, is craft solid explanations that are very practical and easy to understand. I’ll give myself applause there. But what I started to wonder was whether these explanations about “what works” were grounded in theory and research.
Grounding our work usually involves outreach to find the research studies and theoretical models that can help us clearly conceptualize a practice and give us guidelines to ensure effectiveness. I didn’t do that outreach in these instances. But I have a great deal of experience in these areas, and I know if I had to find research support for the ideas that I have put together, I certainly could. What I realized is that while I didn’t actually go looking for other models and study results, I wasn’t exactly flying blind because I do keep up with writing in our field.
Still, even though the material I’ve put together is supportable, I bet it would have been stronger if I had taken the time to validate my thinking against the thinking of others who write on the same concepts and issues. We professionals keep up a constant balancing act between getting our work done quickly and taking time to study the matter. I realize that the “stuff” I absorb from reading and attending conferences helps me a great deal in being able to respond quickly with a level of confidence. At the same time, I don’t want to let myself off the hook that easily. Grounding work in research and theory isn’t just for the high profile projects; it’s for the everyday ones as well.
In this day and age, we have internet tools at our disposal that can really help us to find articles and other materials with just a few keystrokes. I need to get more in the habit of taking just an hour or so at the start of these kinds of day-to-day projects to get the lay of the land in terms of what other academics and practitioners have discovered in their own work. It will make my own practices more robust and effective in the long run, and being able to discover a foundation others have laid will certainly be worth my time.
PS – If this kind of think is important to you, consider attending the Emerging Scholars Pre-Conference at the Academy of HRD conference later this month. I’m one of the presenters, and I’m really excited about the program that we’ve put together.