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Canadian Scholars Working to Bridge the Perceived Scientist–Practitioner Gap

Tom O’Neill
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
University of Calgary
Whether practitioner or scientist, most of us are aware of the gap between science and practice. That is, the linkage between scientific findings and practical application is not always strong. Barriers include inaccessibility of journal articles, journal articles that are dense and cumbersome, and limited time to keep abreast of current developments in research or practice (see Briner & Rousseau’s [2011] forum on evidence-based practice in I-O psychology). Interestingly, some Canadian scholars have committed themselves to endeavors that aim to communicate research findings in a digestible and usable format for practitioners. I wish to highlight their efforts here because I think they offer a diverse range of avenues for tackling this important issue (see also Silzer & Cober, 2011).
Natalie Allen, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Western Ontario, has been building a network of scientists and practitioners who agreed to receive a regular newsletter. Practitioners interested in understanding the psychology of organizational work teams comprise a major portion of this network. Newsletters contain updates about the research activities in Natalie’s lab, the TeamWork Lab, and are written with the intention of facilitating quick application by practitioners and in sparking their interest in I-O psychology research. Examples of topics covered include Use or Useless, The Truth Behind Teambuilding; Do Great Teams Think Alike?; and Making the Most of your Meetings. These articles have their bases in research findings emerging from studies involving Natalie and her students, as well as from other research groups. The newsletter is, in my view, a textbook example of how to bridge the gap between one’s own research findings and their implementation in practice.
As researchers, sometimes we may find it beneficial to leverage a unique capability, knowledge base, or attribute that can be used to influence practitioners. Consider Francois Chiocchio, an associate professor in industrial and organizational psychology at the Université de Montréal. He has made value-added contributions connecting research with practice through his extensive applied experience and training in project management. He practiced in industry for 10 years and is certified as a project management professional and certified human resources professional. Whereas designations of this sort may not always be seen as instrumental to academicians, they do carry a lot of weight in establishing expertise in the eyes of HR professionals to whom we need to transfer knowledge.
Francois has capitalized on his unique expertise to publish and/or serve as guest editor on the topic of collaboration in work teams in project management journals read by practitioners (e.g., Project Management Journal, International Journal of Project Management), and he is currently editing a book on the
I-O implications for project management work teams (with E. Kevin Kelloway and Brian Hobbs; The Psychology and Management of Project Teams: An Interdisciplinary View). He has initiated panel discussions at SIOP, the Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (CSIOP), and the International Research Network on Organizing Projects. The panelists included leading I-O academics and project management specialists, and conversations focused on what each group could learn from the other. For example, project management inherently involves many I-O principles, but few I-O psychologists have extensively studied projects. It is also interesting that the Project Management Institute certifies and has a network of hundreds of thousands of members interested in talent management, teamwork and collaboration, leadership, selection, recruitment, and so forth. Francois has pointed out that this would seem to be a valuable and largely untapped opportunity for identifying common research interests and for collaborations with practitioners.
Derek Chapman, associate professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Calgary, recently made strides in working to close the scientist–practitioner gap by using his research to develop an online tool that aims to improve person–organization fit. The crux of his approach is to assess applicant personality and organizational culture, and then identify the level of congruence. Derek remarked in the National Post (September 14, 2011) that organizations need to “have proper tools and use evidence-based approaches that actually predict meaningful outcomes.” The objective of his new fit assessments, which contain output that is friendly to consultants and researchers alike, is to minimize turnover and maximize job satisfaction. As reported in the Calgary Herald (September 9, 2011), Derek noted, “It’s like an eHarmony for business.” Derek’s effort is one of those exemplary demonstrations of crossing the chasm between scientists and practitioners. Derek drew from his publications in related articles such as Personnel Psychology, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. The challenge with reports in such journals is that they may be inaccessible to practitioners because of the technical jargon and prohibitive cost of journal articles to individuals not affiliated with an educational institution.
Professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Calgary, Theresa Kline has balanced research with launching and directing an I-O psychology consulting arm, Creating Organizational Excellence, that aims to link organizations with supervised graduate students in order to bring to bear state-of-the-science evidence to real organizational problems. Based on her expertise in research and consulting, Theresa has also written two practitioner-oriented books on teamwork (Teams That Lead, a Matter of Market Strategy, Leadership Skills, and Executive Strength; and Remaking Teams: The Revolutionary Research-Based Guide That Puts Theory Into Practice) and one on assessment (Psychological Testing: A Practical Approach to Design and Evaluation), and she has been in countless media interviews. For example, in the press release for one of her books, Theresa indicated that, “whereas organizations sometimes decide to go the team route because they’ve heard it increases productivity,” her empirical research indicated what most teams researchers today would readily agree with: “a lot of times, people are put into teams without a good sense of why” (Calgary Herald, November 15, 1999). Using media coverage of our recently published articles or books as an outlet for communicating evidence-supported messages to the community would seem to be exceedingly valuable, yet many of us may not always take this important step.
In light of the scientist–practitioner gap, I, too, am conducting a few activities as CSIOP’s Communications Coordinator. First, I am leading an article submission to a magazine called Psynopsis, published by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), in order to feature some of the pressing issues in evidence-based management in I-O. Second, I am developing a “fact sheet” that will be publicly accessible on the CPA website and distributed directly to CSIOP members, with the hope of promoting research findings in I-O that may not yet have infiltrated Canadian practice. Specifically, the topic will be on the use of evidence-based principles in employment interviewing because it is one of the most popular selection tests but practitioners might not typically know how to capitalize on the advantages of structure. Third, I will continue to recognize Canadian I-O members in the news, as I feel that the media is one invaluable medium for communicating our research findings. Finally, I try to make it a priority to spend time in class teaching about evidence-based management and reinforcing it by demonstrating how people’s assumptions are not always borne out empirically. For example, we discuss the practice of using realistic job previews, a procedure that, on the face of it would seem to be helpful for retention but actually, on the average, tends to not be as effective as my students seem to think (Phillips, 1998). More generally, I hope this article provides a sufficiently diverse set of concrete examples outlying strategies I-O academics may use to confront and minimize the scientist–practitioner gap. Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, but we all have unique strengths that can make an important contribution. Please contact me if you have any suggestions!
Briner, R. B., & Rousseau, D. M. (2011). Evidence-based I-O psychology: Not there yet. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 4(1), 3–22.
Phillips, J. M. (1998). Effects of realistic job previews on multiple organizational outcomes: A meta-analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 41, 673–690.
Silzer, R., & Cober, R. (2011). The future of I-O psychology practice, part 3: What should SIOP do? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 48(4), 93–108.