Chapter 10: The Challenges of Practice-Oriented Research

by Claire Williams and Paul M. Salmon

Practitioner summary

Practice-oriented research looks to produce knowledge that practitioners and others can do something with, rather than simply to further describe a problem. However, using research to generate instrumental knowledge is challenging; there are constraints impacting practice-oriented research and they are imposed by both the research and practice sectors. The challenge is to help solve practical problems whilst at the same time ensure that the research undertaken is publishable. Issues that make practice-oriented research problematic concern funding; framing the problem for industry; choosing an appropriate methodology; publishing and practitioner access to academic literature. Solutions can be found by open and honest dialogue up-front to ensure expectations are managed; offering post-graduate research posts to provide longer term studies at reduced costs; building in contingencies from the start and remaining flexible and adaptable throughout. This chapter explores some of these challenges, outlining some of the major constraints concerning during practice-oriented research and offering practical advice for researchers and practitioners interested in practice-oriented research projects.

Chapter quotes

“We view the line between research and consultancy as a blurred one, with no consistent divide between methods or question types allowing for certain categorisation.”

“In a practitioner setting … research is triggered by more immediate business needs and questions. This can mean that research into these problems is far less fundable and publishable, though its application to practice is much more apparent.”

“Industry partners often want a problem solved as quickly and as cheaply as possible, emphasising efficiency. Academics often want to solve the problem with an intricate methodology or even a new approach and then gather more data to demonstrate they have solved the problem, emphasising thoroughness.”

“In some cases, the very concept of university-driven research can ring alarm bells. The timelines are much longer, the methodologies are intricate and can be confusing, funders may lose intellectual property to the university, and researchers want to tell everybody about the work and evaluate its impact.”

“[The] ability to summarise and apply the research findings is a key attribute of good HF/E advisors, taking the knowledge from theory into practice (Williams & Haslam, 2011).”


Practitioner Reflections

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About drclairewilliams

I am a senior consultant at Human Applications and Visiting Research Fellow in Human Factors and Behaviour Change at the University of Derby. Most of my work just now deals with leadership and culture in the health and safety realm; trying to support organisations to take a systems approach to understanding behaviour. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @claire_dr
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