Home > Creativity, education, management, research > Reflections on closing the gap between practitioners and scholars

Reflections on closing the gap between practitioners and scholars

We are having a discussion in our doctoral cohort about the gap between  practitioners and scholars.

Here my thoughts on closing the gap between practitioners and scholars:

1. A post-positivist might want to confirm the gap exists, measure its dimensions, identify possible causes for the existence of it, and hypothesize if the cause and effect relationships between environmental conditions and the existence of gaps, and thereby add to the growing “Gap Theory”

2. A constructivist might focus on who believes there is a gap, what the consequences of calling the difference in perspectives a “gap” does to shape our interpretation of the situation, especially if it is interpreted as either a problem or an opportunity, and then proceed into identifying who has an interest in creating, maintaining, reducing, developing the gap, and how the meaning created by social belongs influences other related processes.

3. A pragmatist might say: “Given a gap, what can we, ought we, might we do about it”, and offer to chair an initial inquiry meeting to see what’s up, given resources and a priority list for action.

4. A phenomenologist might want to look at how the consequences of a perceived gap generate consequences in an organization, and what gives these actions power and momentum and magnitude.

5. A narrative inquiry method might be used to examine the stories being told throughout an organization and see how they reinforce or undermine the dominant

6. A critical theorist might examine the underlying Zeitgeist to find the deep meaning of the word “gap” and how our choice of words reveal the unspoken context that is shaping our collective boundaries and blinding us to what is really going on


My own initial response was to frame your question into a systems dynamics model, and represent the domain of theory and practice. I thought about the boundaries of the domains, the character of the agents within each domain and their self created and inferred identities and typical behaviors.

I thought about the flow of information between these nodes in a human network and about what happens to the equilibriums when the relationships are changed.

I thought about how under conditions of complexity that organizations and relationships form in response to environmental pressures.

I thought about how people infer meaning and attribute purpose to structures and conditions that can occur without design or intention, but once present take on meaning as if they actually were fully intended.

I remember Weber’s article describing how agents of each domain characterize members of the other domains and how these characterizations from a distance can contain type 1 and 2 errors, and errors of omission and commission, which can serve different purposes.

Having constructed a framework, and an ontology for this situation (theory) I proceeded to evaluate the quality of it and decide if there is something that could, should, might be done and how an effort to make the change might proceed and who might be involved, and how a combination of qualitative and quantitative research might support the effort to achieve practical results for humans and their world.

I checked in with my own beliefs and think there is a gap, based on my personal experience and narratives, and since I am taking this program I evidently think it’s worth doing something about with a considerable investment of time, money and sweat. 😀

Since I tend to think in these ways, I think I can be classified as a pragmatist with systems thinking tendencies with a bias for mixed methods, a respect for post-positivist objectivity, a humility and empathy for the constructionists’ human condition, and a sense of wonder at the power of the interpretivists’ insights into the power and consequences of language, which is both a tool for direct action and communication, and a shaper of the reality we live in, if not the reality itself.

Short answer: I can see the value-add of degrees of separation between scholars and practitioners, in the same way medicine benefits from having both specialists and GPs.

Problems/situations come at us in both forms (specialized and messy), and the variation in skill sets is a healthy and robust adaptation. The value-add comes at a cost of requiring continuous communication and cross training, and interpreters who can ensure the knowledge-in-action network is healthy and that the information can flow freely and quickly to the node calling for help. 😀

  1. Terry Lesniak
    July 13, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    The “practitioner” seems to move the “scholar” forward through trial and error, reality rather than theory, but what does that equate to as an adaptive process moves somewhere between a random and non-random sequence? Not only is the process you’re examining changing, but so is the “practitioner” who is becoming “one” with the process.

    Reading the market isn’t as difficult as getting ahead of the “curve” as that read may apply, but the implication is based on something that isn’t there yet.

    With today’s ES market, what seemed like a range-bound event early on, turned into a powerful rally. If you were able to visualize price hanging up near the top of the early range with selling drying up, you would have been long and able to take advantage of the ES markets early tell and made a substantial profit.

    Reading the “story” of the market and “adapting” to that, is what the “practitioner” has over the “scholar.”


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