In reviewing Shrivastava (1987), a total of eight criteria are drawn up for assessing the rigor and usefulness of research programs. The first three criteria are involved with the program’s rigor (conceptual adequacy; methodological rigor; accumulated empirical evidence); they relate to the program’s theoretical consistency and empirical sufficiency. The remaining criteria are involved with the program’s practical usefulness (meaningfulness; goal relevance; operational validity; innovativeness; cost of implementation); they relate to the program’s applicability in a real-life decision-making environment. Basically, through these criteria a tacit proposition is being made: research programs succeed in the measure that they manage to reconcile theoretical knowledge (science) with empirical knowledge (practice). In this context, evidence-based management appears to be a methodology that allows for the successful union of rigour and usefulness in the development of a research program. Moreover, it would appear that through evidence-based management the field abandons the field of profession and elevates into becoming a science. This, however, is not the case. Even though evidence-based management does allow for the possibility of eliminating the rigor-relevance gap, it does not convert management into a science; management continues to be a profession given that it is its essential nature.
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First and foremost, in order to determine whether or not a research program can be articulated in a way that eliminates the rigor-relevance gap it is important to acknowledge whether or not it is possible to create knowledge using the aforementioned criteria as a basis. If one were to side with Kieser and Leiner’s assessment, one would have to accept that the rigour-relevance gap “is not only attributable to different languages and styles in the scientific community, but also to different logics – to differences in defining and tackling problems – that prevail in the systems of science and practice” (Kieser and Leiner, 2009, p. 517). If such reasoning is accepted, then it would have to be accepted that eliminating the gap between rigor and relevance/usefulness is impossible, and due to this, equally impossible creating knowledge from a research program that attempts to reconcile them both.
On the other hand, Hodgkinson and Rousseau’s assessment indicates a belief that science and practice are not mutually exclusive, and because of this, it is possible to eliminate the gap between rigor and relevance. Furthermore, they argue that “developing deep partnerships between academics and practitioners, supported by appropriate training in theory and research methods, can yield outcomes that meet the twin imperatives of high quality scholarship and social usefulness, to the mutual benefit of both agendas” (Hodgkinson and Rousseau, 2009, p. 538). Based on this belief, it would be possible to reconcile science and practice; it would be possible to create knowledge based on a research program that is founded on the aforementioned criteria.
Evidence-based management, as it was mentioned, is a methodology that makes it possible to develop knowledge that responds to the criteria used in assessing rigor and practical usefulness. It succeeds in doing it because it transforms principles (based on best available scientific evidence) into organizational practice. In other words, it allows for practicing managers to “develop into experts who make organizational decisions informed by social science and organizational research—part of the zeitgeist moving professional decisions away from personal preference and unsystematic experience toward those based on the best available scientific evidence” (Rousseau, 2006, p. 256). Conversely, Morrell (2008) believes that “the emphasis on evidentially derived interventions seemingly simplifies the relationship between the academy and policy makers” (p. 620). In other words, he believes that stating that evidence-based learning allows for the development of successful practical applications is overly optmistic at best given that the matter is much more complex. True, translating theoretical knowledge into practical application is complicated, but over the years it has become clear that knowledge springs from practice and viceversa; the classic example would have to be the Industrial Revolution, period during which visionary individuals managed to find revolutionary practical applications to scientific knowledge that had been compiled in previous years.
Finally, considering all that has been said thus far, it would seem that management has transcended, going from being a profession to being a science. Such assertion is erroneous, and it is important to analyze it so that it can be seen why it is mistaken. It is true that management relies heavily on academic disciplines; it relies heavily on scientific knowledge. This, however, is common to other professions, such as medicine and law, so assuring that management is a science simply because it is founded on academic disciplines and scientific knowledge proves insufficient an argument. It is important to remember that management is a human activity; it is not an exact, abstract science (like meteorology or physics). Furthermore, “when applied to business-essentially a human activity in which judgments are made with messy, incomplete, and incoherent data-statistical and methodological wizardry can blind rather than illuminate” (Bennis and O’Toole, 2005, p. 99). In science, 2 plus 2 always equals 4; in a profession this will not always be the case. The reason for this is that a profession is conditioned by, and dependent on, human impulses. Decisions rely not only on knowledge, but also on experience, sentiments, beliefs, etc.; there are no absolutes in management, and because of this it is impossible to catalogue it as science.
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