Bridging the Divide: When Research Speaks—And Listens—To Practice

Published date01 July 2019
Date01 July 2019
Bridging the Divide: When Research Speaks—And Listens—To Practice 461
When we assumed our post as editors- in-
chief, one of the challenges we considered
at length was how to bridge the gap
between the glacial pace of academic research and
the pressing needs of practitioners who confront
the realities of daily problem solving. PAR is unique
among journals in its appeal to both stakeholder
groups, which provides the opportunity to confront
our challenge head on. The pressures of academic
publishing are intense; the focus on citations, two-
and five-year impact factors, and even new indicators
like Altmetric (a measure of media and social media
impact) influence the bottom line. As a result,
published research is judged primarily on the extent
to which it speaks to the research community. Good
research draws on established studies, orients itself
around gaps in the record, and expands theory; the
model neither regards nor rewards a concern for
practice. The slow pace of research does not align well
with the short-term focus of public and nonprofit
managers. Its production makes it less useful for day-
to- day decisions. However, if the practical focus was
on topics that have already been studied, on strategic
decisions, and on instrumental (“how?”) questions,
then research suddenly has more to offer.
Emergent challenges are reshaping the traditional
academic publishing model. Movements in Europe
have already manifested in national requirements
for academic publication to be open access—a
movement that will broaden considerably before it
begins to contract. Many publications that pioneered,
or persevered, the initial demand for open access
publication suffer in quality and lack the constraints
of page budgets and production costs. This process
implies that there is no mandate to choose stronger
pieces or those that might have greater long-term
impact. Nonetheless, PAR provides open access
publication options to authors, and we frequently
make material available in gratis virtual issues or in
conjunction with current events. In light of these
challenges, we are increasingly aware that quality
matters if we are to ensure our journal’s survival into
the far distant future. PAR’s 79-year history has been
built on quality, rigor, and impact; its future will be
no different.
Speaking of making research more accessible, this
issue features two open access research articles. The
first, by Zhu, Huang, and Zhang (2019), provides a
text analysis of comments in response to a national
campaign-style anticorruption effort in China to
evaluate citizen perceptions of officials referred to
as “big tigers.” Next, Ingrams and Schachter (2019)
explore the use of electronic participation as it relates
to municipal corruption. We hope that the open
access format makes their work more accessible to you
for use in research and teaching.
In March 2019, we participated in a dialogue hosted
by the National Academy of Public Administration
in conjunction with the Volker Alliance. One of the
themes of that conversation—in which prominent
academics and practitioners participated—was the
perception that research is too slow to be useful to
practitioners. This suggests that stakeholders on
both sides are likely not speaking to the same type of
research or the time at which it might be consulted.
One telling comment intimated an age-old concern
that practitioners do not have the time or patience to
be concerned with p-values—they just need to know
what works. Many ideas have been promulgated over
time, including changing to a publication model that
caters to practitioners. We think the latest chapter of
this timeless conversation is capable of deeper and
more sophisticated understanding and should produce
more than a superficial acknowledgment of the
concern for practice in our work.
While we are unable to offer a lock-step model
to solve this problem, or even concrete steps, our
conversations thus far have suggested a range of
possible actions that will advance this cause. We
explore them below. We think the first consideration
in reaching practitioners is rigor and quality. Readers
of the evidence source—in this case, an academic
Bridging the Divide:
When Research Speaks—And Listens—To Practice
Jeremy L. Hall
R. Paul Battaglio
University of Central Florida
The University of Texas at Dallas
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 4, pp. 461–464. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13087.

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