Let’s Have a Serious Conversation about the Science-Practice Divide and Let’s Do Something About It
By Herman Aguinis, U. of Colorado Denver
The purpose of this brief blog editorial is to serve as a catalyst for serious action-oriented exchanges about the impact of I-O psychology and SIOP. Does I-O psychology matter? Does SIOP matter? What is the impact of I-O psychology research on important human-capital trends? To what extent does I-O psychology research inform the work of practitioners? To what extent is I-O psychology research fulfilling SIOP’s mission to “enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings by promoting the science, practice, and teaching of industrial-organizational psychology”?
My colleague Wayne Cascio and I have been thinking about and researching these questions in depth (For more information on this research, see Aguinis, H., & Cascio, W. F. (2008) here and Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2008) here.) We reviewed 5,780 articles published in Journal of Applied Psychology and Personnel Psychology from 1963 to 2007 to consider this problem in greater detail. Our conclusion: “(I)f we extrapolate past emphases in published research to the next 10 years, we are confronted with one compelling conclusion, namely, that I-O psychology will not be out front in influencing the debate on issues that are (or will be) of broad organizational and societal appeal. It will not produce a substantial body of research that will inform HR practitioners, senior managers, or outside stakeholders, such as funding agencies, public-policy makers (including elected officials), or university administrators who control budgets.”
Wayne and I strongly believe that a change in course is clearly needed. Researchers can make conscious choices now to understand current and emerging human-capital issues more deeply, as well as the contextual constraints that managers face and the needs of organizational members, and to use their well-honed research skills to conduct research that addresses those trends and informs the debate over the relative merits of alternative positions. Yet the changes needed are more than simply motivational. Certainly the incentive structure of academic research is unlikely to be altered substantially in the near future, which could be a big impediment for change, given that performance management systems can shape the culture and orientation of organizations and entire professions. Similarly, some other colleagues and I addressed the issue (see Aguinis, H., Werner, S., Abbott, J. L., Angert, C., Park, J. H., & Kohlhausen, D. [in press]) by proposing a new way to report research results, labeled customer-centric science, consisting of three interdependent steps:
1. Set an alpha level (i.e., a priori Type I error rate) that considers the relative seriousness of falsely rejecting a null hypothesis of no effect or relationship (i.e., Type I error) relative to not detecting an existing effect or relationship (i.e., Type II error) and reporting the actual observed p-value (i.e., probability that the data would be obtained if the null hypothesis is true);
2. Report estimates of the size of the effect or relationship, which indicate the extent to which an outcome is explained or predicted; and
3. Report results of a qualitative study to gather evidence regarding the practical significance of the effect or relationship.
Our proposal to report research results with rigor, relevance, and practical impact involves important changes in how we report research results with the goal to bridge the science-practice gap.
What can researchers do to enhance the impact of their work? What can practitioners do to enhance SIOP’s impact? What can researchers and practitioners do together to improve the impact and influence of I-O psychology? Let’s get the conversation going!