Bridging the data divide between practitioners and academics

By Tor W. Andreassen

13 November 2019 09:38

(updated: 30 April 2020 09:52)

Bridging the data divide between practitioners and academics

Approaches to collaborating better to leverage each other’s resources.

Many organizations drown in data while seeking managerially relevant insights.

At the same time academics deal with decreasing respondent participation and escalating costs of data collection while seeking to increase the managerial relevance of their research.

Against this background a recently published article in Journal of Service Management investigates how practitioners (data gatherers) and academics (data hunters) can collaborate and leverage each other’s resources for the joint benefit.

Amongst other areas the article investigates the problems with regards to choosing a research problem and how to overcome them.

What is the problem?

When choosing research questions practitioners and academics often have different expectations with regard to the generalizability of the research meaning the extent of applicability to various contexts and its specificity meaning the scope of the project.

Practitioners are particularly interested in solving their organizations’ pressing problems that are naturally embedded in a particular context, so e.g. they want redesign their new pricing structure.

However, academics seldomly care about a certain context, industry, or country the aim to develop general knowledge that holds beyond an empirical context meaning they want to generate knowledge about pricing structures that is generalizable. In fact, a very specific context is usually a liability in publishing this research, because of its relevance to a limited target group.

Further, academics usually like to go into detail on a very specific aka narrow question, e.g. price matching guarantees and cancel out the noise of exogenous and confounding factors (specific, small picture). Managerial problems however are usually multifaceted and complex meaning they are not only depended on various exogeneous factors, but also impact them (unspecific, big picture).

How can the problem be overcome?

We recommend to bring in practitioners early in the research process and co-develop research questions. This is in line with most of the service research center members conducting some type of co-creation workshops and events that bring practitioners and academics with an interest in a general research topic together to jointly develop research questions.

If a researcher already has a very specific question we recommend to frame your research question in context-specific way. For example, for researcher’s car sharing might “only” the empirical context, since they aimed to generalize their findings to the sharing economy at large, but they need to adapt the abstraction level of the research problem in communications with practitioners.

Third, we recommend to think in terms of 2-in-1 solutions, for example to spark interest of a potential collaboration partner and in exchange for e.g. funding or data access, researchers can offer to add various aspects to the research design (e.g. items to the questionnaire) that are purely of interest to the company to satisfy the needs of both.

With regards to the scope of the research we recommend having an explicit exchange about the expectations of the key objectives of the research, its scope, and the process, including discussing the differences in the roles of consultants versus academics: Consultants are paid to address the objectives of the client company, so tailored solutions and switching the goalposts (including the research problem) during the project are feasible, although usually costly.

By contrast, when researchers collaborate with an organization there will usually be a goal overlap, but it is very unlikely that the aims of the researchers are fully aligned with those of the company.

Lastly, even though academics typically only present their own research, we recommend making a “digestible” version of the literature review part of the results presentation in order to accommodate the practitioner’s preference for a broad scope of the research problem to support their managerial decision making and learning.

To read the full article see: Benoit, Sabine, Sonja Klose, Jochen Wirtz, Tor W. Andreassen and Timothy L. Keiningham, (2019) “Bridging the Data-Divide Between Practitioners and Academics: Approaches to Collaborating Better to Leverage Each Other's Resources”, Journal of Service Management, electronic first.

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