Last week I was thrilled to see my newly published book - Evidence-based school leadership and management: A practical guide be described by David James in the TES as “A well-ordered and refreshingly honest guide to evidence-based practice.” So taking ‘honesty’ as my cue, it seems sensible to look at some actual research on managerial attitudes and perceived barriers to the use of evidence-based practice (EBP). Barends, Villanueva, et al. (2017) who surveyed nearly 3000 managers in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and found that only 27% of respondents indicated that they often based their decisions on scientific research, with only 14% indicating that they had ever read a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Other findings were that 49% of respondents believe that scientific research is relevant to managers and consultants, with 63% disagreeing with a statement that every organisation is unique and that findings would not apply to individual organisations. A large majority of the respondents – 69% - had positive attitudes to EBP, with only a very small minority, 4%, having a negative attitude. The majority of respondents – 58% - reported that the perceived lack of time to read research articles was the main barrier to using research findings, with 51% suggesting that managers and consultants have little understanding of academic research. Other identified barriers EBP included organisational climate, accessibility of research, and a lack of awareness of how to access research. Finally, there did not appear to be a link between attitudes towards EBP and age or professional experience, although education and research experience did appear to have a moderate positive effect.
Of course any research study has limitations and as Barends, et al. (2017) themselves note their study is no exception. Limitations identified included the sample in the study not being random but based on populations where individuals identified themselves as managers. Response rates varied between countries with only 4% of the American sample responding, compared to 48% in the United Kingdom. In addition, it was not clear from the respondents whether they knew the difference between the ‘management literature’ often found in airport bookshops and peer-reviewed research published in academic journals. Finally, various definitions are used of the term manager are used in literature
So what lessons can those of us interested in EBP in schools learn from the study? First, education is not alone and that leaders and managers in other fields and professional are also interested in using EBP. On the other hand, school leaders should not put business managers on a pedestal, as most respondents in the study report basing their decisions on personal experience (91%), intuition (64%.
Second, compared to the small minority of respondents in the study (27%) – a large majority (68%) of school leaders and a minority of teachers (45%) say they are using research evidence to inform decision-making https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/best-in-class-2018-research/ . Given the pressures on schools to be more business-like, maybe it’s the wrong way round. Maybe businesses leaders and managers need to be more school-like.
Third, the barriers faced by managers in the use of EBP – time, organisational climate, access to research and, research literacy – would not be unfamiliar to those involved in supporting the development of EBP within schools. That said, given the efforts being made to support engagement with research in schools those barriers – although they exist – may not be as high.
If you are looking for a more generic approach to evidence-based management then I recommend that you have a look at Barends and Rosseau (2018) Evidence-Based Management: How to Use Evidence to Make Better Organizational Decisions
I’d like Professor Jonathan Haslam who commented on the first draft of this post
Barends, E. and Rosseau, D. (2018). Evidence-Based Management: How to Use Evidence to Make Better Organizational Decisions. London. Kogan-Page.
Barends, E., Villanueva, J., Rousseau, D. M., Briner, R. B., Jepsen, D. M., Houghton, E. and ten Have, S. (2017). Managerial Attitudes and Perceived Barriers Regarding Evidence-Based Practice: An International Survey. PloS one. 12. 10. e0184594.