Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Academics vs practitioners?

In discussing the opportunities for involving practitioners as authors in Construction Management and Economic a friend of mine challenged me because he got the impression that I was wanting to work in isolation from industry in case "they contaminated our minds and data"! I felt that he was misunderstanding my motives. Of course it would be disastrous if academics worked in isolation, I agree 100%. Our research is rightly grounded in the construction sector. It certainly is not the case that I think that practitioners contaminate our minds and data. I agreed 100%. "They" ARE our data! They are the source of the problems that we study, they may sometimes be the source of solutions that we seek to understand and, frequently, they are the very people that we study. No, there is no sense of isolation there.

My point was that our data subjects are not authors. It was to do with ensuring that our message is tailored to suit our audience. If the findings of our research are meaningful for industry, then we must, of course, present them to industry. But in the journal, we are academics talking to academics, in a fairly structured way guided by conventions that may not be appropriate for a wider audience. In the journal, we are focusing on theory-testing and/or theory-building, but not on the dissemination of our results to a wider audience. That is the crucial characteristic of an archival research journal like ours - to record advances in research. Other media already exist for recording and disseminating advances in practice. I think that is right, and it is helpful for everyone to have this distinction.

So, yes, it is precisely because practitioners define our field by their practices that I am interested in their contributions. But not because of their ability to carry out research projects with us. Of course, there are people who have a foot in both camps and I do come across practitioners who have done "proper" research that is reportable in our pages. But then they are generally writing as researchers, not as practitioners. So the boundary is blurred. The acid test for a research paper is simply this question: does it test or develop theory? If the answer is "yes", then we are interested. If it is "no", then we are not.

And, I also acknowledge that although this is the editorial policy now, it may not be the editorial policy forever, and it was not the policy many years ago. Everything is open to challenge and change!

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