Can evaluators be the bridge in the research-practice gap?

Researchers and practitioners agree that there is a gap between research (or theory) and practice. While the reasons for this gap are plentiful, they boil down to researchers and practitioners comprising two communities (Caplan, 1979) such that have different languages, values, reward systems, and priorities. The two communities try to bridge the gap through a variety of methods including producer-push models (e.g., knowledge transfer, knowledge translation, dissemination, applied research, interdisciplinary scholarship), user-pull models (e.g., evidence-based practice, practitioner inquiry, action research), and exchange models (e.g., research-practice partnerships and collaboratives, knowledge brokers, intermediaries). However, these methods typically focus on researchers or practitioners and do not consider other scholars that could fill this role.

As I will argue in the review paper for my dissertation, evaluators are in a prime position to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners. Evaluation has been considered a transdiscipline in that it is an essential tool in all other academic disciplines (Scriven, 2008). Evaluators use social science (and other) research methodology and often have a specific area of content expertise, enabling them to bridge the gap to researchers. Furthermore, evaluation often requires a close relationship with practitioners to create evaluations that communicate in their language, speak to their values and priorities, and meet their needs to produce a useful evaluation, enabling them to also bridge the gap to practitioners. Evaluators can use their similarities with both researchers and practitioners to span the gap between researchers and practitioners as knowledge brokers or intermediaries (see figure).

However, while evaluators may span the bridge to researchers and practitioners individually, they may not be working to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners. In a field that still debates the paradigm wars (e.g., the “gold standard” evaluation, qualitative versus quantitative data), the role of evaluators (e.g., as an advocate for programs), core competencies for evaluators, and professionalization of the evaluation field, it is unclear to what extent evaluators see their role encompassing bridging the research-practice gap and, if so, to what extent evaluators are actually working to bridge this gap and how they are doing so.

Stay tuned as I continue blogging about the review paper for my dissertation (i.e., the first chapter of my dissertation). I would sincerely appreciate any and all comments and criticism you may have. It will only strengthen my research and hopefully aid in my ultimate goal of informing the field of evaluation and improving evaluation practice.

Dealing with my first journal article rejection

It was my first journal article submission (OK, second… my first, another article, was desk rejected). This article was my thesis that I’d been working on for two years. I’d originally written it up for journal publication, so once both of my readers signed it off, I sent it off to the primary journal in the field (American Journal of Evaluation) and waited.

And waited.

Lesson learned #1: Anticipate waiting for a looong time.

This was just shy of 3 months, but it still felt much longer than I wanted. I was checking its status often, seeing when it went from received, to searching for reviewers, to waiting for reviewer’s scores, to finally the anticipated “awaiting final decision.”

And then the crushing blow: manuscript rejection. It didn’t help that it came first thing in the morning, promptly at 7am right as I woke up so I read it as I was reading my morning email in bed.

The rejection was not nearly as bad as I anticipated (if I had been anticipating a rejection, that is). I remember just being slightly disappointed and sad. But then I started reading reviewer’s comments.

Lesson learned #2: Perhaps wait to read reviewer’s comments.

I remember starting to get bitter, angry, and upset as I went through some of them. The following are some of the comments and initial reactions that went through my head, along with my more rational thoughts now that it’s been a few days:

The first comment from the first reviewer was this: “Of most concern, is the true response rate of 16% (279/1758).” My initial reaction was anger that they do not realize how difficult it is to get a good response rate from AEA evaluators, who was my sample. How could they ask me to get a better response rate?! Later, I realized that there was more to the comment: “I believe reasonable efforts to increase the sample size should be made, and if not feasible, a justification of the sample being representative of the underlying population.” Fair and reasonable!

The first two reviewers commented on my grammatical errors. For instance, one noted “there are many incomplete sentences and other minor errors throughout the manuscript.” However, then I get to the third reviewer who stated there were simply a few minor grammatical mistakes. Initially, I was upset; my grammar is impeccable and I don’t think I’ve written an incomplete sentence in quite a long time! However, I realized what was probably more likely the case: my sentences were wordy and did not flow as well as they could. While I have no idea which sentences they were referring to, perhaps sending the manuscript to a copy editor could improve the manuscript the second time around.

Lesson learned #3: Have a support system.

I was able to immediately tell my husband, good friend, and my advisor the results of the manuscript and get comforting words but also words of wisdom. My tweeple were incredibly supportive as well! My initial sadness and anger disappeared by the end of the day through the support that everyone around me provided.

Lesson Learned #4: It’s OK to be upset about it.

I did not get any work done the day the rejection came. I went to the gym, came home and thought to myself, “If my thesis—that I worked harder on than any other project in my life—was rejected, how can I possibly work on any of the other papers in the works? How can I work on my DISSERTATION when my thesis wasn’t even good enough?!” But in the end, allowing myself to wallow for a day helped the recovery process quicken. By the end of the day, my mood had lightened, I read for my dissertation, and the next day I was back to normal.