Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Research vs. Practice....The Great Debate

A few weeks ago I attended the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) annual conference. ARNOVA is a where place for researchers and practitioners gather to present and discuss research findings about the nonprofit sector.

This conference was especially exciting for me because I presented my first academic paper titled, "Professional Development for Nonprofit Managers, A Different Approach: Collaborative Learning Through a Wiki, Blog, and Hands on Discussion."

Coming from the practitioner world this was an exciting opportunity for me to present among the top researchers in the field. I actually was star struck to be presenting in the same session as Rosanne Mirabella whose work I've been following for years.

I was challenged throughout this conference because of two reasons.

1. There were discussions threaded throughout the conference about practitioners expressing a desire to have researchers translate their research into practice. One of the keynote speakers said that she believes that only 10% of research can be utilized by nonprofit managers--and she is saying this having just come from the research world to becoming CEO of a Nonprofit!! I don't necessarily agree with her, however I do believe nonprofit managers who make an effort to understand research, are better at their jobs and assessing the world around them. I want researchers, specifically those in academia to do research that is impactful to the sector and not do research for the sake of research.

2. There was also another discussion about researchers wanting practitioners to test the validity of their research. Along the lines of that discussion, I want nonprofit associations and practitioners to feel welcome at ARNOVA and be able to share their relevant research to the entire sector. However, as a practitioner I am struggling to learn how to figure out how to test the validity of research reports and sources. I generally read research reports and accept them as truth.

In response to these discussions, my suggestions are:

1. Academic researchers should put in their research budget money for a graphic designer, so the research will look compelling to read. Then they should distribute the research to the entire sector, not just to academic sources.

2. Nonprofit Associations and other practitioner based researchers in the field should be open to presenting research at ARNOVA and in the nonprofit research community--and ARNOVA should invite them to do so.

3. Nonprofit associations and Academic researchers need to work together to produce research that meets the academic rigor, however is also relevant to the field.

We all miss out if we don't work together.

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