When They Connect with Researchers, are Practitioners Time-Sensitive?

Background: In early 2018 I reached out to several practitioners’ listservs and invited them to share problems they were facing in their work in which they thought research might be helpful. In response I would match them with a social scientist one-on-one. I targeted listservs composed of non-partisan, non-profit organizations with a mission to remedy social ills. 37 practitioners responded over several months.

Based on these requests I identified four reasons why nonprofit practitioners want to engage with social scientists: 1) to receive an overview of a research literature, 2) to help make an immediate evidence based decision, 3) to gain ideas about how to measure impact, and 4) to collaborate on a new project (see here for more details: www.r4impact.org/how-it-works).

Main Finding: These requests also help answer another important question: When they connect with researchers, are practitioners time-sensitive? Traditionally one of the biggest obstacles to building relationships between researchers and practitioners is different time scales — nonprofits’ “focus is urgent, immediate, and often in response to events…moving quickly and loudly” whereas “academics work to a different rhythm”.

The requests for matchmaking in some ways echo this concern and in some ways do not. Overall, very few of the practitioners (16%) expressed any time sensitivity, yet it varied depending upon their goals. Of the 37 practitioners, 3 faced near-term decisions and wanted to use research to ensure these decisions were evidence-based. All of them expressed time-sensitivity. Beyond these three, the most frequent time-sensitive requests arose when practitioners were interested in collaborating with a researcher on a new project. These practitioners had funding in place and staff time already allocated, and faced a specific timeline for getting the collaboration off the ground. Overall, however, these data show how practitioners are often not time-sensitive when interacting with researchers.

Proportion of Practitioners Expressing Time-Sensitivity
(For everyone, and by goal; N=37)

All practitioners16%
Goal 1: To receive an overview of a large research literature 0%
Goal 2: To make an immediate evidence-based decision 100%
Goal 3: To gain ideas about how to measure impact 14%
Goal 4: To collaborate with a researcher on a new project 44%

Check out www.r4impact.org/how-it-works for more on what we’re learning about researcher-practitioner relationships!

Previous post in series:

When Do Practitioners Want to Connect with Researchers?

Do Practitioners Prefer to Connect with Researchers who are Local?

Do Practitioners Prefer Self or Hands-on Matchmaking?

Do Researchers Want to Engage with Practitioners?

Do Researchers Share New Information or Just Tell Practitioners what they Already Know?

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Adam S. Levine

Adam Seth Levine is a professor of government at Cornell University. He is the "chief matchmaker" at research4impact, an organization he co-founded with Jake Bowers and Donald P. Green.

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