[We’re pleased to welcome author Guillaume Carton of the Institut Supérieur de Gestion, France. Carton recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Bridging the Research-Practice Divide: A Study of Scholar-Practitioners’ Multiple Role Management Strategies and Knowledge Spillovers across Roles,” co-authored by Paula Ungureanu of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. From Carton:]
What inspired you to be interested in this topic? We both did our PhD investigating the theory-practice divide in management. We wanted to contribute to the debate by bringing empirical data sets of exemplar situations through which people successfully bridge the divide. While some studies have argued that focus of rigor versus relevance determine an unbridgeable research-practice divide, others have suggested that successful exchanges occur on a daily basis thanks to people that dedicate their careers to spanning these boundaries. Yet, few studies have investigated if and how research-practice boundary spanners make it there where others are accused of failing. That is how we got interested in scholar-practitioners, individuals who successfully keep one foot each in the worlds of academia and practice and advance knowledge of both research and practice. We contacted recipients of scholar-practitioners’ prizes, and other recognized scholar-practitioners and simply asked them how they were dealing with their day-to-day multiple professional roles. Our study speaks both to the theory-practice debate and to the literature on strategies of multiple role management.
Were there findings that were surprising to you? One may think that getting a PhD or a DBA after an experience in industry, or working part-time as a consultant throughout academic tenure automatically awards the status of boundary spanner, and all the benefits it implies, such as, for instance, the knowledge advantages of a financial broker or the reputation of a cultural mediator. However, our study shows that scholar-practitioners have a very hard time defining who they are, professionally and personally speaking, because they are caught in between institutional pressures for role separation, on the one side, and their personal desideratum for role integration, on the other side.
Specifically, we show that scholar-practitioners move differently on the separation-integration continuum, according to how experienced they are. The less experienced scholar-practitioners seem to be more subject to pressures for role separation and follow a strategy that constantly reorders the priority of their roles, avoiding this way an overloading integration. The more the scholar-practitioners progress in their career, the more they are willing to integrate their roles, through strategies that we called “role interspacing” and “temporary role bundling” which, however, do not reach a full level of integration.
An important feature of the study is the concern not only with how boundary spanning occurs but also with what kind of knowledge gets transferred from one role to another. We found that role management strategies that are closer to the separation pole allow scholar-practitioners to make operations with contents, while strategies that are closer to the integration pole enable them to transfer across roles procedural knowledge, and, in the condition of highest role integration, metaknowledge -i.e., knowledge about who knows whom and who knows what in their social networks.
How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice? Currently, we know almost nothing about how people or organizations successfully bridge the research/practice divide. Our paper gives a first impulse to investigate and recognize the key role of scholar-practitioners. We also go beyond scholar practitioners and provocatively suggest that a solution to bridge the academia-practice gap is to encourage also traditional scholars and practitioners to perceive themselves as fragile and at the same time resourceful boundary spanners.
Our study also brings significant contributions to role theory. The finding that professionals move differently on the separation-integration continuum according to experience can have important consequences for setting up motivational strategies for professionals at different stages of their career, as well as assisting them in their struggles to maintain a delicate equilibrium between pressures for separation and integration.
Sign up for email alerts on the JMI homepage!