How does research inform your practice?

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It’s a ‘thinky’ kind of Saturday morning. I’m doing some research assistant work and I can’t seem to get past a thought or rather, a brief interaction I had this week. The two are linked – in my research assistant work this morning I’m looking at literature around the practitioner experience of research. More specifically, practitioners engaging with, doing and applying research to practice. There seems to be much said about why library and information practitioners *should* be doing these things and the somewhat dismal attempt we seem to be making in contributing to the research evidence base. I won’t go into that right now. But I will share some thoughts I have about this interaction I had.

This week I was asked, something along the lines of (because it was a bit of a blur at the time), ‘how does research inform your practice? And how to do you apply research to your practice?’

Well, isn’t that the million-dollar question.

My first reaction, which I did not share was, how can we assume that research alone informs practice? From my experience and knowledge about evidence-based practice, it doesn’t.

My next thought was that in my experience, published research is a small part of informing the direction of a project or improvements to services and practices. Much of the improvement that happens is largely based on local evidence or contextual evidence, or evidence that is intentionally gathered from local sources, because it is viewed as more relevant. In some cases, this is fair enough.

I was conflicted in my answer. No one had asked me this question before, and I had hardly thought about my own experiences with research informing practice because, well, I use research without thinking. I wouldn’t start a project, especially a complex one, without considering published research. I like to know what’s out there, what’s been considered and what frameworks I could potentially use to provide the project with some structure (I have a tendency for a systematic approach to my project work. Ad hoc approaches or an approach without evidence and logic freak me out.) As a ‘practitioner-researcher’, I consider research as part of my practice automatically. I may not make this known to those around me because quite frankly, having a conversation with other practitioners about research is……some days I feel like I need to be an ‘undercover researcher in a practice setting’. So for one thing, research informing my practice was difficult to explain to someone else.

I guess the other part to my internal conflict in answering this question was that I could have explained what I’ve discovered in the literature about research informing professional practice perhaps more easily. I could have quite enthusiastically, initiated a discussion about this. But I didn’t, because that wouldn’t have been answering the question. The question was ‘how does research inform *my* practice?’

I’d love published research to make more of a impact on my professional practice. I’m yet to directly apply the results of a study to my practice or a project. And perhaps research doesn’t need to be able to do this. But for now at least, research informs my understanding of the topic at hand.

Applying research to practice

The other part of the question – how do I apply research to my practice? is even trickier. Translating and putting research into a given context is something I believe is not currently well done in the library and information profession. This is mainly due to a lack of understanding about the thought processes and practices that occur in making the translation and application happen. And for the profession to uncover this understanding, practitioners need to 1) routinely consider research as part of their practice, and 2) be conscious of the process that enables them to apply it.

My answer to this question was that I won’t necessarily discuss research directly with other practitioners, but that research helps me to have conversations about what works and what doesn’t work in a particular context. I might also try to dig a bit deeper in understanding what made things work and didn’t work. Thinking more about this now, how I apply research to my practice is to place a layer of understanding or a framework over the top of the work I’m doing. For example, adult learning principles and information seeking behaviours of university students today was put together with what was found to be happening locally. This led to designing a solution that was a new suite of online learning resources for academic skills development.

So now that I’ve revealed my answer, what’s yours? How does research inform your practice and how do you apply it? Or if it doesn’t, I’d love to know why.

I can’t be the only one who had trouble coming up with an answer 🙂

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