Monday, June 30, 2014

Research or evaluation: Companies and institutions reluctant to take the step, or researchers unable to provide benefits to the company for participating

In academic research, some caution that research studies are biased toward adolescents and students, since the majority of studies include students as the subjects or participants. This point has been highlighted by Brookshire (2014): “Sixty-seven percent of American psychology studies use college students….This means that many or even most of the subjects are teenagers” (para 4). This bias toward students being research subjects is primarily due to the sample being “the epitome of a convenience sample, they have become the basis for what some critics call the science of the sophomore” (The Numbers Guy, para 4).

Granted, for the purposes of students learning how to conduct research, using fellow students as subjects for their research is a good pedagogic exercise. However, when researchers, or the readers of these research articles, try to infer the findings to other populations problems could occur. So the question arises: Why isn’t there more research conducted from samples in the workplace (other than students)?

Over the past six months I have been trying to find a company, or a few companies, to participate in my research study. This research study is for my dissertation. All that is required, from the participating company, is for the selected employees to complete a survey (online), expending approximately 20 to 25 minutes of their time. The data would provide the participating company with information on where knowledge sharing is taking place, as well as identify what barriers they have preventing knowledge sharing from occurring. In knowing what barriers a company is experiencing relating to knowledge sharing in teams/groups, training could easily be selected to address these issues. Successful completion of this training would result in better knowledge sharing across teams/groups, resulting in better decision making and problem solving processes for these teams/groups.

From my experience thus far, I have provided the following possible answers relating to why more research on companies/institutions are not being conducted from academia.
(a) One simple answer is that it is hard work and time consuming. (b) A second answer is that companies / institutions do not want to take the time to support external research projects. (c) And thirdly, companies do not want people from outside the company to have the ability to evaluate them.

(a) Yes some researchers may find it easier to sample college students since they are already available to the researcher. However, in the social science fields (i.e., psychology, sociology, human resources) there are populations other than those between the ages of 17 and 22 years. The Numbers Guy (2014) provided the following quote (from Prof. Nosek) in their article highlighting this same point: “‘The scientific reward structure does not benefit someone who puts in the enormous effort’ to create a representative research sample” (para 14). Perhaps this bias toward sampling students comes from companies/institutions resistance to participating in external studies, which brings us to the second point.

(b) Companies may not see the need, the benefit, or feel that they have the time to entertain external researchers so that these researchers can benefit themselves and not the companies who participate. Companies may feel that the researchers are pushing for personal gain rather than trying to benefit the company. Regardless of the companies perception of external research, companies should be more willing to review requests for research to see if there is any benefit that the company could gain from participating in the study. The researcher should provide a well presented list of the study and the benefits that the participating company could gain from their participation. By providing a list of benefits for the company, the researcher has a better chance for companies agreeing to participate in their study compared to not providing any benefits for participating. Offer to co-author the paper with representatives from the company. Some companies may wish to get noticed in the literature as much as the researcher does. However, other companies want to avoid getting noticed. In this case the researcher has to work on the final report with representatives from the company, editing the final report until the company feels that they are being protected. Then, and only then, can the researcher submit for publication. In either case, the researcher needs to work with the participating company when publishing data and results relating to their company.

(c) I requested, from an acquaintance, to collect data from the employees in which this particular person was in charge of. After reviewing the survey items (questions), this person declined for the following reasons: negative items in the questions and there were no issues at their institution. Rather than stating that they were not interested, they made excuses showing their lack of expertise in research methodologies. In either case, you have to respect their decision and move on to the next company. The point here is that the decision maker for this institution was not interested in evaluating their organization. By stating that they did not have any issues at their place of work with no evaluation measures to support such a statement, leads one to believe that the culture is, don’t measure what you don’t want to know. 

Overall, practitioner - researcher relationships need to be built upon to increase both the willingness for companies/institutions to allow for external research projects to be conducted and for researchers to provide real-world solutions that benefit the customer. Van de Ven (2007) calls this relationship engaged scholarship, referring to a “participated form of research” (p. 9). This participated form engages both the practitioner and the researcher to conduct research that is pragmatic and worthwhile to the organization as well as allowing the researcher to meet their needs of contributing new knowledge to their field of study through publication. 

Brookshire, B. (2014). Psychology is WEIRD. Retrieved from

Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 350-383. doi:10.2307/2667000

The Numbers Guy (August 10, 2014). Too many studies use college students as their guinea pigs. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieve from

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship, A guide for organizational and social research. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
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