11 Feb 2017

Evidence-based dialectics


A great many social scientists now advocate ‘evidence-based management’ and ‘evidence-based policy’ (e.g. Ashkanasy, 2007; Ashworth et al., 2010; Davies et al., 2000; Lawler, 2007; Pfeffer and Sutton, 2006; Reay et al., 2009; Tenbensel, 2004; Tranfield et al., 2003; Walshe and Rundall, 2001; Young et al., 2002).! Their inspiration comes from the success and popularity of evidence-based medicine, ‘the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence’ (Sackett et al., 1996: 71).

The Sackett et al. defmition is often echoed and adapted in management and policy stud¬ies, for instance, ‘evidence-based methods concern research synthesis—looking at a body of lit¬erature or empirical studies [using] systematic review or metaanalysis’ (Shillabeer et al., 2011: 7).

`Using evidence-based medicine as an exemplar’, Rousseau’s 2005 Presidential Address to the Academy of Management, attributed great power to the evidence-based approach, and drew a remarkably close comparison between medicine and management:

If you are wondering what physicians did before [evidence-based medicine], the answer is what managers are doing now, but without medicine’s added advantages from common professional training and malpractice sanctions. (2006a: 258)

Rather than physics envy, Rousseau and other advocates of evidence-based approaches seem to have contracted physician envy (Morrell, 2008). This article explores the relationship between those enchanted by the evidence-based approach and their critics.

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