The research practice gap on accounting in the public services
PUBLIC SECTOR FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
The Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in the Public Services An International Analysis Laurence Ferry Iris Saliterer Ileana Steccolini Basil Tucker
Public Sector Financial Management Series Editors Sandra Cohen Athens University of Economics and Business Athens, Greece Eugenio Caperchione Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia Modena, Italy
Isabel Brusca University of Zaragoza Zaragoza, Spain Francesca Manes Rossi Department of Management and Innovation Systems University of Salerno Fisciano, Italy
This series brings together cutting edge research in public administration on the new budgeting and accounting methodologies and their impact across the public sector, from central and local government to public health care and education. It considers the need for better quality accounting information for decision-making, planning and control in the public sector; the development of the IPSAS (International Public Sector Accounting Standards) and the EPSAS (European Public Sector Accounting Standards), including their merits and role in accounting harmonisation; accounting information’s role in governments’ financial sustainability and crisis confrontation; the contribution of sophisticated ICT systems to public sector financial, cost and management accounting deployment; and the relationship between robust accounting information and performance measurement. New trends in public sector reporting and auditing are covered as well. The series fills a significant gap in the market in which works on public sector accounting and financial management are sparse, while research in the area is experiencing unprecedented growth. More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15782
An International Analysis of the Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in the Public Services
Summary Purpose—This book considers how the practical and public policy relevance of research might be increased, and academics and practitioners can better engage to define research agendas and deliver findings relevant to accounting and accountability in the public services. Design/Methodology/Approach—An international comparative analysis of the research-practice gap on accounting in the public services has been undertaken. This involved academic perspectives from 21 countries and practitioner perspectives from the heads of the public services at 3 leading international professional accounting bodies actively involved in the public services arena. Findings—Research can be useful to inform practice, but engaging at a high level of policy engagement has been primarily by a small group of experienced researchers. For other researchers, the impact accomplished may not always be valued highly in the academic community relative to other, more scholarly, activities. Research Limitations/Implications—The book covers a broad range of countries in an attempt to get a detailed comparative analysis of the extent to which academic research is seen to resonate, engage, and impact public sector practice. The main coverage is relatively advanced western liberal democratic countries from Europe, alongside Australia, and North America (Canada and the USA). However, importantly, as part of a broader comparative analysis, it also includes contributions v
AN INTERNATIONAL ANALYSIS OF THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP…
from Africa—Nigeria and Ghana, South America—Brazil, and Asia— Malaysia and Thailand. Nevertheless, it does not cover other developing economies, where findings could be different and are worthy of investigation. Originality/Value—The book is both ambitious and innovative in building on calls to address the research-practice gap through engaging a broad cross-section of academics and practitioners at an international level.
We would specifically like to thank Ron Hodges (Emeritus Professor of Accounting, Birmingham University, UK), Aileen Murphie (Director at National Audit Office (NAO), UK), Pete Murphy (Professor of Public Management, Nottingham Trent University, UK), Lee Parker (Professor of Accounting, RMIT, Australia, and University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK), and all of the other colleagues who supported in the development of this book.
1Concerns About the Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in Public Services 1 2Where There’s a Will… The Research-Practice Gap in Accounting 9 3A Global View of the Research-Practice Gap in a Public Sector Context 33 4We Build Too Many Walls and Not Enough Bridges 115 5Closing Reflections 129 Index 135
About the Authors
Laurence Ferry is a Professor of Accounting at Durham University Business School (UK) and a prestigious Parliamentary Academic Fellow in public accountability 2018–2019. He is a well-recognized international expert in public financial management. Iris Saliterer is a Professor of Public and Non-Profit Management at the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg (Germany) and was Schumpeter Fellow at Harvard University (USA) in 2015–2016. Her main research interests include performance management, public sector accounting and financial management (reforms), financial and administrative resilience, and innovative forms of public service delivery. Ileana Steccolini is a Professor of Accounting and Finance at Newcastle University London (UK) and the chair and founder of IRSPM Accounting and accountability special interest group. Her research develops at the interface between accounting and public administration. Basil Tucker is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Commerce, UniSA Business School (Australia). He has published extensively on the relevance of academic research, and in particular, the research-practice ‘gap’ in management accounting.
List of Figures
Fig. 1.1 Fig. 4.1
Mapping current engagement—bridging the academic-practice gap (Dudau et al. 2015) Making sense of the research-practice gap
Concerns About the Research-Practice Gap on Accounting in Public Services
A significant challenge for academia is to be, and be seen to be, relevant to practice, and for practice to have, and be seen to have, the legitimation of being theoretically robust. As Paarlberg (1968) highlighted, ‘Practice is brick; theory is mortar. Both are essential and both must be good if we are to erect a worthy structure’. However, all too often, the worlds exist separately, undermining the potential contributions that can be made from a closer relationship between theory and practice. The situation has become particularly evident in accounting research, where academics and their research are often seen as cut off from what is happening in the so-called real world outside of the ivory towers of universities, and the practical as well as societal relevance of research has been questioned (Laughlin 2011; Parker et al. 2011; Tucker and Parker 2014; Chapman and Kern 2012). Concerns about a (widening) research-practice gap have been raised in much of the recent accounting literature (Evans et al. 2011; Modell 2014; Tucker and Lowe 2014; Tucker and Parker 2014; Tucker and Schaltegger 2016). It has been argued that current international trends in journals’ rating and benchmarking are amplifying this situation, additionally risking the relevance and quality of accounting research (Parker and Guthrie 2010), and contribute to an increasing narrowness and fragmentation in terms of methods and perspectives (Guthrie and Parker 2016; Humphrey and Miller 2012). Aside from a sustained interest in public services accounting research, recent reviews of the literature have also raised similar concerns for this field (Broadbent and Guthrie 2008; Goddard 2010; Jacobs 2016; Jacobs and Cuganesan 2014). Indeed, the engagement of academic research with practitioners, although central to the production of knowledge in public administration, has nevertheless been described as challenging (Buick et al. 2015), having been recognized as a ‘perennial problem’ (Reed 2009, p. 685). Pointing to the challenges and ‘wicked’ problems both practitioners and academics have to face, an increasing number of scholars call to action for (interdisciplinary) accounting researchers ‘to reflect on what these turbulent times means for society and to ensure that their academic endeavours make a contribution to practice, policy and a wider societal good’ (Guthrie and Parker 2016) and to ask if and how accounting accounts for, but also impacts on, issues of wider social relevance (Steccolini 2016). Guthrie and Parker (2014), reflecting on what constitutes a global accounting academic, highlight how engaging with the profession and society can give impact to academic’s teaching and research both in their own countries and internationally.
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It is within this motivation of interdisciplinary accounting research in the public services that embraces the public interest and engagement through bringing together academics and practitioners that this book is situated, as a comparative analysis to highlight the potential of constructing an enabling accounting for the wider societal good. This book therefore addresses potentials for and barriers to bridging a research-practice gap in (public service) accounting research that is a long debated issue with uncertain and no definitive solutions (ter Bogt and Van Helden 2012). In so doing, the book does not have the ambition to definitively bridge the practice-academia gap, but represents a further effort to try to narrow it by presenting and contrasting the views from 21 different countries and representatives of 3 international professional accounting bodies. While the different contributions provide evidence of engagement between academics and practitioners, they also reveal that the engagement remains at the margins and that more can be done in accounting research in general and in a public service context in particular. The origins for this book that considers a comparative analysis of research and practice on accounting in the public services is found in the International Research Society of Public Management (IRSPM) Special Interest Group on Accounting and Accountability. This was established in 2011 with the aim of contributing to and influencing the ‘international’ debate on accounting, accountability, and performance measurement systems in the public sector. Part of this role involved developing a distinctive, interdisciplinary research approach which embraced theoretical, methodological, and geographical diversity as well as engagement with public policy and practice communities. Over the past seven years, the group has organized an annual workshop with the objectives to build a network of researchers in the area of accounting and accountability in the public services and to lay the foundations for developing future research strategies and projects that are useful for practitioners and researchers. In the third workshop at the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, in 2015, the overarching theme ‘Engaging Academia with Practice and Policy: A Step Forward’ was addressed within two parallel discussion sessions: (i) ‘What topics could we focus on to increase the practical relevance of our research?’ and (ii) ‘How can we (academics) better engage with practitioners to define research agendas and deliver/communicate research findings?’
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In a proactive effort to address how to narrow the research-practice gap, the group consequently spent a stimulating two days debating the aforementioned themes. It identified current topics that could increase the practical relevance of our research as being related to financial sustainability, financial conformance and operational performance, accountability and transparency, role of the accounting profession (and other professions) in public finance and administration, effects of New Public Management, and International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS)/Accrual accounting adoption. A host of ideas on how academics and practitioners could better engage were also discussed. This included identifying bridging activities (e.g. research, consultancy, teaching) and groups of boundary spanners (e.g. professional associations, think thanks, informal communities) as well as highlighting criteria for interaction (e.g. proactive personal contact, co-definition of emerging themes and projects/co-production/co-authorship) and rethinking dissemination (e.g. common language, straightforward pieces, use of non-academic outlets like blogs, tweets, professional journals, briefings, contributions to public consultations). Figure 1.1 provides a summary of mapping current engagement for bridging the academic-practitioner gap. As part of making sense of the debate and emerging themes, it was suggested in a discussion between Laurence Ferry and Ileana Steccolini that members of the network may want to consider these issues in a ‘ polyphonic
− Discipline (level of application-orientation) − Incentive schemes
− Importance and influence of buffer organisations
− Gap between academia and practice
− Accessibility of publications
Research providers / producers
Policy-makers User-initiated engagement
Professional associations Media Think tanks Informal communities (meetings)
Research users / addressees
Fig. 1.1 Mapping current engagement—bridging the academic-practice gap (Dudau et al. 2015)
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debate’ as part of ‘a collective desire to leave a trace of the discussion’ regarding the research-practice gap between academics and practitioners in public services accounting across comparative countries (Ahrens et al. 2008). Subsequently, practitioners were defined as those who are directly involved in policy development and in the management of the public sector. This extends across all tiers of government, to other public bodies, the accounting profession (insomuch as its activities relate to public services), and to the business sector that works with the public sector. Academics were defined as those employed in universities who were engaged in research across accounting, public management, public administration, and other disciplines interested in accounting in the public services. Initiating the process, an email was sent out with an invitation to people who had been at those first meetings, including the scientific committee, workshop hosts, guest speakers, and practitioners. A traditional academic journal paper would not work with an unusually large number of co- authors who are dispersed primarily (although not exclusively) across Western Europe. So, a different form of collective writing was decided upon that reflected the original discussions, which would ultimately form this book. It involved a simultaneous process in which academics worked collegiately in country-focused teams to contribute a target of around 600–800 words within a three-week deadline. The contribution was to be based on their experiences and asked them to describe for their country: ‘(i) the type and extent of impact of academia on practice, policy, and the professions and (ii) the types and extent of relationships of academics with practitioners, policy makers, and the professions? Are there (desirable or current) evolutions in this?’ The responses were then made available to all academic participants so that any additional points could be made and responses clarified. After this group exercise, invited practitioners from international professional accounting bodies leading on the public sector provided their independent reflections. Later, responses from invited academic groups and practitioners went through a further round of revision whereby contributions from countries and professional bodies increased to around 1000 words and covered four areas for consistency being (i) Specific features of the country context which in their view affect the research-practice gap issue in the country; (ii) The role of institutions in widening/narrowing the gap; (iii) The roles of academics in widening/narrowing the gap; and (iv) Examples of good practice.
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From this coherent overview, and based on a broader review of the literature examining the problems and issues identified in the ‘research- practice gap’, we offer an evaluative framework for analysing the national similarities and differences (and the contexts that produce them), with the intent of helping to make sense of the research-practice gap on a global scale. This framework builds upon the categorization of factors identified by our contributors by level of influence to theorize a broader conceptualization of the obstacles as well as facilitators to achieving a closer relationship between research and practice. The book will now set out the literature review, the detailed responses from each country and professional accounting bodies that the comparative analysis is based upon, and the comparative analysis and findings, followed by some concluding thoughts. In this book, we do not purport to ‘solve’ the question of how academic research might become a closer companion to practice. Rather, the narratives contained and the analysis we offer provide ‘food for thought’ and an invitation to researchers, who, through their research, are seeking to make a contribution to the practice of accounting for public services.
References Ahrens, T., Becker, A., Burns, J., Chapman, C. S., Granlund, M., Habersam, M., Hansen, A., Khalifa, R., Malmi, T., Mennicken, A., Mikes, A., Panozzo, F., Piber, M., Quattrone, P., & Scheytt, T. (2008). The future of interpretive accounting research-a polyphonic debate. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 19(6), 840–866. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2006.07.005. Broadbent, J., & Guthrie, J. (2008). Public sector to public services: 20 years of “contextual” accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 21(2), 129–169. Buick, F., Blackman, D., O’Flynn, J., O’Donnell, M., & West, D. (2016). Effective practitioner–scholar relationships: Lessons from a coproduction partnership. Public Administration Review, 76(1), 35–47. Chapman, C. S., & Kern, A. (2012). What do academics do? Understanding the practical relevance of research. Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, 9(3), 279–281. Dudau, A., Korac, S., & Saliterer, I. (2015). Mapping current engagement – Bridging the academic-practice gap, IRSPM SIG Accounting and Accountability. Nottingham Trent University. Evans, E., Burritt, R., & Guthrie, J. (Eds.). (2011). Bridging the gap between academic accounting research and professional practice, Academic leadership series
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(Vol. 2). Sydney: The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and the Centre for Accounting, Governance and Sustainability. Goddard, A. (2010). Contemporary public sector accounting research – An international comparison of journal papers. The British Accounting Review, 42(2), 75–87. Guthrie, J., & Parker, L. D. (2014). The global accounting academic: What counts! Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 27(1), 2–14. Guthrie, J., & Parker, L. D. (2016). Whither the accounting profession, accountants and accounting researchers? Commentary and projections. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 29(1), 2–10. Humphrey, C., & Miller, P. (2012). Rethinking impact and redefining responsibility: The parameters and coordinates of accounting and public management reforms. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25(2), 295–327. Jacobs, K. (2016). Theorising interdisciplinary public sector accounting research. Financial Accountability & Management, 32(4), 469–488. Jacobs, K., & Cuganesan, S. (2014). Interdisciplinary accounting research in the public sector: Dissolving boundaries to tackle wicked problems. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(8), 1250–1256. Laughlin, R. C. (2011). Accounting research, policy and practice: Worlds together or worlds apart? In E. Evans, R. Burritt, & J. Guthrie (Eds.), Bridging the gap between academic accounting research and professional practice (pp. 23–30). Sydney: Centre for Accounting, Governance and Sustainability, University of South Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia. Modell, S. (2014). The societal relevance of management accounting: An introduction to the special issue. Accounting and Business Research, 44(2), 83–103. Paarlberg, D. (1968). Great Myths of Economics. New York: The New American Library Inc. Parker, L. D. (2011). University corporatisation: Driving redefinition. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 22(4), 434–450. Parker, L. D., & Guthrie, J. (2010). Editorial: Business schools in an age of globalization. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 23(1), 5–13. Parker, L. D., Guthrie, J., and Linacre, S., 2011. Editorial: the relationship between academic accounting research and professional practice. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 24 (1), 5–14. Reed, M. I. (2009). The theory/practice gap: A problem for research in business schools? Journal of Management Development, 28(8), 685–693. Steccolini, I. (2016). Public sector accounting: From “old” new public management to a paradigmatic gap: Where to from here? APIRA conference, Melbourne. ter Bogt, H., & van Helden, J. (2012). The practical relevance of management accounting research and the role of qualitative methods therein: The debate continues. Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, 9(3), 265–273.
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Tucker, B. P., & Lowe, A. D. (2014). Practitioners are from Mars; academics are from Venus? An empirical investigation of the research-practice gap in management accounting. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 27(3), 394–425. Tucker, B. P., & Parker, L. D. (2014). In our ivory towers? The research-practice gap in management accounting: An academic perspective. Accounting & Business Research, 44(2), 104–143. Tucker, B. P., & Schaltegger, S. (2016). Comparing the research-practice gap in management accounting: A view from professional accounting bodies in Australia and Germany. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 29(3), 362–400.
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Abstract In this chapter, I engage with recent empirical research I have been involved with in investigating the important question of how research may become a closer companion to practice and address three questions central to the research-practice debate: . How prevalent is the research-practice gap? 1 2. How has the research-practice gap been investigated? 3. How, if at all, might research become a closer companion to practice? These questions are by no means restricted to the public sector, and their consideration in a more general context may be valuable for both researchers and practitioners interested in the nexus between research and practice. Keywords Research-practice gap • Accounting • Research relevance • Public sector • Research policy
Basil Tucker UniSA Business School, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia
2.1 Overview As reported on the website of Founded in November 1984, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, the SETI programme was to begin operations on February 1, 1985. The SETI programR was ranked as the most thorough effort ever made to search the skies for radio signals from nonhuman civilizations. NASA had planned to fund the SETI programme through to at least the year 2002. In 1993, Nevada Senator Richard Bryan successfully introduced an amendment that eliminated all funding for the NASA SETI programme, citing budget pressures as his reason for ending NASA’s involvement with SETI. At an annual cost of only $12 million, the programme was less than 0.1% of NASA’s annual budget, amounting to about a nickel per taxpayer per year (SETI Institute 2017). In terms of a need to demonstrate the practical relevance of its endeavours at least, the science of cosmology is not alone! The opening passage offers two crucial and related lessons illustrating the importance of the necessity of academic research to in some way inform, engage with, or contribute to practice. First, public scrutiny of the value of research and its perceived value to society can have critical ramifications—even for the direction and indeed, sustainability of what might arguably be regarded as the greatest scientific enterprise of our time (Tarter 2001), in terms of its profound importance, significance, and potential consequence to humankind (Billingham 1998). Second, insofar as public sector funding is concerned, the (perceived) return on investment on research is inevitably evaluated in the context of competing priorities within an environment of finite resources. Such lessons are not profound. However, their implications are. As observed by Scapens and Bromwich (2010, p. 77), the nature and extent of the gap between academic research and practice ‘raises fundamental questions not only about the relationship between academics and practitioners; but more generally, about the role of academic research in society’. Indeed, resonating with the opening passage of this chapter, it has been argued that the very legitimacy of academic research depends largely upon its ability to demonstrate its policy and practice relevance (Baldvinsdottir et al. 2010). This chapter proceeds by addressing some fundamental issues that serve to problematize the research-practice gap in accounting in terms of five fundamental questions:
WHERE THERE’S A WILL… THE RESEARCH-PRACTICE GAP IN ACCOUNTING
. How prevalent is the research-practice gap? 1 2. How has the research-practice gap been investigated? 3. What challenges does the research-practice gap pose for a public sector audience? 4. What are the problems with engagement? 5. Is the problem of relevance soluble?
2.2 How Prevalent Is the Research-Practice Gap? In view of the public scrutiny of research investment, competing priorities for research funding, and disciplinary legitimacy, it is hardly surprising that apprehensions about how effectively academic research speaks to practice have been raised by scholars within a diverse range of ‘practiced-based’ or applied disciplines (Short et al. 2009; Van de Ven and Johnson 2006). Indeed, calls to more effectively link research to practice have been made in management (Shapiro et al. 2007; Vermeulen 2005); human resources (Keefer and Stone 2009); economics (Ormerod 1994); finance (Trahan and Gitman 1995); medicine (Denis and Langley 2002); public health (Philip et al. 2003); social work (Kondrat 1992); nursing (Fink and Thompson 2005); speech pathology (Fey and Johnson 1998); organizational psychology (Hodgkinson et al. 2001); education (Abbott et al. 1999); management information systems (Lee 1989)—as well as in accounting (e.g. see Mautz 1978; Baxter 1988; Mitchell 2002; Inanga and Schneider 2005; Scapens 2006, 2008; Hopwood 2007; Baldvinsdottir et al. 2010; Laughlin 2011; van Helden and Northcott 2010; Unerman and O’Dwyer 2010; Parker et al. 2011; Kaplan 2011; Balakrishnan 2012; Lapsley 2012; ter Bogt and van Helden 2012; Cooper and Annisette 2012; Lindsay 2012; Merchant 2012; Moser 2012; amongst others). Most of these commentaries are predicated on an underlying concern that the need for academic research is crucial to the future health, vitality, and construction of a distinctive identity of the discipline. In terms of the accounting academy, Parker (2012, p. 1173) offers a pointed and portentous warning, ‘…this must be addressed if we are to avoid becoming an incestuous, self-referential species whose existence becomes a matter of ever declining importance’. However, apart from the concerns expressed by accounting researchers, the imperative for academic research to engage more effectively with practice has been accentuated by recent research rating exercises across the
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globe. For instance, the Australian government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA), the UK government’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), and the New Zealand government’s Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) are becoming an increasingly common fixture in the environment within which public universities operate. This trend has been mirrored in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, and Canada (Parker 2012). The rating of academic research outputs forms part of an overall national government research management system designed to allocate public funding to universities’ research efforts by measuring, monitoring, and evaluating academic research ‘impact’, ‘relevance’, or ‘usefulness’. Such systems signal to university management and researchers the type of research that is valued and rewarded (Wren et al. 2007), and in so doing, directly influence not only the quality and concentration of research endeavours (Middlehurst 2014), but also universities’ quest for reputations and financial inflows. Although less reliant on public funding than their Australian and European counterparts (Chevaillier and Eicher 2002), North American Universities are not exempt from the need to legitimize their research investment decisions, and with this reliance comes a need to legitimize their spending on research by demonstrating the return it generates (Rousseau and McCarthy 2007). As with the scenarios in Australasia and Europe, North American higher education institutions are increasingly reliant on private monies for their continued survival (Bartunek and Rynes 2014). Thus, the production of academic research that is or is seen to be ‘relevant’ carries with it a financial imperative for universities on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific (Yang 2003). It is both an important and timely issue for university leaders, academic researchers of all disciplinary persuasions, and other parties with a stake in the construction, propagation, and application of academic research. 2.2.1 A Public Sector Perspective Although commentaries on the divide between academic research and its application in practice have proliferated in the general academic literature, and across most applied disciplines (Rynes et al. 2001), trepidations voiced specifically in relation to the research-practice nexus within a public sector context have been surprisingly limited (van Helden and
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Northcott 2010). This is at odds with the expectation that the practical relevance of academic research would be of interest to public sector managers (Pettigrew 2005). At least three observations may be thought to underpin this expectation. First, long-standing criticism of the public sector for being insufficiently effective and efficient (van Helden et al. 2010) has led to quite significant transformations in this sector over the past three decades. Perhaps the most significant transformation has been the New Public Management (Hood 1995), characterized by increased accountability and control practices, and extensive and measurable indicators of performance to ensure more efficient resource use but at the same time seeking to maintain or improve the quality of service delivery (Arnaboldi et al. 2015). It is fair to say that both the conceptual foundation and implementation of the New Public Management have been controversial (Jacobs and Cuganesan 2014), but this controversy has also created scholarly interest and potential opportunities for academic research (Arnaboldi 2013). A second factor suggesting that academic research and its contribution may be germane to the public sector is the inherent complexity of public services, agencies, and instrumentalities. Complexities associated with the sector are well documented. They result from sectorial responsibilities for quite abstract and contestable outcomes related to justice, responsibility, equity, democracy, and change (Lapsley and Skærbæk 2012). In such an uncertain and complex environment, it is not inconceivable that public sector managers might turn to findings from academic research to reduce uncertainty and complement experience-based practices (Hemsley-Brown 2004). Finally, some evidence shows that although a majority of public sector managers do not engage extensively with academic research, a sizeable minority of them do use academic research in their policy-related work (Newman 2014). Thus, rather than existing as isolated ‘silos’, it may be that public sector and academic communities possess links that can further encourage the use of research in policy making. Although arguably of lower profile than in disciplinary conversations, when considering the nexus between academic research and practice, it is important to remember that under the umbrella of the generic term ‘the public sector’ are entities charged with the responsibility of delivering a considerable diversity of services, programmes, and agendas typically encompassing emergency services, infrastructure, utilities, telecommunications,
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transport, education, and health care. The size of the divide between academic research and practice varies from discipline to discipline (Brennan 2008; Short et al. 2009; Van de Ven and Johnson 2006; McKelvey 2006), with some academic domains experiencing strong knowledge uptake, while other disciplines are only beginning to promote knowledge sharing actively to close the research-practice gap (Tsui et al. 2006). There is no reason to believe such variations would not also apply across the portfolio of public sector agencies. To draw definitive inferences about the ways in which academic research informs or is informed by practice would therefore reduce the discussion to a naive and unsophisticated level, and distort the veracity of any conclusions reached. That said, particular public sector domains have varied in the attention they have directed and the importance they have afforded to the research-practice gap. The health sector in general, and the nursing profession in particular, has developed an ‘Evidence-Based Practice’ (EBP) tradition that has as its aim the utilization of the ‘best available’ research evidence from management, medical, biological, and behavioural sciences to inform and underpin nursing practice, policy, and education (Tucker and Leach 2017). As a profession, the advances that nursing has made in bridging the gap between academic research and practice through EBP1 is an observation that has been repeatedly noted (e.g. see Reay et al. 2009; Brennan 2008; Rousseau and McCarthy 2007; Hemsley-Brown and Sharp 2003). Admittedly, the nursing profession has an established history dating back to the 1970s in seeking to integrate academic research and practice (Abdellah 1970; Lindeman 1975); nevertheless, the achievements and progression that nursing has achieved point to one realm of the public sector that may be considered to be at the forefront of such discussions. Interestingly, and as will be discussed later in this chapter, the reasons attributable to, and implications of, the divide between research and practice in nursing are remarkably consistent with those articulated in general commentaries (see Tucker and Leach 2017). 1 For example, through the move to tertiary-trained nurses, incorporation of research as a component of training, engagement with research as a prerequisite for continued registration or accreditation, and the establishment of academic journals such as Evidence-Based Nursing, Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, dedicated to publishing expositions on this aspect of nursing.