There’s Nothing as Practical as a Good Theory

In recent decades, we have seen many researchers grappling with questions about their research impact for policy and practice. Often a lack of understanding of the complexity of policy-making discourse and the inability to respond quickly to real world challenges pose significant barriers to how knowledge gets translated into practice. While sitting in their ivory towers, many academics continue to measure research impact by racing to get in or to stay on the publishing bandwagon. Often in their quest for knowledge creation many academics risk being disconnected to the practicing world beyond academia.

But there is a growing trend amongst researchers and practitioners now working as knowledge brokers who find themselves situated in much more applied contexts solving complex social and organisational problems. Lewin’s quote “there’s nothing as practical as a good theory” is as relevant today to many scholars, practitioners, researchers and knowledge brokers as it was in the 1940s who passionately took theory outside of classrooms and into the real world.

As the founder of social psychology, much of Lewin’s work highlighted the need for researchers to demonstrate research-theory reflexivity encouraging many of us researchers to ask what a theory is, what is a good theory and how practical or relevant is the theory in bringing about meaningful social change with real impact to society.

As applied sociologists, we are often asked to translate knowledge/theory into practice that meets the specific contextual needs and expectations of clients. While a good theory might help us conceptualise a research problem it does not necessarily provide generic cookie-cutter solutions to complex social, behavioural and often wicked organisational problems. At Rapid Context, context is what matters in how we conduct research and connect evidence to policy practice that effectively bridges the gap between academic rigour and policy relevance. Through our grounded approach to research we are not only able to translate evidence into policy but also bring about meaningful reforms by ensuring that the solutions we provide are contextually situated and relevant that meet client expectations and reform objectives of different stakeholders.

We avoid “repackaging old wine into new bottles” by disrupting the consulting world and delivering research rapidly without compromising academic rigour. As a research consulting firm, we employ an interdisciplinary approach to develop an understanding of the “context” by drawing upon many methods and designs across disciplines, including, Organisational Archaeology, Design Sociology, and Cultural Anthropology. Without having to compromise the academic rigour we deliver robust and defensible evidence through developing an understanding of the client context at multiple levels:

  • Micro – individual and lived experience

  • Meso – senior leaders, management, and organisation

  • Macro – society, sector, government, and institutions

As applied researchers, this enables us to see how our research evidence tailored to the unique contexts and client needs actually translates into public policy discourse:

Now ‘there’s nothing as practical as a good theory’ that fails to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Priya Chattier is a senior research consultant with Rapid Context. She has expertise in qualitative research design, mixed-methods, survey design, applied social research in gender, and monitoring and evaluation. Extensive research experience on gender issues in the South Pacific region, including Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea, including field experience in diverse and marginalised communities in remote islands.

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