Bridging the chasm between theory and practice

Publishing academic and practitioner voices – a case study

Key Takeaway

An attempt to bridge the gap between academic rigour and practice relevance of academic research.


The two worlds of academia and practice, although related and interdependent, often assume very distinctive characteristics. Their lexicon and purposes are very different and have been influenced by different sets of institutional norms and how ‘success’ and ‘performance’ is measured.

For example, academia has an expressed agenda of undertaking rigorous research for theoretical advancement and generalisability to a wider population, whereas practitioners seek simple ‘answers’ and cases of what ‘best practice’ works irrespective of context and so ‘universal’ over time and place. A common criticism of academia concerns its lack of practical relevance and impact. This is partly driven by inward looking and narrow measurement metrics as “what gets measured gets done”. However, more recently, expectations are changing more in favour of the impact research has on practice, policy and society at large driven by funding bodies seeking greater ‘value for money’.

In this paper, the authors provide a reflective account of their experiences of putting together a collection that attempts to bridge the gap between the widely debated issue of academic rigour and practice relevance of academic research. We do this using the learning from a recently edited collection that integrates academic and practitioner voices in the context of the Indian IT industry as it attempted to satisfy utility and generalisability demands.

For every complex problem there is a simple solution. And it is wrong. – Anonymous


Seldom has the focus on utility of knowledge rivalled the focus on the generalisability of new research findings in history. This may be attributed to the rise in rates of information flows at first glance, but the more challenging impact of information explosion on human response is yet being more clearly understood as we write.

This is also concomitant with ebbs and tides of economically active regions across the world, of which India’s rise as a steady source of talent in the IT sector has been of special interest to the authors.


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One of the motivations of this book was to put together a compilation of contributions by experienced academics and practitioners who are researching and working in the sector and why we are reasonably versed with the diversity of academic and practice challenges. This seemed logical and in line with the ethos of the ‘Working in Asia’ series from Routledge with its specific aim of providing greater ‘voice’ to businesses and practitioners and examples of ‘real life’ practice.

Relevance of Knowledge Utility and Generalisability

Knowledge, by its very nature, represents justifiable beliefs and truth about a phenomenon. Scientific pursuit of knowledge creation by academics requires attention to generalisable knowledge that approximates context-free qualities so as to offer utility to those interested in research and theory applications.

Phronetic knowledge (prudence or practical wisdom) exists in the preserve of practice and is, by its very nature, context-dependent. This latter knowledge is value-laden, power-centred and involves negotiation with various stakeholders.

This requires different mechanisms through which such knowledge is integrated with other types of knowledge, finally finding its place in the organisational realms of relevance and utility. Most businesses are interested in maintaining the idiosyncratic nature of such knowledge and attempt to minimise the risk of knowledge spillovers that may affect their own viability.

Approach in the book – Academic Externality and Practitioner Embeddedness

As a starting point consideration, the book explores the integration of nearly segmented knowledge forms, although implicit interdependencies between the professional world of IT and academia may not necessarily ensue in formistic alikeness or even in adjacencies.

For example, there is a notion that the linguistic appeal of English may be the bridge between a large English speaking population in India and the lingua franca of clientele in client locations of the Indian IT sector.

One of the motivations of this book was to put together a compilation of contributions by experienced academics and practitioners who are researching and working in the sector and why we are reasonably versed with the diversity of academic and practice challenges.

However, experiential acknowledgement of work practices and professional mannerisms in India may indicate an accommodative adaptation of Western management principles, rather than a holistic embrace of work ethos via lingua franca per se. So, the explanatory prowess of phenomena in this sector may not be corollaries of customer world views as much as transactional language media are concerned.

Classification and preliminary findings

Upon the successful completion of this edited collection and its launch at the June 2015 Chapter of NHRD Bangalore, we have attempted to provide our reflective assessment of the chapters in terms of its utility and generalisability for the practitioner and academic consumers of this knowledge. We develop a 2×2 matrix (See the headline figure above) for reflecting upon the contributions.


While overt codifiable assets in explicit knowledge may typify old economy artefacts, the intangible knowledge economy codifications as outlined in this paper may speak to a knowledge creating society – albeit currently seen from merely one sector in India.

Such a generalisation is seldom plausible without efforts in multi-stakeholder research efforts. The above analysis suggests an almost balanced split in terms of the contributions of the impact areas: high generalisability and high utility, with only one contribution each that is very low on both areas and another that is only high on utility.

This gives rise to several theoretical and practice recommendations. We can propose that there is a need to foster practice with reflective pauses to accommodate thoughts tempered by rigour.

Further, there is a need to role model ‘curiosity’ as an attitude and ‘documentation’ as a practice for strengthening the basis for collaboration and impact. Additionally, some participation in research assistantships to develop a taste for the scientific method will go some way to bridge the chasm.

Practitioners can also isolate human resource management issues based on crises or opportunities for academicians to stay connected with industry dynamics. From a theoretical and an academic viewpoint, researchers should develop multi-method research design capabilities to accommodate both practical and theoretical issues.

Business-Models-and-People-Management-in-the-Indian-IT-Industry-bookThere is also an attendant need to explore analytic techniques that cater to multiple time horizons (e.g. mid- and long-term) within research efforts. For getting ‘across’ to the other side, academics may consider secondments in practitioner roles, as apprentices, to have more than a participant observer status of employeeship and combine advisory or consultancy capabilities with knowledge creation objectives.

For more details, please read the book, Business Models and People Management in the Indian IT Industry – From people to profits, edited by Ashish Malik and Chris Rowley.

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This article was jointly written by Ashish Malik, Joseph George and Professor Chris Rowley.

Joseph GeorgeAppreciative of Career Development, Training & Development and Organisation Development (OD) processes, Joseph George enjoys integrating these three streams creatively and yet practically. His expertise is based on line, staff and consulting experiences spanning two decades. Joseph’s methods have been based on research in the behavioural sciences, and has consciously integrated academic insight within consulting. Currently Partner with Workplace Catalysts LLP, author of publications and an advisor to start-ups,  Joseph also teaches and extends his academic thought at institutions such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Professor Chris Rowley, GradCIPD, BA, MA (Warwick), DPhil (Nuffield College, Oxford) is Professor of Human Resource Management at Cass Business School, City University, London, UK and Adjunct Professor at Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia. He is also a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Hallyu Convergence Research at Korea University. Professor Rowley is Editor of the leading academic journal ‘Asia Pacific Business Review’, book Series Editor of both ‘Working in Asia’ and ‘Asian Studies’ and serves on many journal Editorial Boards. He has published widely, with over 500 articles, books and chapters and other contributions in practitioner journals, magazines and newsletters as well giving international radio and newspaper interviews and involvement in knowledge transfer engagement.


Malik, A., & Rowley, C. (2015a). Towards an integrated model of human capital development for business model innovation: Synthesis and new knowledge. In A. Malik, & C. Rowley (Eds.), Business Models and People Management in the Indian IT Industry: From People to Profits. (1st ed., pp. 219-231). Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Malik, A., & Rowley, C. (2015b). Profiting from people: An introduction. In A. Malik, & C. Rowley (Eds.), Business Models and People Management in the Indian IT Industry: From People to Profits. (1st ed., pp. 1-12). Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Malik, A., & Rowley, C. (2015c). Business Models and People Management in the Indian IT Industry: From People to Profits. (1st ed.). A. Malik, & C. Rowley (Eds.), Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Kim, H. C. Triandis, C. Kagitcibasi, S. C. Choi, & G. Yoon (1994) (Eds.). Individualism and Collectivism: Theory, Method and Application (pp. 31–55). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

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