By Fisher, Bill; Robertson, Dav
Information Outlook , Vol. 11, No. 12
Decisions, decisions--we make countless decisions every day, and for most of us having some basis for a given decision is a good thing. The idea behind evidence-based practice is to help us establish that basis for making a decision.
While a number of fields are using some type of evidence-based practice, including criminology, education, social work, and software engineering, the concept got its start in the medical and health-related fields some 15 years ago. So our colleagues from the Biomedical and Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical and Health Technology divisions may be more familiar with evidence-based practice than the rest of us. This is also the case with our colleagues who are members of the Medical Library Association, as well as information professionals in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada, where evidence-based practice has made greater inroads into library and information practice than in the United States.
The evidence-based umbrella that most special libraries fall under to one degree or another is evidence-based management. Even if we're making a decision that involves the delivery of a specific service or program to our customers, we'll make that decision from a managerial perspective. The idea behind evidence-based management (and all evidence-based practice for that matter) is to use the best available evidence to support our decisions, moving away from guesswork, habit, personal bias, sacred cows, or the most recent fad touted in the management literature.
The most ardent proponents of evidence-based management are two professors from Stanford's business school, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. In their book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense, as well as recent articles in Harvard Business Review and California Management Review, Pfeffer and Sutton explain what is needed for an organization to adopt an evidence-based approach.
According to Pfeffer and Sutton, evidence-based management requires a change in attitude, a change in how a manager thinks about decision-making. So for many organizations, creating a culture for evidence-based management to be accepted is the major challenge. Three typical management practices--casual benchmarking, doing what--are questioned by Pfeffer and Sutton. They propose six standards for managers to consider under an evidence-based management approach:
* Treat old ideas like old ideas.
* Be suspicious of breakthrough ideas and studies--they almost never happen.
* Celebrate communities of smart people and collective brilliance, not lone geniuses or gurus.
* Emphasize the virtues and drawbacks (and uncertainties) of your research and proposed practices.
* Use success and failure stories to illustrate practices supported by other evidence, not necessarily as valid evidence.
* Take a neutral approach to ideologies and theories. Base management practices on the best evidence, not what is in vogue.
Denise Rousseau, while she was president of the Academy of Management in 2005, also championed the benefits of evidence-based management, indicating that it leads to higher-quality managerial decisions that are better implemented and yields outcomes more in line with organizational goals. Rousseau feels that those who use evidence and learn to use it well have comparative advantage over their less competent counterparts.
As an educator, she feels that "a focus on evidence use may also ultimately help to blur the boundaries between researchers, educators, and managers, creating a lively community with many feedback loops where information is systematically gathered, evaluated, disseminated, implemented, reevaluated, and shared."
Special Libraries and Evidence-Based Management
From an organizational perspective, it would be beneficial for special librarians to apply the principles of evidence-based management to their work environments for a number of reasons. …