Developing evidence-based practice in organisations

By Gail Steptoe-Warren, Associate Head, Enterprise and Commercial, Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University

We have all heard the term evidence-based practice floating around the board room, with it now becoming a buzz word within organisations, but what is evidence-based practice and how can organisations implement it?

At a basic level evidence-based practice is ensuring what we implement within an organisation works.  For example, implementing a new performance appraisal or new recruitment and selection process.   The term was first used in the 1990s in the field of medicine, but today it extends across many disciplines including business, management, social work  and education.  As humans we take short cuts based on our past experience, using rules of thumbs.  This is known as familiarity heuristics (Tversky and Kahnemans, 1974) and we tend to use this when we have a lot of information processing to do and in many cases it is positive to our decision making.  However some negatives do exist.  I have worked with the fire service for many years and am interested in their behaviour and decision making on the incident ground.  Think about a situation where there is a house fire.  Fire personnel have attended many such incidents and implemented strategies that have worked.  However, if they attend a house fire that has some nuances to other incidents attended then using heuristics may not be appropriate.  Therefore using the most recent and appropriate data (incident information) is key to having  a successful conclusion to the incident.   This is also the case within business decision making.

The premise is that when making decisions we use the best evidence available.  The data can come from a number of sources including academic journals, business information and professional experience.  Having this data available allows for a critical analysis of the pros and cons of any decision or action being taken within an organisation.

According to Barends, Rousseau and Briner (2014)  evidence based practice is based on  6 principles

  1. Asking: translating an issue into an answerable question
  2. Acquiring: Searching for and retrieving the evidence
  3. Appraising: Critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence
  4. Aggregating: Weighing and pulling together the evidence
  5. Applying: Incorporating the evidence into the decision-making process
  6. Assessing: Evaluating the outcome of the decision made.

Implementing these steps can help in making quality decisions.  The question for business professionals to ask is if a decision is not made using the best available evidence and things go wrong – who is to blame?

I will be talking about evidence-based practice at our Coventry and Warwickshire Business Festival event on 20th November and how, if you are introducing new ways of working with your staff, you can ensure what you are doing is working.


  • Barends, E., Rousseau, D.M. and Briner, R.B. (2014) Evidence-based management: the basic principles (PDF). Amsterdam: Centre for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa).
  • Tversky, A., and Kahneman, Daniel (1974), “Judgment and Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,” Science, 185, 1124-31.


Gail PhotoAbout the author

Gail is Associate Head – Enterprise and Commercial within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.  Prior to this Gail has worked in a number of sectors including voluntary, commercial and charitable sectors.  Gail is an Occupational Psychologist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council and has a PhD that focused on strategic decision making.  Gail’s area of expertise lies in the development of psychometric tests, specifically situational judgment tests to assess both competencies and behaviours within organisations.  Gail’s research also focuses on personnel development and talent management.  She adopts an evidence-based practice approach and is passionate about bringing practitioners and academics together to develop sound business solutions.

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