Developing evidence-based practice in organisations

Gail Steptoe-Warren, Associate Head, Enterprise and Commercial, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, says 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?


Gail Steptoe-Warren

At a basic level evidence-based practice is ensuring what we implement within an organisation, actually 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) 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 evidence based practice is based on six 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?

Article published by Insider Media

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