Creating an Academic Practice Partnership

People sitting around a table discussing a problem of mutual interest.

In August I blogged about the importance of creating partnerships between academics and practitioners. Last week I was excited to attend a session at the Southern Management Association (SMA) conference on how to do just that. James Lemoine, University of Buffalo explains his successful strategy for creating an academic practice partnership. He has found that offering a partnership to address problems of mutual interest is highly effective in establishing working relationships between academics and practitioners.

Why Partnerships?

Organizational research is hard to conduct, and often what we are able to do is far less than we would like. That is why we rely so often on one-shot surveys, frequently using sub-optimal samples like online panels because having some data is better than having no data. The organizational literature today is filled with studies that have only a loose connection to problems in organizations, and thus mainly contributes to theory rather than practical application. One way to solve this academic-practice divide is for academics to partner with practitioners by making them part of the research team.

There are many advantages to partnering. The first and most obvious is access to organizations. The partner is on the inside and can get you in the door. More importantly, the partner can expand the things you are able to accomplish. My partnership projects have included intervention studies, for example. Furthermore, a partner will have an important stake in the project, and can provide supporting resources. This can include covering costs of conducting the research, and providing the services of organizational members. I’ve worked on projects that used the services of curriculum specialists, event planners, and videographers provided by the organization.

Creating An Academic Practice Partnership

The great thing about Lemoine’s session is that he provided detailed advice to academics about how to create partnerships. He began with explaining how to identify organizational insiders and then covered the nuts and bolts of making a pitch that would be appealing to a practitioner. The basic principle is that you want to create a real partnership. The practitioner is part of a team that creates a study that answers a practical problem for the organization while providing publishable data. The main points include

  • First Contact: Leverage your university resources that can introduce you to potential partners. There are many places on campus that are connected to community people, such as university centers, your alumni office, and your students, especially if your university has executive education programs.
  • Ask for a Meeting: Once you identify an individual as a potential partner, ask for a face-to-face meeting. It is best if that person is either in human resources or is a high level executive.
  • Hone the Pitch: The best way to approach someone is to offer a partnership. Tell them you aren’t selling anything, but are looking for organizations interested in pooling resources to address problems of mutual interest. Suggest a meeting to explore what those interests might be.
  • Make the Most of the Meeting: Keep in mind that your goal is to identify potential topics for the research. Ask questions, but let them do most of the talking. You are on a fact-finding mission. Take lots of notes.
  • Prepare a Proposal: Based on what you have learned, put together a preliminary proposal for a study that addresses their problem while it provides potentially publishable data for you. This is where you piggyback your interest on top of theirs.
  • Be Patient: After you deliver your proposal, do not expect an immediate response. If you do not hear in a week or two, it is okay to follow-up, but keep in mind that the project is probably not their top priority. I have found that timing is important, and if the project involves an employee survey, they will not want to do it now if their annual engagement survey is about to launch.

Lemoine provides a winning strategy for creating an academic practice partnership that academics can readily apply. The investment of some time and effort can return big payoffs in access to conduct better research that can have impact beyond the academic world and have a real impact on organizations and the people who work there.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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