The Scientist-Practitioner: Living in a Culture of Evidence
I wish to offer one final note. Over the past thirty years, I have often written about the world of complexity, uncertainty and turbulence in which we are now living (e.g. Bergquist, 1993). In many ways, this description aligns with the more commonly accepted description of our contemporary world as one filled with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). I have recently been exploring the ways in which our world might be even more challenging. I am suggesting that our world is also filled with Irony and contradiction. I am calling it VUCA+ (Bergquist, 2019). In such a world, it is tempting to fly blind as professional coaches. We can rely on our “instincts” to determine how to best work with our clients. We can turn to our own accumulated experiences in providing guidance to our clients as they navigate their own VUCA+ world. We can engage Daniel Kahneman’s (2011) fast thinking, using convenient heuristics to navigate this new world—heuristics such as “we are in the business of offering informed and provocative questions” and “our client holds the answers”.
I suggest instead that we all help to build the culture of evidence I have been advocating in this study. Such a culture would encourage what Donald Schon (2008) has called reflective practice and what I have been referencing as the slow thinking identified by Kahneman. It is important, I believe, that we are particularly mindful of the subtitle used by Schon in his book on reflective practice. The subtitle is:: “how professionals think in action.” It is primarily in the daily practices of any human service profession that the critical questions to be studied in depth are identified. The contemporary world of complex, unpredictable, turbulent (and perhaps contradictory) real-life issues is where research must be conducted. The “clean” laboratory will yield fewer useful answers regarding human behavior than will the “messy” and “dirty” world in which professionals actually practice.
All too often, researchers in a field act separately from those who are actually engaged in practice. This separation is often found in such fields as medicine, urban planning (Schon’s own field), education – and psychology. Attempts have been made in many fields to correct this separation of research and practice. In the field of psychology, the term scientist-practitioner was coined during the late 1970s and early 1980s (actually re-activated from the 1940s and 50s). This term was used to suggest that those engaged in psychological practices (such as psychotherapy and psychodiagnostics assessment) should be considered applied researchers who are testing their own hypotheses about their practice on an ongoing basis (Barlow, Hayes and Nelson, 1984). The challenge was later framed by Lane and Corrie as “straddling the worlds of rigour and meaning” (Lane and Corrie, 2006, p. 23).