While the unfortunate split between research and practice has often been attributed to the inadequacy of practice-based research tools, I would suggest that the split has been primarily cultural and structural in nature. Specifically, research departments in prestigious universities have often been systematically isolated from the agencies both inside and outside the university where services are actually being provided. I know from my own work with a major university, doing pioneering work on AIDS during the 1990s, that many of the researchers studying this disease focused on areas that were considered of low priority by those physicians in this same university who were actually working with AIDS patients. At a cultural level, we see (even today) that researchers are assigned higher status than practitioners. The daily practices of professionals working in the field are rarely portrayed in an accurate manner. These practitioners might be celebrated as heroes and martyrs in their field, but their actual practices are rarely given much attention.
I propose that a similar split now exists in the field of professional coaching between the researchers and practitioners—though in this instance the researchers are few in number and their work is essentially invisible to the practitioners and general public (other than a few highly-biased studies indicating that professional coaching is indeed successful). In our field, it is not so much a matter of researchers being of higher status; rather, they are mostly being ignored by those doing the coaching—as we have found preliminarily in the present study (at least among many of the coaches completing the survey). Furthermore, there is not just neglect of research that has been done, there simply is not much research evidence directly related to the field of professional coaching. We make use of research from other fields (such as the neurosciences, psychology and management) but don’t do much regarding research in our own field.
Members of the professional coaching community can do something about this. We can begin to do our own practice-based research. We can become scientist practitioners who test our own working hypotheses about engaging our clients. We can build and support a culture of evidence in which studies are being conducted that are much more sophisticated than the one represented in the Phase One reports I have produced. Qualitative studies should be published alongside quantitative survey-based studies. These complementary qualitative studies might incorporate case studies and narrative studies (based on extensive interviewing data). They might make use of analytic tools such as Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis, as well as Phenomenological Analyses. A culture of evidence coupled with a culture of global dialogue will enable those of us who are engaged in the practice of professional coaching to fly a little bit less blind in a VUCA+ world.