The IS academic-practitioner disconnect: Exploring the practitioner perspective through action research
thesisposted on 2023-05-26, 06:03 authored by Darroch, FD
The Information Systems (IS) field has struggled to achieve a functional relationship between academia and practice. Debate has persisted among academics, but without apparent progress. The relationship is characterised as suffering a 'disconnect', largely resulting from a 'communication deficit'. The problem is complex and interrelated with other major academic debates regarding the field's identity. The applied nature of the field and the importance of practitioners as stakeholders in academic research underline the significance of the academic-practitioner relationship. Prominent academics question the future viability of an IS academic discipline, and warn of an impending crisis. They advocate 'proactive change' by engaging with practitioners, and call for empirical research into the practitioner perspective of the relationship. There are two primary objectives of this research. The first is to explore the practitioner perspective on the relationship with IS academia and the role played by academia. The second is to trial, via Action Research (AR), an engagement approach that can be shown effectively to address the disconnect. The research objectives are achieved via two complementary AR cases. The first, the 'BA Workshop case', is 'problem-driven', and the research context is heavily influenced by academia. The second, the 'PM Alliance case', is 'researcher-driven', and the research setting is predominantly influenced by its industry location. For the purposes of this thesis, the theoretical framework is referred to as the Academic Practitioner Interaction Theoretical Framework (APITF). This framework, which underpins the interaction approaches, is primarily based on Boundary Spanning Theory. It adopts the Dialogical Action Research (Dialogical AR) approach. It also draws on the conception of IS as a 'design science' and the principles of Mode 2 Knowledge. These cases yielded a variety of qualitative data in the form of transcribed interviews, emails and personal communications, observations, and corporate documentation. The cases were conducted under an interpretivist-pragmatist paradigm, which acknowledges the subjective nature of the research. The data are analysed using thematic analysis methods. The research provides an in-depth understanding of the practitioners' perspective of academia and the academic role. It also yields insights into the current state of the relationship, and the causes of the disconnect. Seeking the practitioners' viewpoint in a context of deeply engaged action facilitated a more meaningful response from the practitioners. It also enabled the Author to make more informed observations. Both cases provide evidence to support the efficacy of the APITF as a basis for conducting academic-practitioner interactions that can overcome the relationship disconnect. While the success of the boundary spanning role may seem intuitively obvious, the emphatically positive response from practitioners is noteworthy. The key features of Dialogical AR are also confirmed as prescribing appropriate roles for both academics and practitioners to interact productively. Overall, the evidence suggests that the boundary spanning role may be the crux of a potential solution. While the concept of academic-practitioner engagement is inherently appealing, such interactions are operationally challenging. This research makes two main contributions. Firstly, it provides an in-depth understanding of the practitioner perspective. Secondly it answers the call for pragmatic, action-based responses to the academic-practitioner disconnect, and demonstrates how highly functional relationships between academics and practitioners can be achieved.
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