Exploring research as ‘practice’

In this post – and as part of our Community of Practice on the PhD by Practice-based Research course at SUT – I’d like to reflect on what I mean when I say ‘practice-based research’, and invite you to do the same.
The question I almost never get from people interested in applying for the course is: what is practice-based research?
This is, I think, because for those interested in the course they have an intuitive understanding of what they think a practice-based approach means. It might mean ‘applied’ research, ‘industry-led’ and ‘industry-leading’ research too.
It means that the practical aspect of what a person will study is the core focus of both the ‘thing’ we don’t know enough about, and the context for shaping how we will find out about it.
I even articulated my own view of this in the course brochure:
‘The PhD by Practice Based Research (PBR) provides senior leaders and executives with an opportunity to conduct innovative doctoral research while creating significant impacts in industry and society. This innovative program attracts high-calibre managers and leaders from across industrial sectors who are highly-motivated, and can use their extensive industry knowledge, networks and experiences to explore critical gaps in knowledge and practice. The PhD by Practice Based Research (PBR) provides senior leaders and executives with an opportunity to conduct innovative doctoralresearch while creating significant impacts in industry and society.
This innovative program attracts high-calibre managers and leaders from across industrial sectors who are highly-motivated, and can use their extensive industry knowledge, networks and experiences to explore critical gaps in knowledge and practice.’
But it might also mean many other things too. Practice-based research has a more established legacy in the arts and humanties, and so our (business, management and leadership) view of practice-based research is flavoured as much by the massive growth in demand from experienced leaders and managers from ‘industries’, who seek the challenge of higher-degree research and have previously faced barriers in pursuing this.
Having directed the course for nearly two years, and having spoken and worked with many of students and supervisors at length, I’m reflecting on if the above quotation fully captures what we (collectively) take to be practice-based research.
The practical focus of your research is, of course, a given. You wouldn’t be interested in the course if you didn’t want to make a practical impact on the lives of your colleagues, peers, customers and perhaps industry and field.
However, what does researching practice deliver – is it knowledge and a new practice? Or a re-shaping of practices? Is it about agenda change and thought leadership? How about practical, instrumental outputs, such as new tools for diagnosing challenges for business, government, civil society and beyond?
I invite your comments, critique, thoughts etc. This is all about our ongoing conversation around excellence in practice-based research! Thanks for reading.

1 Comment

  1. Chris, you have articulated the subject I have been trying to think through and wanted to have a cup of coffee about. It seems we are doing two things simultaneously; doing our PhD as you describe in the course blurb, but also learning how to do research, and I’m not sure we/I understood that as clearly. And there are issues here eg we are trying to fit our subject into theory, when sometimes it may not be clear there is a theory. Worth wrestling with.

    Liked by 1 person

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