Sunday, March 29, 2015

Striking a Balance with Evidence-Based Practice

With a background in school libraries, I have seen the importance of being able to demonstrate the measurable impact that programs have on student achievement. This data stands as critical evidence given the testing culture of schools and in light of ever-looming budget restrictions. Todd (2009) issued an urgent charge to Teacher Librarians to utilize “quality measures and data-driven decision making” (p. 3), but it is with this in mind that I appreciated reading an article from The Harvard Business Review that looks at evidence-based practice more situationally.

In the article “Two Words That Kill Innovation,” Martin (2014) reveals the two words as being: “Prove it.” With the standard of evidence-based practice looming in management theory in general, the logic is that “you must prove — analytically, and in advance — that a decision is correct before making it.”  While Martin acknowledges that there are genuine benefits to using data, he cites philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, who wrote about it being impossible to analytically prove new ideas before they have a chance to “interact with the world.”

Martin has suggested that the requirement of proof can kill innovation, and thus his advice is that managers:
distinguish between when they are honing and refining an existing system and when they are attempting to create something genuinely new. In the former situations, it is totally fine to come in with analytical guns blazing. In the latter, they need to put away the guns and take an entirely different approach. Here, they need to borrow from the design thinking toolbox by engaging in prototyping. Try innovative ideas, but do so in small ways without a lot of up front investment. Generate data through experimentation rather than assuming that there is pre-existing data to be harvested. Iterative experimentation will migrate the solution to an ever more compelling state — and spin off new data along the way.
This article was a timely read for me, as I value getting reassurance that, while I should seek to gather data in order to inform iterative practice, I should make sure that I do not limit myself and others in my school from experimenting with innovative ideas in small ways. It is a reminder to think more critically about situations before de facto applying a standard universally. As I believe is most often the case, it’s all about achieving an optimal balance.


Martin, R. (2014, December 9). Two words that kill innovation. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Todd, R. (2009). School librarianship and evidence based practice: Progress, perspectives, and challenges. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 4(2), 78-96.

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