What counts as evidence for evidence-based practice?
Throughout my time as a trainee sport psychologist and since becoming fully qualified a number of years ago I have consistently heard the phrase ‘evidence-based practice’. Now, while I broadly agree with this as a concept it does lead me to think what exactly is evidence? I find it interesting that ‘evidence’ usually refers to academic published literature. While this is an important source of information this approach to evidence does have its limitations. First, how ecologically valid is the research? Can the findings really be generalised to the applied consultants’ target population? Also, if we should strive to consistently engage in evidence-based practice where is the scope for innovation and innovation?
Also there is a concern with who is producing the ‘evidence’. I remember a couple of years ago attending a cricket symposium where some academics researchers in the room poured scorn onto one particular applied practitioner. Indeed, the researchers were suggesting that the data being presented by an applied practitioner from his own work working with elite international performers was flawed. Bizarrely, the evidence they cited for this was an unpublished undergraduate dissertation with local level performers. While you could question the robustness of the data collection process you couldn’t deny the applied implications based on a real elite example.
In such a case I know who I would believe. I think such damaging experiences by expert practitioners make them less likely in the future to engage and share their experiences and expertise. There is starting to be a shift to cater more for applied case studies. The Journal of Sport Psychology in Action and new Journal of Applied Case Studies in Sport and Exercise Science are a couple of examples of this new wave of more applied evidence.
However, the limitation here is that these publications are constrained by the same ‘academic’ review process, which is skewed towards academic papers rather than real insights into expert applied practice. As such the majority of ‘applied’ publications are written by academic practitioners. While they form part of the applied world it is just one perspective, which is often very different from the experiences of the fully immersed full-time practitioners.
As a result the ‘evidence’ is skewed and does not fully reflect the breadth of knowledge that exists. So if we truly want to embrace evidence-based practice we first need to ensure that the equity in the opportunity for the real experts to help to form this evidence upon which practice can be built.