Evidence-based Management

Evidence-based management (EBMgt) is an emerging movement to explicitly use the current, best evidence in management and decision-making. Its roots are in empiricism as seen in evidence-based-practice, aiming to apply scientific method to evaluating practice.


Evidence-based management entails managerial decisions and organizational practices informed by the best available evidence.[1] As with other evidence-based practice, this is based on the three principles of: 1) published peer-reviewed (often in management or social science journals) research evidence that bears on whether and why a particular management practice works; 2) judgement and experience from contextual management practice, to understand the organization and interpersonal dynamics in a situation and determine the risks and benefits of available actions; and 3) the preferences and values of those affected.[2][3]

While, like its counterparts in medicine,[4] and education[5] EBMgt considers the circumstances and ethical concerns managerial decisions involve, it tends not to make extensive use of behavioral science relevant to effective management practice.[6][7][8][9]


An important part of EBMgt is educating current and future managers in evidence-based practices. The EBMgt website maintained at Stanford University provides a repository of syllabi, cases, and tools that can inform the teaching of evidence-based management.

Efforts to promote EBMgt face greater challenges than have other evidence-based initiatives. In medicine there is more consensus as to what constitutes best evidence than in the social sciences more generally, and management in particular. Unlike medicine, nursing, education, and law enforcement, "Management" is not a profession. There are no established legal or cultural requirements regarding education or knowledge for an individual to become a manager. Managers have diverse disciplinary backgrounds. A college degree may be required for an MBA - but not to be a manager. No formal body of shared knowledge characterizes managers, making it unlikely that peer pressure will be exerted to promote use of evidence by any manager who refuses to do so. Little shared language or terminology exists, making it difficult for managers to hold discussions of evidence or evidence-based practices.[7][8] For this reason, the adoption of evidence-based practices is likely to be organization-specific, where leaders take the initiative to build an evidence-based culture.[1] Practices an evidence-based organizational culture employs include systematic accumulation and analysis of data gathered on the organization and its functioning, problem-based reading and discussion of research summaries by managers and staff, and the making of organizational decisions informed by both best available research and organizational information. Organizations successfully pursuing evidence-based management typically go through cycles of experimentation and redesign of their practices to create an evidence-based culture consistent with their values and mission.

Although some advocates of EBMgt argue that it is more likely to be adopted in knowledge-intensive organizations, recent research at the University of Oxford into six leading organizations in the healthcare industry found that managers and clinical leaders used a variety of forms of knowledge, drawing on academic research, experiential knowledge and respected colleagues.[10] The researchers concluded that skilful 'knowledge leadership' is crucial in translating EBMgt and other academic research into practice in ways that are relevant and can be mobilized in specific organizational contexts.[11]

Organizations adopting agile approaches in their product development, often find they need to make changes in other areas to reap the full benefits of the changes (the growing field of business agility and agile transformation). Evidence-based management provides a more structured approach to working through such change in short-cycles; to focus investments in areas that will bring the greatest value soonest; and to provide a framework for evaluating their success.[12]

The concept of evidence-based policy and practice within international development is similarly being emphasized regarding the management of development projects and activities. For instance, in a literature review focused on development, an integrated, participatory, structured and empowering approach to using evidence and data in decision-making to inform development decisions was tied to improved results. [13]

Alternatives and objections

The weak form alternatives to evidence-based anything include hearsay, opinion, rhetoric, discourse, advice (opinion), self deception, bias, belief, fallacy, or advocacy. The stronger forms include concerns about what counts as evidence, types of evidence, what evidence is available, sought or possible, who decides and pays for what evidence to be collected, and that evidence needs to be interpreted. Also there are the limitations to empiricism as well argued in the historical debate between empiricism and rationalism which is usually assumed to be resolved by Immanuel Kant by saying the two are inextricably interwoven. We reason what evidence is fair and what the evidence means (Critique of Practical Reason).Critical theorists have raised objections to the claims made by those promoting evidence-based management.[14][15][16][17] In particular, EBMgt has been criticised for treating "evidence" and "scientific method" as if they were neutral, value-free descriptions.[16] From this perspective, what counts as "evidence" is considered as intrinsically problematic and contested because there are different ways of looking at social problems.[15] Furthermore, in line with perspectives from critical management studies, "management" is not necessarily an automatic good thing--it often involves the exercise of power and the exploitation of others. Efforts have been made, however, to include a balanced treatment of such issues in reviewing and interpreting the research literature for practice.[18] Criticisms persist, and critical theorists say fundamental problems with evidence-based management have been ignored.[17]

One potential alternative to the evidence-based approach is use of dialectic, argument, or public debate (argument is not to be confused with advocacy or quarreling). Aristotle in works like Rhetoric, reasons that the way to test knowledge claims was to set up an inquiry method where a sceptical audience was encouraged to question evidence and its assumptions. To win an argument, convincing evidence is required. Calls for argumentative inquiry, or the argumentative turn may be fairer, safer and more creative than calls for evidence-based approaches.[19][20]

Supporting research

Some of the publications in this area are Evidence-Based Management, Harvard Business Review, and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.[1] Some of the people conducting research on the effects of evidence-based management are Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton, and Tracy Allison Altman. Pfeffer and Sutton also have a website dedicated to EBMgt.[21]

Evidence-based management is also being applied in specific industries and professions, including software development.[22] Other areas are crime prevention (Sherman et al. (2002),[23] public management, and manufacturing.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Pfeffer J, Sutton RI (March 2006). Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management (first ed.). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press. ISBN 978-1-59139-862-2.
  2. ^ Spring B (July 2007). "Evidence-based practice in clinical psychology: what it is, why it matters; what you need to know". Journal of Clinical Psychology. 63 (7): 611-31. doi:10.1002/jclp.20373. PMID 17551934.
  3. ^ Lilienfeld SO, Ritschel LA, Lynn SJ, Cautin RL, Latzman RD (November 2013). "Why many clinical psychologists are resistant to evidence-based practice: root causes and constructive remedies". Clinical Psychology Review. 33 (7): 883-900. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.008. PMID 23647856.
  4. ^ Sackett DL, Straus SE, Richardson WS, Rosenberg W, Haynes RB (2000-01-18). Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM (second ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 978-0-443-06240-7.
  5. ^ Thomas G, Pring B (2004-07-04). Evidence-based Practice in Education. Maidenhead: Open University Press. ISBN 978-0-335-21334-4.
  6. ^ Walshe K, Rundall TG (2001). "Evidence-based management: from theory to practice in health care". The Milbank Quarterly. 79 (3): 429-57, IV-V. PMC 2751196. PMID 11565163.
  7. ^ a b Rousseau DM (2005). Korunka C, Hoffmann P, eds. Evidence-Based Management in Health Care. Change and Quality in Human Service Work. Munich: Hampp. pp. 33-46.
  8. ^ a b Rousseau DM (2006). "Keeping an open mind about evidence-based management". Academy of Management Review. 31.
  9. ^ Pfeffer J, Sutton RI (January 2006). "Evidence-Based Management". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Dopson S, Fitzgerald L, Ferlie E, Fischer M, Ledger J, McCulloch J, McGivern G (May 2013). "Health care managers access and use of management research". National Institute for Health Research.
  11. ^ Fischer MD, Sue D, Louise F, Chris B, Ewan F, Jean L, Gerry M. "Knowledge Leadership: Mobilising Management Research by Becoming the Knowledge Object". SSRN Electronic Journal. ISSN 1556-5068.
  12. ^ Scheerer A (2017). Coordination in Large-Scale Agile Software Development: Integrating Conditions and Configurations in Multiteam Systems. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-55327-6.
  13. ^ "Cracking the Evidence Conundrum: Four Ideas to Get People to Use Evidence" (18 December 2017). USAID Learning Lab. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  14. ^ Learmonth M, Harding N (June 2006). "Evidence-based management: the very idea". Public Administration. 84 (2): 245-266. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9299.2006.00001.x.
  15. ^ a b Learmonth M (March 2008). "Speaking Out: Evidence-Based Management: A Backlash Against Pluralism in Organizational Studies?". Organization. 15 (2): 283-291. doi:10.1177/1350508407087763.
  16. ^ a b Morrell K (May 2008). "The Narrative of 'Evidence Based' Management: A Polemic". Journal of Management Studies. 45 (3): 613-635. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2007.00755.x.
  17. ^ a b Morrell K (7 July 2011). "Evidence-based dialectics". Organization. 19 (4): 461-479. doi:10.1177/1350508411414229.
  18. ^ Rousseau DM, Manning J, Denyer D. "Evidence in Management and Organizational Science: Assembling the field's full weight of scientific knowledge through reflective reviews".
  19. ^ Bailin S (1 January 2004). "Is Argument for Conservatives? or Where Do Sparkling New Ideas Come From?". Informal Logic. 23 (1). doi:10.22329/il.v23i1.2151.
  20. ^ Fischer F, Forester J (1996). The Argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning (2 ed.). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-1354-0.
  21. ^ "Center for Evidence Based Management". www.evidence-basedmanagement.com. Retrieved .
  22. ^ Dybå T, Kitchenham BA, Jørgensen M (January 2005). "Evidence-based software engineering for practitioners". IEEE Software. 22 (1): 58-65. doi:10.1109/MS.2005.6.
  23. ^ Farrington D, MacKenzie DL, Sherman L, Welsh BC (2006). Evidence-based crime prevention (Revised ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-40102-9.
  24. ^ Sloan MD, Boyles RA (2003). Profit signals: how evidence-based decisions power Six Sigma breakthroughs. Seattle, Wash.: Evidence-based Decisions. ISBN 978-0-9744616-0-1.

External links

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