Evidence-based management

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Evidence-based management (EBMgt or EBM) is an emerging movement to explicitly use the current, best evidence in management and decision-making. Its roots are in empiricism and well developed in evidence-based medicine and evidence-based policy. These are quality movements aimed at applying the scientific method to evaluating practice.


Evidence-based management entails managerial decisions and organizational practices informed by the best available scientific evidence, where best evidence is understood in terms of norms from the natural sciences. Like its counterparts in medicine[1] and to a lesser extent education,[2] the judgments EBMgt entails also consider the circumstances and ethical concerns managerial decisions involve. In contrast to medicine in particular, however, contemporary managers and management educators make limited use of the vast behavioral science evidence base relevant to effective management practice.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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. 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.[6][7]

At present, there are initiatives in several parts of the world, through the EBMgt Collaborative jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, the Academy of Management, the Advanced Institute of Management (UK), and John Wiley & Sons,[8] in Canada through CHERF, the Canadian Health Education and Research Foundation, to begin building communities promoting EBMgt. Another example is the Center for Health Management Research affiliated with the Health Research & Educational Trust of the American Hospital Association.[9]

As an example of the types of initiatives and organizations promoting EBMgt, the EBMgt Collaborative has as its Credo: Evidence-Based Management (EBMgt) enhances the overall quality of organizational decisions and practices through deliberative use of relevant and best available scientific evidence. EBMgt combines conscientious, judicious use of best evidence with individual expertise; ethics; valid, reliable business and organizational facts; and consideration of impact on stakeholders. Working with the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology, The EBMgt Collaborative commissions practitioner-focused summaries of best evidence for the SIOP publication Science You Can Use.

Software organizations can leverage EBMgt to measure the value they deliver as a whole. By evaluating the valuable outcomes of the organization, it can determine which parts of the software delivery process contribute to them. This helps focus investments to areas of high-impact first and provides a framework for reevaluating their success in short-cycles.

Objections and Alternatives[edit]

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.[10] In particular, EBM has been criticised for treating "evidence" and "scientific method" as if they were neutral, value-free descriptions.[11] From this perspective, what counts as "evidence" is considered as intrinsically problematic and contested because there are different ways of looking at social problems.[12] 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.[13] The same is true of evidence. But criticisms persist, and critical theorists say fundamental problems with evidence-based management have been ignored.[14]

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.[15]

Supporting Research[edit]

Some of the publications in this area are Evidence-Based Management,[16] Harvard Business Review,[17] and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management.[18] 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 have recently opened a web site[19] dedicated to the movement.

Evidence-based management is also being applied in specific industries and professions, including software development (.[20] Other areas are crime prevention (Sherman et al. (2002), public management, and manufacturing.[21]

Also see the Journal of Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice[22] and the International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (e.g., Sackett, et al., 2000)
  2. ^ (e.g., Thomas & Pring, 2004)
  3. ^ (Walshe & Rundall, 1999; Rousseau, 2005, 2006; Pfeffer & Sutton, 2001).
  4. ^ (Rousseau, 2005, 2006)
  5. ^ (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006)
  6. ^ Fischer M.D. Dopson, S. Fitzgerald, L. Bennett, C. Ferlie, E. Ledger, J. & McGivern, G. (2015) "Knowledge leadership: Mobilizing management research by becoming the knowledge object" Human Relations, doi:10.1177/0018726715619686
  7. ^ Dopson, S. Bennett, C. Fitzgerald, L. Ferlie, E. Fischer, M.D. Ledger, J. McCulloch, J. & McGivern, G. (2013). "Health care managers' access and use of management research" (PDF). National Institute of Health Research - Service Delivery & Organisation Programme. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ (Learmonth & Harding, 2006; Learmonth, 2006; Morrell, 2008; Morrell, 2012)
  11. ^ (Morrell, 2008)
  12. ^ (Learmonth, 2008)
  13. ^ (Rousseau, Manning & Denyer, 2008)
  14. ^ (Morrell, 2012)
  15. ^ (Bailin 2003; Fischer and Forester 1993)
  16. ^ (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006)
  17. ^ (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006)
  18. ^ (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006)
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ see Evidence-Based Software Engineering for Practitioners (Dyba et al., 2005)
  21. ^ (Sloan & Boyles 2003)
  22. ^ [4]
  23. ^ [5]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailin, Sharon. (2003). “Is Argument for Conservatives? Or, Where Do Sparkling Ideas Come From?” Informal Logic 23.1.
  • Davies, H., Nutley, S., & Smith, P. (Eds.) (2002) What Works? Evidence-Based Policy and Practice in Public Services. Bristo, UK: Policy Press.
  • Dyba, T. et al. (2005). Evidence-Based Software Engineering for Practitioners. Software, IEEE. 22 (1).
  • Fischer F and Forester J eds. 1993, The Argumentative Turn in Policy Analysis and Planning, Duke University Press
  • Gray, J. A. M. (2001). Evidence-based Healthcare: How to make Health Policy and Management Decisions. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. 444 pages.
  • Kovner, A. R., Elton J., and J. Billings. (2000). Evidence-Based Management. Frontiers of Health Services Management. 16 (4): 3—26.
  • Kovner, A. R., & T. G. Rundall, Ph.D. (2006). Evidence-based Management Reconsidered. Frontiers of Health Services Management 22 (3): 3-21.
  • Learmonth, M. (2006). Is there such a thing as evidence-based management? A commentary on Rousseau's Presidential address. Academy of Management Review, 31, in press.
  • Learmonth, M. (2008). Speaking out: evidence-based management: a backlash against pluralism in organizational studies?. Organization 15(2): 283-291.
  • Learmonth, M. & Harding. N. (2006). Evidence-based Management: The very idea. Public Administration 84(2) 245-266.
  • Morrell, K. (2008). The Narrative of ‘Evidence based’ Management, Journal of Management Studies, 45(3): 613-635.
  • Morrell, K. (2012). Evidence-Based Dialectics, Organization, 19(4): 461-79.
  • Pfeffer, J. and Sutton, R.I. (2006). Harvard Business Review, 84 (1) 62-74.
  • Pfeffer, J. and Sutton, R.I. (2006). Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Rousseau, D.M. 2005. Evidence-based management in health care. In Korunka, C.& Hoffmann. P. (eds.) Change and quality in human service work. Munich: Hampp Publishers.
  • Rousseau, D.M. 2006. Is there such a thing as evidence-based management? Academy of Management Review, 31: 256-269. (a)
  • Rousseau, D.M. 2006. Keeping an open mind about evidence-based management. Academy of Management Review, 31, in press. (b)
  • Rousseau, D.M. & McCarthy, S. Evidence-based Management: Educating managers from an evidence-based perspective. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2007, 6, 94-101.
  • Rousseau, D.M., Manning, J. & Denyer, D. Evidence in Management and Organizational Science: Assembling the field’s full weight of scientific knowledge through reflective reviews. Annals of the Academy of Management, in press.
  • Rousseau, D.M. & Barends, E.G.R., Becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner, Human Resource Management Journal, 21 (3).
  • Rousseau, D.M. (Editor) 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Evidence-Based Management. (in press)
  • Rundall T.G., Martelli P.F., Arroyo L., McCurdy R, Graetz I, Neuwirth EB, Curtis P, Schmittdiel J, Gibson M, & Hsu J.. 2007. “The informed decisions toolbox: tools for knowledge transfer and performance improvement.” Journal of Healthcare Management. 52 (5): 325-41; discussion 341-2. See also: The Informed Decisions Toolbox.
  • Sackett, D.L., Straus, S.E., Richardson, W.S., Rosenberg, W., & Haynes, R.B. 2000. Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Sherman, L.W., Farrington, D., Welsh, B., MacKenzie, D.L. (Eds.) (2002). Evidence-Based Crime Prevention. Routledge.
  • Sloan, M. & Boyles, R. (2003). Profit Signals: How Evidence-Based Decisions Power Six Sigma Breakthroughs. Evidence-Based Decisions, Inc.
  • Thomas, G. & Pring, R. 2004. Evidence-based practice in Education. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Walshe, K. & Rundall, T.G. 2001. Evidence-based management: From theory to practice in health care. The Milbank Quarterly, 79: 429-457.

External links[edit]