Rigour or relevance in philanthropy research? Choose both! 

Tracey Coule

‘Ivory tower academics have nothing useful to offer practitioners’ – as a former non profit practitioner-turned-academic responsible for running a professional doctorate, delivering management education, undertaking client-driven, applied research projects, and publishing research papers, I have often heard this charge from practitioners. Equally, I have heard academic colleagues refer to applied, client-commissioned research as the ‘poor relation’, ‘ugly sister’ or even not ‘proper’ research because it ‘lacks rigour’ and ‘can’t possibly produce high quality, publishable research’. 

In this short piece, I would like to at least begin challenging both sets of assumptions by making three arguments. First, the rigour versus relevance debate is a fallacy. Second, the real issue (and solution) is one of language or, rather, translation. Third, it will take shared commitment and collective action to undertake such translation work and bridge the gap between academic, policy, and practice communities.

Sather Tower, also known as the Campanile, at Berkeley, University of California. Are academics in ivory towers?

The fallacy of the rigour versus relevance debate

Next Special feature to read

Last word: Why non-profit management education is not enough 

Eugene Tempel