Human factors and ergonomics (HFE) is an applied scientific discipline with a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice. However, in reality, there is often a 'research-practice gap'. This is characterised by ongoing tension between researchers and practitioners, and low research utilisation in practice. A series of studies were conducted to examine the nature and extent of this issue. Study 1 was an international survey of 587 HFE professionals to examine the nature of the research-practice gap. Results showed that practitioners are more likely to perceive access and applicability of research to be barriers to applying research findings in practice compared to researchers. Study 2 and Study 3 then examined the extent of the research-practice gap in an international survey of 309 HFE professionals. Study 2 investigated HFE professionals¿ evaluations of journal article attributes, and Study 3 investigated their selection of journal articles in an online setting. Results of Study 2 and Study 3 showed that both researchers and practitioners in HFE perceive journal article attributes relating to practical significance to be much more important than attributes relating to theoretical significance, and researchers and practitioners make similar selections of journal articles to read. These results suggest that the research-practice gap may not be as large as previously thought. More importantly, these results suggest the possibility of a theory-research gap in HFE. Study 4 examined trends in the research published in HFE peer-reviewed academic journals. A content analysis of 425 journal articles published in Human Factors, Ergonomics, and Applied Ergonomics from 1960 to 2010 was conducted. Despite increased contribution from researchers, the published research has a stronger focus on practical applications compared to theoretical implications. Thus publication practices in HFE could be improved to enhance both the use of theory and specification of the practical application of findings. These results suggest that the heavy emphasis on the link between research and practice may have been misguided, and more attention should be given to the link between theory and research to ensure that HFE practice rests on firm scientific foundations.
Professor Ann Williamson
Dr Amy Chung