Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice

In the March issue of LD+A, Rajaram Bhagavathula of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and an IES Emerging Professional discussed ways that the new generation of researchers can influence lighting practice. An excerpt follows:

As I began my career in the field of lighting three years ago, an issue stood out to me glaringly (pun intended)—the gap between research and practice. This gap is not unique to lighting, as it plagues almost all areas at the intersection of science, technology and design. Even Rudyard Kipling once said, “Oh, research is research, practice is practice, and never the twain shall never meet.”

As an IES Emerging Professional, I believe it’s important for us to tackle this issue head-on so that we can start incorporating strategies at an early stage to bridge the divide between research and practice. One of the primary reasons for this gap is the fundamental difference in the knowledge and skill-set required for each group. Researchers might be more concerned with publishing, whereas practitioners are concerned with solving problems only affecting their line of work. I state this, of course, with great generalization as many researchers and practitioners routinely collaborate for mutual benefit and betterment of lighting.

Oftentimes, researchers (me included) do a less than stellar job of explaining the premise, applicability and significance of our research. Science has traditionally been afflicted with this type of communication conundrum, as research results are hidden behind a veil of scientific and statistical jargon. As researchers, it is our responsibility to make the results more palatable to practitioners so that they can use the research to guide their work. Results should be published via succinct summaries with well-designed graphics to enhance their understanding and interpretation. These research summaries and results could be maintained in repositories that could be easily accessible to practitioners.

While answering fundamental questions in nature is a cornerstone for research, it is also important for researchers to tackle applied problems that practitioners encounter on a day-to-day basis. For instance, the research that I do in a sterile indoor lighting lab might help me understand certain fundamental phenomena but it will do little for practitioners of roadway lighting. Thus, as researchers it should be our goal to perform translational research that could be readily applied to real-world situations. Research results that could have potential practical implications should be supplemented with evidence-based implementations on pilot or smaller scales.

It takes two hands to clap, so there are certain things that even early career practitioners can do to bridge this gap. Just as researchers should do a better job in communicating results, practitioners should make an effort to read technical papers and journals, not only in lighting but also other related areas, to keep themselves informed of the advances in science and technology. Some of the very good practitioners I know make it a point to read technical papers far removed from lighting, because they firmly believe that it has the potential to answer some of the most persistent challenges.

OPPORTUNITY BECKONS
So as Emerging Professionals what can we do to spearhead the change and bring down the proverbial fence between researchers and practitioners? The IES Annual Conference and technical committee Meetings are a great place to go beyond your boundaries. Attending these committee meetings has given me a chance to interact with my peers and experienced practitioners in roadway lighting, and has widened my perspective beyond research. These interactions are also critical in developing future research studies that could solve some of the pressing problems affecting our field. Early career professionals (both researchers and practitioners) should consider attending and volunteering at these meetings. They will not only expose the practitioners to recent research advances but also give them an opportunity to meet and interact with other early career and established researchers and practitioners. Such interactions at an early stage in careers of both researchers and practitioners will go a long way in narrowing the gap between research and practice.

The IES has already taken great strides to bridge this gap by facilitating various technical committees and subcommittees, and also developing and sustaining an Emerging Professional program that provides early career professionals with great opportunities to meet their peers and network with other highly successful lighting professionals. As EPs it is our duty to grab these opportunities and make most of them. Doing so will make help us create better lighting, and in the process enhance our careers while providing a great service to the IES. Finally, I would like to apologize for falsely attributing a quote to Rudyard Kipling (the actual quote reads, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” From Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892). This was done on purpose to make a statement to my fellow practitioners to do their due diligence and not believe anything that is not backed by empirical and peer-reviewed research.

March 2017