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‘Evidence based management’, or ‘evidence oriented organizing’? A critical realist perspective
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-09, 06:37 authored by Dennis TourishDennis Tourish
Recent years have witnessed a surge of interest in what has been described as Evidence Based Management (henceforth, EBM). Its proponents assert that management practice should be based on a better appreciation of ‘what works’, as determined by the research evidence. This has attracted a varied critique, which suggests that the evidence base on most management issues is uncertain, and constrained by the interests of powerful organizational actors. EBM is depicted as an effort to marginalize more critical perspectives within the field. This article adopts a different approach. Drawing on a critical realist epistemology, it suggests that while research evidence is rarely conclusive it can aspire towards the progressive displacement of ignorance by knowledge. While some advocates of EBM would accept this, it is argued that such acceptance is more rhetorical than substantive, and is undermined by a standpoint which systematically downplays the power saturated organizational contexts in which evidence is assembled and employed in decision making. The key tenets of critical realism as applied to EBM are therefore considered. Critical realism acknowledges epistemological relativism, yet also accepts the need to construct robust causal explanations for social phenomena. Recognizing that organizations are co-created and co-defined by multiple actors, rather than only by managers, it is argued that we should replace the concept of ‘Evidence Based Management’ with the notion of ‘Evidence Oriented Organizing’.
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- Business and Management Publications
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