Letter to the Research Community Advocating for Research Wholesalers in 2001

I just came across a letter I wrote back in 2001 to the editor of the magazine of The Association for Psychological Science. I’m sharing it because it shows that we have made only a little progress in creating an ecosystem where research translators play a vital role in facilitating the dissemination of research wisdom.

In the letter, I argued that research wholesalers are needed to bridge the chasm between academic researchers and practitioners.

You can read the letter here.

When I started playing the research-translator role full-time in 1998, I was full of hope that the role would allow me to prosper and that many more research translators would join the fold. At that time, only Ruth Clark and I were doing this in the workplace learning field.

Where are we now? Have things gotten better?

Yes! And No! We now have a handful of folks doing research translation full bore outside the academy, while earning their living as consultants, speakers, research directors, book writers, workshop presenters, learning strategists, learning evaluators or some combination. Ruth Clark is semi-retired. I, Will Thalheimer, am still at it. We’ve got Patti Shank, Julie Dirksen, Mirjan Neelen, Donald Clark, Jane Bozarth, Clark Quinn. We’ve got folks who focus more generally on learning like Ulrich Boser. It’s not always an easy existence for most of these folks, but they don’t show signs of backing down.

Back in 2001, I envisioned something a bit different however. Today’s research translators are scratching out a living through sheer entrepreneurial ingenuity. I had envisioned the academy embracing research translators as critical to their mission—and paying them a sustainable salary for their efforts. This is not going to happen any time soon, nor are our trade associations stepping up to provide well-paying roles for research translators. You’d think that the most well compensated of our trade-association leaders—those bringing home seven-figure incomes and funding dancing musical extravagances—could afford to nick their salaries and fund a research translator or two to ensure their members were being presented with the most powerful science-based recommendations.

Unfortunately, the forces in the workplace learning field are misaligned. There is no journalism in our field to keep the powerful accountable. There is little or no learning-measurement accountability to push us toward better learning designs and hence require proven research-based recommendations.

But! There are some damn good people who want to create the most effective learning possible. They are driving excellence even with the perfect storm blowing us hither and yon. I’m probably a bit biased, but I see more and more people who want to know what the research says—who want to build the most effective learning possible. I also see, on the flip side, an unwillingness for organizations to pay for research wisdom. Well, they’ll pay for opinion research to find out what everybody else is doing, but they won’t pay for scientific research. They seem to expect that this can be gained quickly from Google.

I’m always an optimist. I figure, if we stand by the river long enough, we will see poor practices washed away.

Anyway, back to that letter. I’m kind of proud of it. I’m happy to have happened upon it today.