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Mind the (research and practice) gap

By Kate Walker

Subway platform image: "Mind the gap"Youth development researchers strive to contribute to the field’s knowledge base, influence practitioners' decision-making and improve outcomes for young people.

Translational research aims to put science to use.

Likewise, many youth development practitioners seek to ground their daily work in sound information, best practices and the latest innovations.

So why is there a disconnect between researchers and practitioners?

Practitioners rarely read peer-reviewed journal articles. Why? Most journals are hard to access and too expensive outside of academia. Even articles in free, open-access journals can be tedious to read, hard to digest and challenging for time-crunched practitioners to meaningfully translate to their everyday practice.

Most research articles aren’t designed or written to meet practitioners’ needs. Researchers are rewarded (i.e., published, tenured) for original ideas, not applicable ones. They emphasize their rigorous methods to demonstrate legitimacy of findings, while practitioners want practical ideas they can apply right away in their context.

As an Extension professor, I regularly sit at the intersection of research and practice. I also serve as editor of the Journal of Youth Development, which is dedicated to bridging youth development practice and research. I’m committed to making youth development research more relevant, useful and accessible. Here's how I think we should bridge the gap.

How to bridge the gap


Join practitioner associations and attend their conferences and events to regularly engage and share your findings with practitioners. You’ll also get a sense of what issues and questions matter most to practitioners. Write in more clear, concise language (no technical jargon, or needlessly long sentences). Consider the implications and limitations of your work for practice, not just for future research.


Set aside a dedicated time to read. Better yet, start an article club to reflect on studies with others. Consider reading and staying up to date on latest research a dimension of your own professional development. Enroll as a peer reviewer – it helps to learn what good (and bad) writing looks like, and to demystify the publishing process.

What the Journal of Youth Development is doing

We fill a critical niche for applied scholarship and practice-based work. We include practitioner reviewers and one of our review criteria is application. We encourage and mentor practitioners and emerging scholars through the publishing process. Our social media posts feature each article and highlight key findings to make them useful, timely and accessible. Our editorial team regularly attends and presents at our co-sponsors’ conferences, the NAA and NAE4-HA.

What else do you think researchers, practitioners and journals should do to bridge the gap between youth development research and practice?

-- Kate Walker, associate Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice, and editor of the Journal of Youth Development

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  1. Thank you for bringing up this subject Kate! I’ve been interested in the idea of translational research in the youth development field for years now. I also feel that I’m in a position of liaison between research and practice. As such, I do enjoy reading research articles but I find myself immediately looking for the identification of "best practices." Research has often tied results and impacts to "program fidelity," rather than gleaning best practices. Amongst the varied youth development programs, it can be very difficult to adhere to program fidelity.

    As a youth development educator in the STEM field, I also value negative data. For me, it is equally valuable to know what has been tried and didn’t work as it is to hear of the successes. And the more I learn about innovation the more I’m awed by how much innovation has been stimulated by perceived failures.

    So, my wish list would include researchers considering best practices rather than program fidelity, practitioners sharing their best practices and journals publishing the failures.


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