What are the limitations of evidence based practice?

Limitation small

Sometimes the best available evidence is not available. This is particularly the case with regard to novel management techniques or the implementation of new technologies. In such cases scientific evidence is not (yet) available and there are often too few organizational data to draw reliable and valid conclusions upon, which hinders the decision-making process and decreases the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

Another limitation is that the current management environment changes more rapidly than in the past, which limits the relevance and applicability of scientific and experiential evidence that was generated in an organizational context that was different than today’s. In those cases we have no other option than to deal with the evidence we do have, and treat our organization as a prototype: systematically assess the outcome of the decisions we take through a process of constant experimentation, punctuated by critical reflection about which things work and which things doesn’t (see Pfeffer and Sutton, 2010).

Another serious limitation is that practitioners need to develop new skills in seeking and appraising evidence, which takes considerable time and effort. Without these skills practitioners are prone to confirmation bias – seeing only the evidence that supports their personal experience and judgment.

Finally, some managers see evidence-based practice as a tool to reduce staff expenses: use the best available evidence to determine the best model or technique, hire young, inexpensive practitioners and equip them with an evidence-based protocol to guide their decisions. This would not only be a misuse of evidence-based practice but also suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of it’s principles: evidence-based practice is not cook book management, but just one tool in the toolbox of knowledgeable practitioners. Evidence, especially in social sciences, is never conclusive. Knowledgeable practitioners make decisions not based on conclusive, up to date information, but on the best available evidence. We need the professional judgment and expertise of seasoned practitioners to determine whether the evidence is applicable, and if so, how. Therefore evidence-based practice is not likely to reduce costs in the short term, but it will help make managers better decisions, and as such make a significant contribution to the betterment of the organization in the long run. 

Treat Your Organization as a Prototype: The Essence of Evidence-Based Management (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2010)