I just realized that I passed my three-year blogoversary a few weeks ago. I guess I celebrated by not posting in over a month?

My blogging volume has an inverse relationship with my degree of employment: I wrote most regularly as a grad student or when I was between jobs. Sadly, it’s not just my blogging output that slows when I’m working. My intake drops off as well. My blog reading switches to skimming and my book reading gets squeezed into plane rides, if I’m lucky.

Duncan Green recently pondered the disconnect between the quick pace of work and the slower pace it takes to read a development book. It’s part of a larger divide that exists between academics on the one hand, and practitioners and policymakers on the other. (Though the latter two have a divide of their own.)

I feel like discussions about bridging this divide often focus on how to make research more digestible. While I appreciate the briefing notes and such, it seems a bit unfair to put all the burden on our academic cousins. Maybe those of us on the practitioner side need to carve out a little bit of time to actually read once in a while? Because right now, even a 4-page briefing note seems daunting if it’s not directly relevant to my work.

I’ve had plenty of jobs that claim to value professional development and learning opportunities, but when push comes to shove, long-term learning falls in the important-but-never-urgent category — and it just doesn’t happen. This outcome is compounded by short-term jobs and career paths that cross organizations: why would an employer want you to invest time in learning that will only become relevant for your next job? (Or worse: that might help you get that next job!)

Does anyone know of any organizations that have managed this successfully? Any tips? Is it just a question of organizational culture and personal commitment, or are there specific policies or practices that help?

Rather than fight these forces, another approach might work with the grain. People switch jobs every few years? Great. Why not create a short-term position within a think tank or research group for someone who’s normally more of a practitioner? Kind of practitioner’s fellowship. It would provide the think tank with practical grounding, and provide the practitioner with an opportunity to reflect and learn before returning to the daily grind.

  1. At an NGO I worked at, there was a standard educational allowance ($1000 or so) set aside for staff to access, with approval that it was job-related. It was a great way to take a big break and do something thoughtful – I attended a pair of three-day conferences in other cities that were very valuable, and had a lot of time to read around those.

    So a related set might be: don’t try to find times every day to read, try to find days every month that will have reading times. Telework, block it out in advance, and don’t ask for detailed permission, just assert that you’re doing job-related work. Just as if you had a medical appointment, or needed to dive into a proposal – no time for other things.

    Really, I think a fair bit of the responsibility for this lies on us, and our sense of “what I’d like to get done” driving us to take on more short-term work than is ideal. I’ve not seen many bosses push back on taking time to read anywhere near as hard as we push back on ourselves!

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