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In praise of evidence based practice – thoughts from the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology Conference

January 29, 2018


As an Occupational Psychologist, there are few better ways to kick off the year from a work perspective than the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference, which was this year held in Stratford Upon Avon, UK. A great event to connect with colleagues in the ‘occ psych’ world, find out about interesting practitioner projects, and relevant research from Universities and the next generation of students entering our field.

The keynote talks were particularly thought-provoking. As a psychologist, it was (geekily!) exciting to see in person the legend that is Edwin Locke, who has done seminal work on goal setting theory (which I first remember first hearing about on MSc in Sheffield nearly 20 years ago!). Some great insight and challenge from him, such as that the often-made distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is arbitrary ie even if we are motivated by external factors (eg money), they reflect internal motivations.

Also great to hear from was Prof John Antonakis from the University of Lausanne, who is leading a campaign to improve the conduct of management/psychological science – supporting evidence based practice - in part through his role as a journal editor. He talked through some of the ‘diseases’ of scientific research, such as ‘significosis’ (seeking significant results) and ‘neophilia’ (seeking novelty). A particular bugbear was around novel ideas that enter public consciousness through the use of “narratives based on strong metaphor”, and gave the example of the ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome: the idea that women who achieve success and then keep other women down – which is not supported by evidence.

As a practitioner in the assessment space, I particularly enjoyed hearing from others working in this area. The Civil Service presented a symposium on a number of initiatives they have been working on. Phil Wilson and James McShea talked about the work the Fast Stream have done to increase the diversity of applicants, to fulfil the agenda of a more representative Civil Service. Sonia Pawson talked about the move to collaborative hiring; using team members to help recruit senior staff.  What was particularly notable, and commendable was the focus on evidence and research to support initiatives and ensure value for money (very much aligned with the theme of evidence based practice also touched on by John Antonakis’ talk). This point was emphasised by the winner of the Practitioner of the Year award, Antonia Dietmann (Head of Employee Engagement at HM Courts and Tribunals Service) who, in her acceptance speech, referred to the budget and resource challenges faced by the Civil Service, alongside the ambitious objectives they have to work to.

The PSI Talent Measurement team had a strong presence at the conference too, with very well received sessions on online assessment and candidate experience, audio and video SJT formats, and a workshop on behavioural assessment in a digital age.

Lots of new ideas and future research avenues for the team, setting us up nicely for 2018


Philippa Riley is Research & Development Director at PSI Talent Measurement.

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Silvana Andrade is the Digital Marketing Manager at PSI Services, International.