research findings gap

  • Research Process

What is a Research Gap

  • 3 minute read

Table of Contents

If you are a young researcher, or even still finishing your studies, you’ll probably notice that your academic environment revolves around certain research topics, probably linked to your department or to the interest of your mentor and direct colleagues. For example, if your department is currently doing research in nanotechnology applied to medicine, it is only natural that you feel compelled to follow this line of research. Hopefully, it’s something you feel familiar with and interested in – although you might take your own twists and turns along your career.

Many scientists end up continuing their academic legacy during their professional careers, writing about their own practical experiences in the field and adapting classic methodologies to a present context. However, each and every researcher dreams about being a pioneer in a subject one day, by discovering a topic that hasn’t been approached before by any other scientist. This is a research gap.

Research gaps are particularly useful for the advance of science, in general. Finding a research gap and having the means to develop a complete and sustained study on it can be very rewarding for the scientist (or team of scientists), not to mention how its new findings can positively impact our whole society.

How to Find a Gap in Research

How many times have you felt that you have finally formulated THAT new and exciting question, only to find out later that it had been addressed before? Probably more times than you can count.

There are some steps you can take to help identify research gaps, since it is impossible to go through all the information and research available nowadays:

  • Select a topic or question that motivates you: Research can take a long time and surely a large amount of physical, intellectual and emotional effort, therefore choose a topic that can keep you motivated throughout the process.
  • Find keywords and related terms to your selected topic: Besides synthesizing the topic to its essential core, this will help you in the next step.
  • Use the identified keywords to search literature: From your findings in the above step, identify relevant publications and cited literature in those publications.
  • Look for topics or issues that are missing or not addressed within (or related to) your main topic.
  • Read systematic reviews: These documents plunge deeply into scholarly literature and identify trends and paradigm shifts in fields of study. Sometimes they reveal areas or topics that need more attention from researchers and scientists.

How to find a Gap in Research

Keeping track of all the new literature being published every day is an impossible mission. Remember that there is technology to make your daily tasks easier, and reviewing literature can be one of them. Some online databases offer up-to-date publication lists with quite effective search features:

  • Elsevier’s Scope
  • Google Scholar

Of course, these tools may be more or less effective depending on knowledge fields. There might be even better ones for your specific topic of research; you can learn about them from more experienced colleagues or mentors.

Find out how FINER research framework can help you formulate your research question.

Literature Gap

The expression “literature gap” is used with the same intention as “research gap.” When there is a gap in the research itself, there will also naturally be a gap in the literature. Nevertheless, it is important to stress out the importance of language or text formulations that can help identify a research/literature gap or, on the other hand, making clear that a research gap is being addressed.

When looking for research gaps across publications you may have noticed sentences like:

…has/have not been… (studied/reported/elucidated) …is required/needed… …the key question is/remains… …it is important to address…

These expressions often indicate gaps; issues or topics related to the main question that still hasn’t been subject to a scientific study. Therefore, it is important to take notice of them: who knows if one of these sentences is hiding your way to fame.

Language Editing Services by Elsevier Author Services:

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Don't know where to start? 6 Tips on identifying research gaps

Statement of the Problem

Fatima Qureshi

Don't know where to start? 6 Tips on identifying research gaps

The first step of conducting a study is identifying a previously unexplored area of research. Choosing an untapped area in your research field will improve your chances of getting published. But the big question is: how to decide which research problem should you study? Some researchers have clear ideas about the research problem they want to pursue. However, researchers, particularly those who are at an early stage of their career, find themselves in a fix when they have to zero down on a research topic that is original and innovative. The best way to do this is to identify a gap in existing research in the field, i.e., finding a research gap!

This article presents some tips to help you identify a knowledge gap or an unexplored area on which you can base your research.

What is a research gap?

research findings gap

Let us begin with understanding what a research gap means. When you read papers or books on topics of your interest, you may realize there are some areas that have significant scope for more research but they have not been tapped by other researchers. In other words, no one has picked up or worked on these ideas. A research gap or a literature gap refers to such unexplored or underexplored areas that have scope for further research.

Why is it important to identify a unique research gap?

Assume that you have completed your research work and published the findings only to find out that another researcher has already published something similar. How devastating would that be! Therefore, it is necessary to find out those problems in your research field which have not been addressed before. Not only would you be investing your funds and resources in the right project but also increasing the chances of your research findings getting published.

Challenges you may face while identifying research gaps

Finding gaps and coming up with original and innovative topics can be tricky for more than one reason. Here’s a list of challenges that you might face while identifying research gaps in your chosen area of study:

1. Effort of dealing with an enormous amount of information: There could be a lot of unanswered questions in an area of your interest. So you might get overwhelmed with the number of research gaps you stumble upon and feel confused about which one you should focus on.

2. Difficulty of searching in an organized manner: Some researchers may find it difficult to organize the information they have gathered. One can easily lose ideas if they are not noted properly.

3. Hesitation in questioning established norms: Some researchers are not confident enough to challenge the existing knowledge in their field and may hesitate to question what others have claimed in their work.

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How to identify gaps in literature

You may wonder what would be the best way to come up with some innovative research questions. Though there is no well-defined process to find a gap in existing knowledge, your curiosity, creativity, imagination, and judgment can help you identify it.

Here are 6 tips to identify research gaps:

1. Look for inspiration in published literature

  • What is the significance of this research to my work or the broader field?
  • How can this article help me formulate my research questions?
  • Does the author’s argument require more clarification?
  • What issues or questions has the author not addressed?
  • Is there a different perspective that I can consider?
  • What other factors could have influenced the results?
  • Are the methods or procedures used outdated or no longer considered valid in your field? Is there scope for you to test the findings using more a current approach?
  • While reading research articles, you can focus on the  Introduction  section where the authors explain the importance of their research topic and the gaps they have identified and attempted to fill through their research. Also, look at the directions or suggestions for further research that the authors have made as that could be highly inspiring.
  • Read meta-analyses and review papers to learn more about the developments and trends in research over the years in the area of your liking. This will help you get acquainted with the problems that have been researched upon in the past as well as trending queries on those topics that you find interesting.

2. Seek help from your research advisor

Discuss the issues and problems in your field with your research advisor to generate ideas for research. Articulating your ideas and knowing what others think and are working on may help you identify your study area or even identify mistakes in your approach. If you think a question would be interesting to work on, you can discuss it with your advisor and get their suggestions.

3. Use digital tools to seek out popular topics or most cited research papers

To familiarize yourself with the trending queries in your field, you can use digital tools as they can save time and help you cast a wider net in your search for a research gap. Websites like  Essential Science Indicator  that identify the most cited papers in a field along with the emerging branches, influential contributors, publications, and countries in that field can be immensely useful to know which topics are considered important. You can also use  Google Trends  to learn more about the popular questions related to your research area. This will ease your search for an untapped area in your research field.

4. Check the websites of influential journals

The websites of prominent journals often have a section called ‘key concepts’ where experts in an area highlight the central ideas in that field. Reading through this section can help you gain a lot of insights and generate new ideas as well. Moreover, you should also look through the reference section of these papers as it can lead you to important resources on the topic.

5. Make a note of your queries

It is a good practice to note all the questions that cross your mind while reading any published literature. If possible, you should map the question to the resource it is based on. " Keep track of what the authors told you and the questions that occur to you whenever you read anything - an article, a book, a book chapter, a dissertation, etc. " advises Nadine Anderson, Behavioral Sciences and Women's and Gender Studies Librarian at the University of Michigan. She says that this will also help in ensuring that there is no unintended plagiarism in your research paper. You can use tables, charts, pictures, or tools to maintain a record. This can help you in the long run when you are developing your idea into a research problem or even when writing your manuscript.

6. Research each question

Once you have a list of questions that could be explored, you must conduct thorough research on them. What does this mean? Read more about each doubt or query that you have. Find out if other researchers have had similar questions and whether they have found answers to them. This will help you avoid duplication of work.

Your research project is something that you will invest a lot of time in, so make sure it is something that arouses your interest and passion. While you finalize an unprecedented research idea, make sure you consider the time frame available to complete the project as well as other important aspects such as the availability of funds, equipment, and infrastructure. An over-ambitious project may be difficult to accomplish due to time and resources restraints, while research that makes an insufficient contribution may fail to get the approval of your funding committee or the journal’s editorial board.

Since there is no specific method to pick out exceptional or interesting research problems, you can use the tips presented in this article and figure out what works for you. Keep reading and asking questions until you find the extraordinary problem you’ve been looking for!

Good luck with your research!

Related reading:

  • How to choose a research question
  • Finding the right research question is the first step to successful publication
  • How to write the literature review of your research paper
  • Tips for effective literature searching and keeping up with new publications


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Published on: Feb 25, 2019

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Grad Coach

How To Find A Research Gap, Quickly

A step-by-step guide for new researchers

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Reviewer: Eunice Rautenbach (DTech) | April 2023

If you’ve got a dissertation, thesis or research project coming up, one of the first (and most important) things you’ll need to do is find a suitable research gap . In this post, we’ll share a straightforward process to help you uncover high-quality, original research gaps in a very time-efficient manner.

Overview: Finding Research Gaps

  • What exactly is a research gap?
  • Research gap vs research topic
  • How to find potential research gaps
  • How to evaluate research gaps (and topics)
  • Key takeaways

What is a research gap?

As a starting point, it’s useful to first define what we mean by research gap, to ensure we’re all on the same page. The term “research gap” gets thrown around quite loosely by students and academics alike, so let’s clear that up.

Simply put, a research gap is any space where there’s a lack of solid, agreed-upon research regarding a specific topic, issue or phenomenon. In other words, there’s a lack of established knowledge and, consequently, a need for further research.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example to illustrate a research gap.

Within the existing research regarding factors affect job satisfaction , there may be a wealth of established and agreed-upon empirical work within a US and UK context , but very little research within Eastern nations such as Japan or Korea . Given that these nations have distinctly different national cultures and workforce compositions compared to the West, it’s plausible that the factors that contribute toward job satisfaction may also be different. Therefore, a research gap emerges for studies that explore this matter.

This example is purely hypothetical (and there’s probably plenty of research covering this already), but it illustrates the core point that a research gap reflects a lack of firmly established knowledge regarding a specific matter . Given this lack, an opportunity exists for researchers (like you) to go on and fill the gap.

So, it’s the same as a research topic?

Not quite – but they are connected. A research gap refers to an area where there’s a lack of settled research , whereas a research topic outlines the focus of a specific study . Despite being different things, these two are related because research gaps are the birthplace of research topics. In other words, by identifying a clear research gap, you have a foundation from which you can build a research topic for your specific study. Your study is unlikely to resolve the entire research gap on it’s own, but it will contribute towards it .

If you’d like to learn more, we’ve got a comprehensive post that covers research gaps (including the different types of research gaps), as well as an explainer video below.

How to find a research gap

Now that we’ve defined what a research gap is, it’s time to get down to the process of finding potential research gaps that you can use as a basis for potential research topics. Importantly, it’s worth noting that this is just one way (of many) to find a research gap (and consequently a topic). We’re not proposing that it’s the only way or best way, but it’s certainly a relatively quick way to identify opportunities.

Step 1: Identify your broad area of interest

The very first step to finding a research gap is to decide on your general area of interest . For example, if you were undertaking a dissertation as part of an MBA degree, you may decide that you’re interested in corporate reputation, HR strategy, or leadership styles. As you can see, these are broad categories – there’s no need to get super specific just yet. Of course, if there is something very specific that you’re interested in, that’s great – but don’t feel pressured to narrow it down too much right now.

Equally important is to make sure that this area of interest is allowed by your university or whichever institution you’ll be proposing your research to. This might sound dead obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many times we’ve seen students run down a path with great excitement, only to later learn that their university wants a very specific area of focus in terms of topic (and their area of interest doesn’t qualify).

Webinar - How to find a research topic

Step 2: Do an initial literature scan

Once you’ve pinned down your broad area (or areas) of interest, the next step is to head over to Google Scholar to undertake an initial literature scan . If you’re not familiar with this tool, Google Scholar is a great starting point for finding academic literature on pretty much any topic, as it uses Google’s powerful search capabilities to hunt down relevant academic literature. It’s certainly not the be-all and end-all of literature search tools, but it’s a useful starting point .

Within Google Scholar, you’ll want to do a few searches using keywords that are relevant to your area of interest. Sticking with our earlier example, we could use the key phrase “job satisfaction”, or we may want to get a little more specific – perhaps “job satisfaction for millennials” or “job satisfaction in Japan”.

It’s always a good idea to play around with as many keywords/phrases as you can think up.  Take an iterative approach here and see which keywords yield the most relevant results for you. Keep each search open in a new tab, as this will help keep things organised for the next steps.

Once you’ve searched for a few different keywords/phrases, you’ll need to do some refining for each of the searches you undertook. Specifically, you’ll need to filter the results down to the most recent papers . You can do this by selecting the time period in the top left corner (see the example below).

using google scholar to find a research gap

Filtering to the current year is typically a good choice (especially for fast-moving research areas), but in some cases, you may need to filter to the last two years . If you’re undertaking this task in January or February, for example, you’ll likely need to select a two-year period.

Need a helping hand?

research findings gap

Step 3: Review and shortlist articles that interest you

Once you’ve run a few searches using different keywords and phrases, you’ll need to scan through the results to see what looks most relevant and interesting to you. At this stage, you can just look at the titles and abstracts (the description provided by Google Scholar) – don’t worry about reading the actual article just yet.

Next, select 5 – 10 articles that interest you and open them up. Here, we’re making the assumption that your university has provided you with access to a decent range of academic databases. In some cases, Google Scholar will link you directly to a PDF of the article, but in most cases, you’ll need paid access. If you don’t have this (for example, if you’re still applying to a university), you can look at two options:

Open-access articles – these are free articles which you can access without any journal subscription. A quick Google search (the regular Google) will help you find open-access journals in your area of interest, but you can also have a look at DOAJ and Elsevier Open Access.

DeepDyve – this is a monthly subscription service that allows you to get access to a broad range of journals. At the time of shooting this video, their monthly subscription is around $50 and they do offer a free trial, which may be sufficient for your project.

Step 4: Skim-read your article shortlist

Now, it’s time to dig into your article shortlist and do some reading. But don’t worry, you don’t need to read the articles from start to finish – you just need to focus on a few key sections.

Specifically, you’ll need to pay attention to the following:

  • The abstract (which you’ve probably already read a portion of in Google Scholar)
  • The introduction – this will give you a bit more detail about the context and background of the study, as well as what the researchers were trying to achieve (their research aims)
  • The discussion or conclusion – this will tell you what the researchers found

By skimming through these three sections for each journal article on your shortlist, you’ll gain a reasonable idea of what each study was about, without having to dig into the painful details. Generally, these sections are usually quite short, so it shouldn’t take you too long.

Step 5: Go “FRIN hunting”

This is where the magic happens. Within each of the articles on your shortlist, you’ll want to search for a few very specific phrases , namely:

  • Future research
  • Further research
  • Research opportunities
  • Research directions

All of these terms are commonly found in what we call the “FRIN” section . FRIN stands for “further research is needed”. The FRIN is where the researchers explain what other researchers could do to build on their study, or just on the research area in general. In other words, the FRIN section is where you can find fresh opportunities for novel research . Most empirical studies will either have a dedicated FRIN section or paragraph, or they’ll allude to the FRIN toward the very end of the article. You’ll need to do a little scanning, but it’s usually pretty easy to spot.

It’s worth mentioning that naturally, the FRIN doesn’t hand you a list of research gaps on a platter. It’s not a silver bullet for finding research gaps – but it’s the closest thing to it. Realistically, the FRIN section helps you shortcut the gap-hunting process  by highlighting novel research avenues that are worth exploring.

This probably sounds a little conceptual, so let’s have a look at a few examples:

The impact of overeducation on job outcomes: Evidence from Saudi Arabia (Alzubaidi, 2020)

If you scroll down to the bottom of this article, you’ll see there’s a dedicated section called “Limitations and directions for future research”. Here they talk about the limitations of the study and provide suggestions about how future researchers could improve upon their work and overcome the limitations.

Perceived organizational support and job satisfaction: a moderated mediation model of proactive personality and psychological empowerment (Maan et al, 2020)

In this article, within the limitations section, they provide a wonderfully systematic structure where they discuss each limitation, followed by a proposal as to how future studies can overcome the respective limitation. In doing so, they are providing very specific research opportunities for other researchers.

Medical professionals’ job satisfaction and telemedicine readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic: solutions to improve medical practice in Egypt (El-Mazahy et al, 2023)

In this article, they don’t have a dedicated section discussing the FRIN, but we can deduct it based on the limitations section. For example, they state that an evaluation of the knowledge about telemedicine and technology-related skills would have enabled studying their independent effect on the perception of telemedicine.

Follow this FRIN-seeking process for the articles you shortlisted and map out any potentially interesting research gaps . You may find that you need to look at a larger number of articles to find something interesting, or you might find that your area of interest shifts as you engage in the reading – this is perfectly natural. Take as much time as you need to develop a shortlist of potential research gaps that interest you.

Importantly, once you’ve developed a shortlist of potential research gaps, you need to return to Google Scholar to double-check that there aren’t fresh studies that have already addressed the gap. Remember, if you’re looking at papers from two years ago in a fast-moving field, someone else may have jumped on it . Nevertheless, there could still very well be a unique angle you could take – perhaps a contextual gap (e.g. a specific country, industry, etc.).

Ultimately, the need for originality will depend on your specific university’s requirements and the level of study. For example, if you’re doing an undergraduate research project, the originality requirements likely won’t be as gruelling as say a Masters or PhD project. So, make sure you have a clear understanding of what your university’s expectations are. A good way to do this is to look at past dissertations and theses for your specific programme. You can usually find these in the university library or by asking the faculty.

How to evaluate potential research gaps

Once you’ve developed a shortlist of potential research gaps (and resultant potential research topics) that interest you, you’ll need to systematically evaluate  them  to choose a winner. There are many factors to consider here, but some important ones include the following:

  • Originality and value – is the topic sufficiently novel and will addressing it create value?
  • Data access – will you be able to get access to the sample of interest?
  • Costs – will there be additional costs involved for data collection and/or analysis?
  • Timeframes – will you be able to collect and analyse the data within the timeframe required by your university?
  • Supervisor support – is there a suitable supervisor available to support your project from start to finish?

To help you evaluate your options systematically, we’ve got a topic evaluation worksheet that allows you to score each potential topic against a comprehensive set of criteria. You can access the worksheet completely free of charge here .

Research topic evaluator

Recap: Key Takeaways

We’ve covered quite a lot of ground in this post. Here are the key takeaways:

  • A research gap is any space where there’s a lack of solid, agreed-upon research regarding a specific topic/issue/phenomenon.
  • Unique research topics emerge from research gaps , so it’s essential to first identify high-quality research gaps before you attempt to define a topic.
  • To find potential research gaps, start by seeking out recent journal articles on Google Scholar and pay particular attention to the FRIN section to identify novel opportunities.
  • Once you have a shortlist of prospective research gaps and resultant topic ideas, evaluate them systematically using a comprehensive set of criteria.

If you’d like to get hands-on help finding a research gap and research topic, be sure to check out our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the research journey, step by step.

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How to find a research gap

Very useful for me, but i am still confusing review of literature review, how to find out topic related previous research.


Powerful notes! Thanks a lot.

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Thank you very much for this. It is really a great opportunity for me to learn the research journey.

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Enago Academy

Identifying Research Gaps to Pursue Innovative Research

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This article is an excerpt from a lecture given by my Ph.D. guide, a researcher in public health. She advised us on how to identify research gaps to pursue innovative research in our fields.

What is a Research Gap?

Today we are talking about the research gap: what is it, how to identify it, and how to make use of it so that you can pursue innovative research. Now, how many of you have ever felt you had discovered a new and exciting research question , only to find that it had already been written about? I have experienced this more times than I can count. Graduate studies come with pressure to add new knowledge to the field. We can contribute to the progress and knowledge of humanity. To do this, we need to first learn to identify research gaps in the existing literature.

A research gap is, simply, a topic or area for which missing or insufficient information limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question. It should not be confused with a research question, however. For example, if we ask the research question of what the healthiest diet for humans is, we would find many studies and possible answers to this question. On the other hand, if we were to ask the research question of what are the effects of antidepressants on pregnant women, we would not find much-existing data. This is a research gap. When we identify a research gap, we identify a direction for potentially new and exciting research.

peer review

How to Identify Research Gap?

Considering the volume of existing research, identifying research gaps can seem overwhelming or even impossible. I don’t have time to read every paper published on public health. Similarly, you guys don’t have time to read every paper. So how can you identify a research gap?

There are different techniques in various disciplines, but we can reduce most of them down to a few steps, which are:

  • Identify your key motivating issue/question
  • Identify key terms associated with this issue
  • Review the literature, searching for these key terms and identifying relevant publications
  • Review the literature cited by the key publications which you located in the above step
  • Identify issues not addressed by  the literature relating to your critical  motivating issue

It is the last step which we all find the most challenging. It can be difficult to figure out what an article is  not  saying. I like to keep a list of notes of biased or inconsistent information. You could also track what authors write as “directions for future research,” which often can point us towards the existing gaps.

Different Types of Research Gaps

Identifying research gaps is an essential step in conducting research, as it helps researchers to refine their research questions and to focus their research efforts on areas where there is a need for more knowledge or understanding.

1. Knowledge gaps

These are gaps in knowledge or understanding of a subject, where more research is needed to fill the gaps. For example, there may be a lack of understanding of the mechanisms behind a particular disease or how a specific technology works.

2. Conceptual gaps

These are gaps in the conceptual framework or theoretical understanding of a subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to understand the relationship between two concepts or to refine a theoretical framework.

3. Methodological gaps

These are gaps in the methods used to study a particular subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to develop new research methods or to refine existing methods to address specific research questions.

4. Data gaps

These are gaps in the data available on a particular subject. For example, there may be a need for more research to collect data on a specific population or to develop new measures to collect data on a particular construct.

5. Practical gaps

These are gaps in the application of research findings to practical situations. For example, there may be a need for more research to understand how to implement evidence-based practices in real-world settings or to identify barriers to implementing such practices.

Examples of Research Gap

Limited understanding of the underlying mechanisms of a disease:.

Despite significant research on a particular disease, there may be a lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the disease. For example, although much research has been done on Alzheimer’s disease, the exact mechanisms that lead to the disease are not yet fully understood.

Inconsistencies in the findings of previous research:

When previous research on a particular topic has inconsistent findings, there may be a need for further research to clarify or resolve these inconsistencies. For example, previous research on the effectiveness of a particular treatment for a medical condition may have produced inconsistent findings, indicating a need for further research to determine the true effectiveness of the treatment.

Limited research on emerging technologies:

As new technologies emerge, there may be limited research on their applications, benefits, and potential drawbacks. For example, with the increasing use of artificial intelligence in various industries, there is a need for further research on the ethical, legal, and social implications of AI.

How to Deal with Literature Gap?

Once you have identified the literature gaps, it is critical to prioritize. You may find many questions which remain to be answered in the literature. Often one question must be answered before the next can be addressed. In prioritizing the gaps, you have identified, you should consider your funding agency or stakeholders, the needs of the field, and the relevance of your questions to what is currently being studied. Also, consider your own resources and ability to conduct the research you’re considering. Once you have done this, you can narrow your search down to an appropriate question.

Tools to Help Your Search

There are thousands of new articles published every day, and staying up to date on the literature can be overwhelming. You should take advantage of the technology that is available. Some services include  PubCrawler ,  Feedly ,  Google Scholar , and PubMed updates. Stay up to date on social media forums where scholars share new discoveries, such as Twitter. Reference managers such as  Mendeley  can help you keep your references well-organized. I personally have had success using Google Scholar and PubMed to stay current on new developments and track which gaps remain in my personal areas of interest.

The most important thing I want to impress upon you today is that you will struggle to  choose a research topic  that is innovative and exciting if you don’t know the existing literature well. This is why identifying research gaps starts with an extensive and thorough  literature review . But give yourself some boundaries.  You don’t need to read every paper that has ever been written on a topic. You may find yourself thinking you’re on the right track and then suddenly coming across a paper that you had intended to write! It happens to everyone- it happens to me quite often. Don’t give up- keep reading and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Class dismissed!

How do you identify research gaps? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

A research gap can be identified by looking for a topic or area with missing or insufficient information that limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.

Identifying a research gap is important as it provides a direction for potentially new research or helps bridge the gap in existing literature.

Gap in research is a topic or area with missing or insufficient information. A research gap limits the ability to reach a conclusion for a question.

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Thank u for your suggestion.

Very useful tips specially for a beginner

Thank you. This is helpful. I find that I’m overwhelmed with literatures. As I read on a particular topic, and in a particular direction I find that other conflicting issues, topic a and ideas keep popping up, making me more confused.

I am very grateful for your advice. It’s just on point.

The clearest, exhaustive, and brief explanation I have ever read.

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What is a research gap.

A research gap is a question or a problem that has not been answered by any of the existing studies or research within your field. Sometimes, a research gap exists when there is a concept or new idea that hasn't been studied at all. Sometimes you'll find a research gap if all the existing research is outdated and in need of new/updated research (studies on Internet use in 2001, for example). Or, perhaps a specific population has not been well studied (perhaps there are plenty of studies on teenagers and video games, but not enough studies on toddlers and video games, for example). These are just a few examples, but any research gap you find is an area where more studies and more research need to be conducted. Please view this video clip from our Sage Research Methods database for more helpful information: How Do You Identify Gaps in Literature?

How do I find one?

It will take a lot of research and reading.  You'll need to be very familiar with all the studies that have already been done, and what those studies contributed to the overall body of knowledge about that topic. Make a list of any questions you have about your topic and then do some research to see if those questions have already been answered satisfactorily. If they haven't, perhaps you've discovered a gap!  Here are some strategies you can use to make the most of your time:

  • One useful trick is to look at the “suggestions for future research” or conclusion section of existing studies on your topic. Many times, the authors will identify areas where they think a research gap exists, and what studies they think need to be done in the future.
  • As you are researching, you will most likely come across citations for seminal works in your research field. These are the research studies that you see mentioned again and again in the literature.  In addition to finding those and reading them, you can use a database like Web of Science to follow the research trail and discover all the other articles that have cited these. See the FAQ: I found the perfect article for my paper. How do I find other articles and books that have cited it? on how to do this. One way to quickly track down these seminal works is to use a database like SAGE Navigator, a social sciences literature review tool. It is one of the products available via our SAGE Knowledge database.
  • In the PsycINFO and PsycARTICLES databases, you can select literature review, systematic review, and meta analysis under the Methodology section in the advanced search to quickly locate these. See the FAQ: Where can I find a qualitative or quantitative study? for more information on how to find the Methodology section in these two databases.
  • In CINAHL , you can select Systematic review under the Publication Type field in the advanced search. 
  • In Web of Science , check the box beside Review under the Document Type heading in the “Refine Results” sidebar to the right of the list of search hits.
  • If the database you are searching does not offer a way to filter your results by document type, publication type, or methodology in the advanced search, you can include these phrases (“literature reviews,” meta-analyses, or “systematic reviews”) in your search string.  For example, “video games” AND “literature reviews” could be a possible search that you could try.

Please give these suggestions a try and contact a librarian for additional assistance.

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What is a gap?

Your assignment asks you to find a "gap" in research literature, meaning you are looking for an area or angle that has been explored very little or not at all. It is a gap in the existing knowledge about a subject. Examples of where gaps exist are: population sample (size, type, location), demographic, research method, data collection, or other research variables or conditions. You are being asked to address a gap that, when explored, could contribute new information.

How do you identify a gap?

Your assignment guidelines recommend finding and reading 10 peer-reviewed academic articles as part of a literature review. When you read across the breadth of a topic and think critically in the process about what information appears over and over and what questions remain unanswered as you read, this helps you identify gaps in existing research. By reading 10 sources you should find a balance between:

  • Studies that provide context or an overview on key aspects of your topic
  • Studies that illustrate key themes, theories, or methods
  • Studies directly related to your are of interest and potential gap

Where can you look for gaps?

When you are reading an academic peer-reviewed article it will be divided into sections with subheadings. Look for the sections of the article under Discussion or Future Research or Implications to understand what the researchers know and what they still have questions about, or how they see their own research being built upon by others.

Ask questions in order to think critically as you read: who, what, when, where and how about the population, conditions or variables, methods or analysis, measurements, or outcomes of the research explored in each article you read.

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7 Types of Research Gaps in Literature Review | Examples

research findings gap

This article discusses the 7 types of research gaps with examples and the situation in which its application is required. In the end this article explains how you can write research gaps in your research thesis/ dissertation, and you will get to download free pdf.

Most researchers have struggled with the concept of identifying research gaps. There were no official or established frameworks for identifying or describing research gaps for a long time. The existence of research gaps appears to be in the eye of the beholder. The gap of one researcher may be the non-gap of another. The majority of this disagreement over research gaps is based on perception. Most researchers, particularly doctoral researchers, still struggle to identify and describe gaps in their studies.

Research gaps should be organized and classified based on their usefulness.  As a result, researchers now have a fundamental framework for identifying them in the literature. Miles (2017) suggested a model which consists of seven research gaps.

Evidence Gap

Knowledge gap, practical-knowledge conflict gap, empirical gap, theoretical gap, methodological gap, population gap.

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Table of Contents

7 Types of Research Gaps

A startling exception creates an evidence gap when a new research finding contradicts widely accepted conclusions. This gap is caused by inconsistencies in previous research findings.

It arises when study data allow for conclusions in and of themselves, but are contradictory when considered from a more abstract perspective.

Evidence Gap

The process of identifying contradicting evidence begins with an examination of each research area. The findings of these analyses must then be combined in order to uncover contradicting evidence.

✔ Evidence Gap is known as Contradictory Evidence Gap

Evidence Gap

The knowledge gap is a common gap in previous research. There are two conditions in which a knowledge void might exist.

  • First, it’s possible that the actual field lacks an understanding of theories and literature from related research fields.
  • Second, it’s possible that a study’s findings are different from what was predicted.

✔ Knowledge Gap is known as Knowledge Void Gap

Knowledge Gap

This kind of gap serves as an inspiration for new research in the field. When an expert behaves differently than what they propose, a practical-knowledge (action-knowledge) conflict results. In this situation, the purpose of the research might be to determine the scope of the conflict and its causes.

✔ Practical-Knowledge is known as Conflict Gap Action-Knowledge Conflict Gap

Practical-Knowledge Conflict Gap

The kind of gap that addresses gaps in previous research is an empirical gap.  This gap relates to study conclusions or claims that need to be assessed or experimentally confirmed.

For instance, concerns that no study has clearly attempted to examine a subject or topic from an empirical method are frequently addressed by the empirical gap.

✔ Empirical Gap is known as Evaluation Void Gap

Empirical Gap

The type of gap known as a theoretical gap is one that deals with the gaps between theory and earlier research.

For instance, A gap conflict might exist if different theoretical models are being used to describe the same fact or phenomena, much like a methodological gap conflict.

Scholars could evaluate which of those theories is more superior in terms of the gap in the existing body of knowledge. When analyzing previous research on a phenomenon or fact, theoretical gaps are frequently used.

✔ Theoretical Gap is known as Theory Application Void Gap

Theoretical Gap

A methodological gap is the kind of gap that addresses the contradiction that arises as a result of the methodology’s influence on study findings.

This gap examines the issues with the research methodologies used in the earlier studies and presents a brand-new research direction that deviates from those research methods. It is emphasized that it may be beneficial to use a variety of research methods, particularly if particular study topics have been investigated using a single or common method.

✔ Methodological Gap is known as Methodology Void Gap.

Methodological Gap

A common gap discovered by researchers is a population gap. There are always populations that are underserved and understudied. This gap is the type of population-related research Population such as gender, race and age that is either not well represented in the evidence base or is under-researched.

✔ Population gap is known as Under-researched Sub-Groups Gap.

Population Gap

Research Gap Types

Research Gap Types

Learn how to Identify Research Gap : Find Research Gap from Research Articles

Steps to Write Research Gaps in your Research

Below are the steps which would help you to identify research gaps in your study and the method of writing research gaps in your research proposal, thesis or dissertation with the help of examples.

1-Discuss some of the Previous Research

You must first mention some of the earlier research in the literature that does not address the specific topic of the research before you can examine the gaps in the preceding literature. The contributions should be related to the already identified contradictions, gaps, and issues.

There have been various aspects of _______ that have been studied in the past, including (1) ( cite two to three articles ), (2) (cite two to three articles), and (3) (cite two to three articles).

2-Identify Important Gaps

The next step is for researchers to pinpoint any significant gaps, contradictions, or controversies in the literature. This helps to demonstrate the need for more investigation into the subject matter. This task may be completed in a timely manner.

However, in addition, this research (write your research topic)   covers a number of unexplored features that recently have drawn research interest in other disciplines  (cite two to three relevant articles)

In the perspective of ___________ , several of these unexplored________ seem significant and worthy of investigation. An investigation of these issues is important because ___________ . Additionally, the main subject of earlier empirical research has been ___________. On ___ ________ , very little research has been conducted.

3- Write Concluding Statement

The researcher must also clearly express the objectives of the manuscript that he is writing as well as the contributions it makes to the body of knowledge. The statement that identifies gaps, contradictions, and/or arguments in the literature should flow logically into this statement.

In the previous research and literature, the researcher found four significant gaps. First, the researcher found what appeared to be a theoretical hole in earlier studies on _____. Several facets of ___ ___ have been covered in earlier study, including (1) _ ______ (cite two to three relevant papers), (2) _ ______ (cite two to three relevant articles), and _____ (3) . (cite two to three relevant articles).

Second, a population gap is evident after reviewing earlier research. A gap exists with _______ . In the earlier studies, this population group has received insufficient attention. Additionally, ____ ___ includes a number of unexplored dimensions that recently have drawn research interest from different fields. (cite two to three relevant articles).

Third, the researcher found what appears to be a knowledge gap in the earlier research concerning _________. Additionally, there are inconsistencies and contradictions in the results of earlier studies that did not deal with the topic of_____. In the perspective of____, several of these undiscovered _______ inconsistencies in the earlier studies seem significant and warrant inquiry. An investigation of   these problems is crucial because _______.

Finally, the researcher found an empirical gap in the earlier studies. The earlier literature is lacking in thorough research. Prior study has mostly concentrated on________  . Very little  research has been conducted on_______ to adequately assess the issue . By addressing the gaps in _______ , we aim to offer a new investigation into management practices with the federal government in this study. The study examines the effects of four factors: (1) ______ , _____ (2) ,____ (3) , and ______ (4) .

Get Books on Research

Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory

Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

Research Methods: The Basics

Basic Research Methods: An Entry to Social Science Research 

Conducting Applied Research in Education

Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach

Researched-Based Strategies – Revised Edition: Narrowing the Achievement Gap for Under-Resourced Students

Reading Development and Difficulties: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice

Applied Social Research: A Tool for the Human Services

Learn More About Research:

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  • Sampling Error vs Sampling Bias
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  • Reliability vs Validity
  • Internal Validity vs External Validity
  • What is Research I Business Research
  • Find Research Gap
  • 7 Types of Research Gaps | Examples
  • How to define Research Problem?
  • How to build Research Questions ?
  • How to Write a Synopsis for Research
  • Research Methods: Definitions, Types
  • How To Write A Literature Review
  • What is Quantitative research?
  • What is Qualitative Research?
  • What is Survey Research? Types, Uses
  • Design A Questionnaire for Research
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  • Abstract for Research Paper
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  • Mixed Method Research
  • Descriptive Research: Methods
  • Conclusive Research | Types, Pros
  • Correlational Research
  • Quasi-Experimental Design
  • How Stratified Sampling Works?
  • Sampling Bias | Types | Examples
  • 10 Types of Variables in Research
  • Operationalization of Variables
  • Measurement of Scale
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Original research article, bridging the gap between science and practice: research collaboration and the perception of research findings.

research findings gap

  • 1 German Institute for Adult Education (LG), Bonn, Germany
  • 2 Department of Educational Sciences, University Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany

Research collaboration promises a useful approach to bridging the gap between research and practice and thus promoting evidence-informed education. This study examines whether information on research collaboration can influence the reception of research knowledge. We assume that the composition of experts from the field and scientists in a research team sends out signals that influence trust in as well as the relevance and applicability of the finding. In a survey experiment with practitioners from the field of adult education the influence of different research team compositions around an identical finding is tested. The results show overall high trust, relevance and applicability ratings with regard to the finding, regardless of the composition of the research team. We discuss the potential importance of additional information about research collaborations for effective knowledge translation and point out the need for more empirical research.


The question of whether and how scientific evidence can make educational systems and professional action in educational systems more efficient has been a focus of educational science discourse and research programs for the last decades ( Hargreaves, 1999 ; Slavin, 2004 ; Nelson and Campbell, 2017 ; Pellegrini and Vivanet, 2021 ). In the United States, for example, the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) 1 required programs and teaching methods to be based on scientifically derived research results. The adult education legislation of the United States, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (2014) , includes, among other things, the claim to evidence-based education. Practitioners in adult education should thus be supported with scientific knowledge in order to professionalize their skills. Professionalism requires individuals to act with the best available (research) knowledge and to reflect on their actions to improve their professional practice ( Thomm et al., 2021 ). In Great Britain, Hargreaves (1998) in particular called for a stronger evidence-based education at a Teacher Training Agency meeting. Evidence-based approaches in education policy are linked to the expectation that the findings of empirical educational research can serve as a knowledge basis for rational decisions and thereby improve the performance of education systems (e.g., Peurach and Glazer, 2012 ; Tseng et al., 2017 ). Repeatedly, programs of evidence-based educational reform challenge empirical educational research ( Biesta, 2007 ; Schrader et al., 2020 ) to communicate research findings to policymakers and practitioners, thereby contributing to improving actions and decisions ( Penuel et al., 2020 ). However, there is a broad consensus that the communication of research findings and their application in the broad field of education has not been satisfactorily implemented to date ( Broekkamp and Hout-Wolters, 2007 ; Kinyaduka, 2017 ; Tseng et al., 2017 ). This much-cited and multifaceted gap between research and practice has led to a controversial debate about evidence-based approaches in education. For example, the communication of research findings is criticized that it resembles a one-way approach that neglects the need to address practice issues ( Tseng et al., 2017 ). Hargreaves (1999 , p. 246) also refers to the contextuality of policy and practice decision-making processes in which scientific evidence is one factor in a complex structure. He therefore suggests using the term evidence-informed instead of evidence-based policy or practice to account for the quality of evidence and other (constraining) contextual factors in these fields of action.

The debate has been going on since the origins of educational science in the eighteenth century, and the relationship of educational science and educational practice (and the gap in between) has become a constitutive element, if not an academic feature, of the field ( Biesta, 2007 ). Roughly summarized, the current discussion on the causes of this gap and solutions to it develops along two strands that show some cross-connections ( Broekkamp and Hout-Wolters, 2007 ). The first strand pursues the argumentation that the results of educational research do not meet the needs of policy and practice with regard to the relevance and quality of content and applicability. The second strand focuses on the requirements and conditions for the reception and use of scientific research in practice.

With regard to the first strand, one needs to consider the quality and quantity of evidence in a given field of research. In the field of adult education—which will be considered in this paper in particular—empirical research activities have only been intensified in the last 50 years ( Born, 2011 ; Rubenson and Elfert, 2015 ) and there is an ongoing debate about whether methodological approaches are fit to deliver the demand for evidence in the competitive field of empirical educational research ( Boeren, 2018 ; Daley et al., 2018 ). A large number of non-empirical research and an altogether expandable state of research 2 can therefore be a valid factor contributing to the gap between adult education research and practice. The gap between science and practice can be described with various formulas: farewell to the ivory tower of science ( Hayes and Wilson, 2003 ), reference to basic research with little practical relevance ( Siebert, 1979 ; Hargreaves, 1998 ) and a distinction of the two cultures ( Fox, 2000 ; Ginsburg and Gorostiaga, 2001 ).

Regarding the second strand, research knowledge does not seamlessly find its way into practice or policy ( Tseng et al., 2017 ). Target groups must be able to make sense of information by reading, interpreting, and applying research knowledge to their situation in order to make necessary decisions ( Brown et al., 2017 ). Rather, there is a consensus in empirical educational research that evidence-informed education requires the integration of knowledge gained from experience and professionalization with systematically acquired research knowledge, whereby the different types of knowledge are not replaced, but have a reciprocal influence ( Ratcliffe et al., 2005 ) and may depend on specific professional culture and practice ( Booher et al., 2020 ). Concepts and designs to transfer research knowledge into practice, account for reciprocity considering specific contexts of use and professional development as well as dedicated resources ( Cordingley, 2009 ; Wollscheid et al., 2019 ). The literature offers a range of solutions to build bridges between science or theory and practice in adult education ( Siebert, 2011 ). Solutions are, for example, activities and the provision of resources for “linking theory and practice” in adult education to extend the scope to the audience of educational practice as well ( Merriam and Bierema, 2014 ). Other solutions to reduce the science-practice-gap include skills development in universities ( Schön, 1995 ; Hargreaves, 1998 ; Fox, 2000 ; Jütte and Walber, 2015 ) and scientific education ( Kennedy, 1997 ; Jütte and Walber, 2015 ). Furthermore, forms of communication and institutionalization are addressed, e.g., knowledge translation by the Texas Adult Literacy Clearinghouse ( St. Clair, 2004 ), the use of meaning making language ( Roessger, 2017 ), trialogues between science, practice and politics ( Robak and Käpplinger, 2015 ) or “Jour fixe” as discussion and lecture events ( Dausien et al., 2016 ). Other approaches to bridge the science-practice-gap combine both strands by incorporating relations between science and practice in the research process: (research) workshops, e.g., problem definition workshops, consulting workshops and interpretation workshops, mentoring exchange relationships and practitioner-based research ( Dirkx, 2006 ; Jütte and Walber, 2015 ) or research collaboration ( Penuel et al., 2020 ; for the adult education sector, cf. Siebert, 1979 ).

Our study focuses on the role of such collaborations to bridge the gap between science and practice. Research collaboration or research practice partnerships are discussed as a promising approach to enhance the use of evidence in practical decision making in education and there is a demand for studies on their conditions of success and outcomes ( Coburn and Penuel, 2016 ; Wentworth et al., 2017 ). We approach the topic of research collaboration as a potential solution for bridging the science-practice-gap from a large-scale dissemination perspective. We are interested if research collaboration between adult education practice and science has an effect on practitioners’ perception of research findings. In this sense, we are not concerned with the use and application of knowledge within specific research collaborations but investigate on the more general level of dissemination of research output and its contribution to knowledge transformation ( Cordingley, 2009 ). More specifically, we are interested if information on one quality aspect of research collaboration—the composition of scientists and practitioners in the research team—affects the reception of research findings. The central questions are: How does collaboration between science and practice within research processes in the field of adult education influence practitioner’s (1) trust in research findings, (2) attributed relevance of research findings and (3) applicability of these findings? The analysis is guided by system theory and signal theory. Derived hypotheses are tested with data from a survey experiment, testing varying research-practitioner-constellations, applying Bayes factor methods. The paper has the following structure: We first derive the hypotheses based on theoretical considerations and research results related to the concept of practice research collaboration (section “Bridging the Gap Between Science and Practice Through Collaboration—Theoretical Perspectives”). Then we present the methodology, design, data basis and method of analysis (section “A Survey Experiment on The Perception of Research Knowledge in a Collaborative Setting”). The presentation of the results (section “Results”) is followed by a discussion (section “Discussion”).

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Practice Through Collaboration—Theoretical Perspectives

In the scientific literature the relationship between (adult education) science and practice is often conceptualized theoretically using hermeneutic procedures to explain the tension between science and practice. There is little data on what the relationship actually is ( St. Clair, 2004 ). The tension is a structurally determined distance between the two systems (e.g., Feuer, 2006 ). Thus, there are numerous reasons for this distance, and just as many challenges arising from it (e.g., Fox, 2000 ; Broekkamp and Hout-Wolters, 2007 ). From the perspective of practitioners, research questions are of little practical relevance . They consider their role as “experimental objects” and see themselves as barely involved in research or unable to apply research results (e.g., Siebert, 1979 ; Fox, 2000 ). Practice often perceives science as an alien theory that is generated in an ivory tower—one that seeks answers to questions of no relevance to practice and that leaves adult education staff and institutions alone with their daily questions ( Faulstich, 2015 ). Practitioners complain that research knowledge does not meet the needs of practitioners and that research does not offer practice-relevant knowledge on specific topics ( Dean, 1999 ). The reception of research knowledge requires a clear presentation and linguistic comprehensibility on the part of the scientific community ( St. Clair, 2004 ; Christ et al., 2019 ) and an awareness of the practical relevance of scientific questions ( St. Clair, 2004 ).

In general, there is very little research on the extent and quality of practitioners’ use of research knowledge in their practice. The sparse findings are rather sobering. K-12 teachers, for example, show a low engagement with scientific evidence in order to inform their teaching practices ( Booher et al., 2020 ). Surveys with adult education providers show that they perceive the intensive exchange with science as useful. At the same time, they feel that scientific research is not sufficiently interested in practice-relevant issues ( Christ et al., 2019 ). However, if they consider research knowledge as relevant, they are more likely to apply this knowledge ( Weiss and Weiss, 1981 , as quoted in Huberman, 1994 ) and even change their practice accordingly ( St. Clair, 2004 ). Thus, with major reservations against its relevance and applicability, scientific knowledge is nevertheless recognized as suitable problem solution by practice ( St. Clair, 2004 ; Christ et al., 2019 ). Practitioners even demand resources from research to deal with everyday problems ( Fox, 2000 ).

The aim of informing and improving practice has an impact on the type of research and the methodology applied ( St. Clair, 2004 ). In order to reduce the structural distance between science and practice, empirical research demands collaboration in the sense of open and collaborative interaction in the research process (see design-based research approach e.g., Anderson and Shattuck, 2012 or see use-inspired basic research based on Stokes, 1997 ; e.g., Feuer, 2006 ; Goeze and Schrader, 2011 ). In adult education research, too, one of the central issues of the relationship of research to practice is the low level of exchange with practice on the research topics (e.g., Siebert, 1979 ; Faulstich, 2015 ). Huberman (1994) , for example, believes that it is necessary for researchers and practitioners to work together on knowledge production. Therefore, various forms of research collaboration can contribute to reduce the gap. We understand research collaboration as the collaboration between scientist and practitioner. Whether research knowledge is actually used, however, is finally decided on the practical side. Practitioners actively determine “what is useful and how it is useful” ( St. Clair, 2004 , p. 238), and ultimately whether they will deal with research-based information or not. After all, the main barriers are the perception of applicability and relevance of research knowledge, as well as lack of trust in science ( van Schaik et al., 2018 ).

Trust in Science by and in Practice

In the public and in science itself, collaboration between research and practice is sometimes problematized with regard to the openness and independence of research ( Besley et al., 2017 ). If, however, practice is supposed to rely on research knowledge in the sense of evidence-informed education, then practitioners must be able to trust the communication of scientists ( Kennedy, 1997 ). Indeed, trust is an essential element that supports evidence-based decision making within a researcher-practitioner relationship ( Wentworth et al., 2017 ). Trust in science and scientists as a construct has both rational and emotional components. General assessments, for example, show different levels of trust depending on the level of education and political or religious attitudes ( Nadelson et al., 2014 ). Trust attitudes can also vary depending on context and situation, leading to different expectations and different levels of trust in science, on the interests and logics of action in the practical domain ( Resnik, 2011 ) on the practice context and culture (e.g., subjective beliefs and values) or science context (e.g., controversial research findings, researchers’ interests, etc.). However complex and multifaceted, trust is a necessary condition for the transfer of scientific knowledge ( Mohajerzad and Specht, 2021 ). Bormann (2012) argues that the acquisition of scientific knowledge through educational reporting leads to an increase of complexity, which can in turn be reduced by trust.

Trust reduces complexity by absorbing uncertainty. In other words, when it is uncertain how an event will occur (contingency), trust refers to another’s ascertainable future action, thereby opening up possibilities for action that would be unlikely without trust ( Luhmann, 1988 , 2014 ). In this sense, trust does not result from information about the trustworthiness of an actor but replaces this missing information and thus enables action. Following Luhmann, we assume that trust is a function that arises from contingency and that allows us to act despite uncertainty (2014). Scientists select research questions, theoretical approaches, hypotheses, research designs and methods from a wide variety of possibilities without any guarantee that the research activity will lead to an applicable, robust result. The research process is hardly comprehensible to outsiders and leads to a fundamental uncertainty. Therefore, the application of research results requires trust. However, as uncertainty applies to all social interactions, information about practitioners’ participation in the research team will not reduce uncertainty. We therefore assume that research practice collaboration has no influence on trust in research results, leading us to our first hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Trust in research knowledge does not depend on research practice collaboration during the research process.

Signals for Practical Relevance and Applicability of Research Knowledge

Signal theory shows yet another way to conceptualize uncertainty in social interactions. As in Luhmann’s approach, signal theory assumes missing or insufficient information as well as information asymmetry between actors. In such a situation, signals can create certainty for decisions and actions. The starting point of the approach is a situation that is typical for game theory: Actor 1 and actor 2 can gain a benefit if actor 2 does something for or with actor 1. However, the prerequisite for the benefit of actor 2 is that actor 1 has a good (k). Actor 1 benefits in any case when actor 2 acts, regardless of whether he has (k) or not. For actor 2, it is therefore important to know whether actor 1 actually has (k). However, she cannot be sure of this. A signal whether actor 1 actually has the good (k) can solve this fundamental dilemma. In order for this signal to give a reliable indication of (k), the cost of the wrong signal that actor 1 has (k), although she does not have it, must be higher than the benefit that actor 1 receives when actor 2 acts based on wrong information ( Gambetta, 2009 ). The next two sections show how signals can illustrate the effect of collaboration between science and practice on the willingness of practice to apply research results.

Practical Relevance of Research Knowledge

If science commits to the idea of evidence-informed practice, it is important for researchers that their results are applied in practice. However, the representatives of practice decide whether scientific knowledge is suitable for practice or not. Practitioners can only guess the importance that practical relevance and applicability has had in the research process. Meanwhile, they only benefit if the findings help them solve practical problems or gain other practically relevant advantages. In this situation, the signal emanating from collaboration between practice and science can break the information asymmetry between science and practice. Contrary to scientists who actually conduct application-relevant research, scientists who conduct pure basic research without any practical relevance will have difficulties finding and keeping collaborative practice partners. Therefore, collaborative research can be a valid signal for practice-relevant research, and sets itself apart from detached research coming out of the ivory tower (e.g., Faulstich, 2015 ).

While the participation of practitioners assures practical relevance, the participation of scientists ensures that scientific standards are met ( Feuer, 2006 ). This results in two basic assumptions about how the signal of collaboration can affect the assessment of practical relevance. A continuous effect should occur if the validity of the signal for practical relevance increases with the number of practitioners in the research project. In contrast, a discrete effect would be expected if collaboration between scientists and practitioners signals practical relevance in any case, regardless of how many practitioners are involved.

Hypothesis 2

2a : The higher the proportion of practitioners in the research process, the higher the practical relevance of research knowledge.

2b: In the case of research collaboration between scientists and practitioners, the practical relevance of research knowledge is higher than without research collaboration.

Applicability of Research Knowledge

The Signal theory is also valid with regard to the applicability of research results. While practical relevance is an important precondition for the transfer to practice, practical relevance does not necessarily mean that the knowledge generated will actually be implemented. Therefore, the knowledge must also be applicable. Research is applicable if it is tailored to practice, i.e., if research deals with problems and experiences of practice. Producing scientific knowledge through collaboration can be a beneficial condition for dissemination ( van Schaik et al., 2018 ). Another position assumes that research is applicable if it is possible to generalize research knowledge and thus transfer a specific solution to a broader or different context ( Ercikan and Roth, 2014 ). However, neither of these goals can be achieved without compromises. While the generalizability of research results by the use of scientific methods and standards is highly desirable from a scientific perspective, findings from applied research that are produced by practitioners themselves, as in action research, may be more applicable ( Kuhn and Quigley, 1997 ). Structures in research signaling an engagement of practitioners by collaboration or by action research, could thus influence practitioners in terms of using research knowledge ( Henson, 2001 ; Levin and Rock, 2003 ). This leads to a set of three possible theses for the assessment of applicability. In the first thesis, we assume that the most important factor for applicability is the focus on practical needs rather than the emphasis on generalizability and advancement of theories. A higher proportion of practitioners involved in the research process should signal a higher applicability of the produced knowledge. In the second thesis, we assume that practitioners perceive research results as more applicable if both generalizability and practicability are signaled. In this case, collaboration signals applicability, regardless of the proportion of scientists and practitioners involved in the research project. In the third thesis, we assume that generalized knowledge generated by rigorous scientific standards, such as validity of data or experimental designs, is produced by scientists in particular. Since research is particularly applicable when research knowledge is generalizable ( Ercikan and Roth, 2014 ), we assume that scientists involved in the research process signal generalizable research knowledge and thus a high applicability. Thus, the higher the proportion of scientists, the higher the assessment of applicability.

Hypothesis 3

H3a: The higher the proportion of practitioners in the research process, the higher the perception of the applicability of research knowledge.

H3b: In case of a research collaboration between scientists and practitioners, the perception of the applicability of research knowledge is higher than in the case of no research collaboration.

H3c : The higher the proportion of scientists in the research process, the higher the perception of the applicability of research knowledge.

A Survey Experiment on the Perception of Research Knowledge in a Collaborative Setting

Data and design.

In order to test the impact of research collaboration opportunities in terms of perception and trust in research knowledge, we use data from the German wbmonitor 2019. Wbmonitor is an annual online survey of adult education and training providing organizations in Germany conducted in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) and the German Institute for Adult Education---Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning e.V. (DIE). The survey annually collects information on the economic situation, staff and services of the organizations as also information on annually changing thematic focal points. 3 In 2019, 18,050 organizations were invited to participate in the survey between May and June. Our analysis is based on the sample of 1,551 organizations with valid survey participation ( Christ et al., 2020 ), i.e., 1,551 respondents within these organizations. The sample covers different types of organizations : private commercial providers (22%), private non-commercial providers (15%), institutions affiliated with churches, parties, trade unions, non-profit associations or foundations (19%), adult education centers (16%), business-related institutions (10%), vocational schools (8%), educational institutions of companies (3%), universities and universities of applied sciences (3%) and other types of public institutions (2%). The questionnaire is usually answered by persons with leadership and planning roles within the organizations surveyed. 4

For our analysis we use data of a survey experiment that was conducted in addition to the regular survey program in 2019. Survey experiments combine the advantages of randomized experiments with the possibilities of large representative surveys. This design enables causal relationships to be identified and at the same time guarantees a high internal and external validity ( Auspurg and Hinz, 2015 ). Within the experiment, which was placed at the end of the regular survey program, each of the respondents was presented a vignette containing a research result produced by a specific research team (see Figure A1 for the research design). While the presented research result was identical for all of the respondents, the composition of practitioners and scientists in the research team was varied between six groups. The distinction was made between four scientists, three scientists and one expert (working in an adult education providing organization), two scientists and two experts and vice versa, three experts and one scientist and lastly four experts. The vignettes were allocated to the wbmonitor population by a random split into six groups, before the organizations were invited to participate in the survey. The sizes of the six splits in the analyzed sample differ slightly. They are between 15 and 17% of the total sample (see Table 1 ).

Table 1. Sample split.

Three items ask the respondents (1) whether they trust the presented research result, (2) whether the results are relevant to the field of activities in their organization and 3) whether the results can be applied in their organization (see Figure A1 for questions in the survey). The three items were surveyed using a five-point Likert scale, marked with 1 = “++,” 2 = “+,” 3 = “0,” 4 = “-” and 5 = “–” and verbalized endpoints (++ “agree completely,” – “do not agree at all”).

Analytical Strategy

We model the effect of different compositions within research practice collaboration on the perception of research results using Bayesian variance analyses. While frequentist statistics with the p -value can only indicate the dependent probability P(D| H0) that the data D occur under validity of the null hypothesis, the probability P(H| D) is of interest, i.e., how probable is a hypothesis among the data obtained. This can be calculated with Bayesian statistics, because with the Bayesian theorem both probabilities can be related to each other ( Hoijtink et al., 2019 ):

The so-called Bayes Factor (BF) expresses quantitatively to what extent the data obtained speak in favor of a zero model/hypothesis or an alternative model/hypothesis. Although frequentist statistics will be used to calculate a p -value for whether the null hypothesis should be rejected, quantifying the p -value as the strength of the data against the null hypothesis is linked with restrictions. Analyses of Lin and Yin (2015) show that even if the null hypothesis is rejected, there is still a probability of about 20% that the null hypothesis is true. Therefore, the Bayesian posterior probability of the null hypothesis is appropriate for examining how strongly the data support the null hypothesis ( Lin and Yin, 2015 ). Our first hypothesis is therefore tested using the Bayesian posterior probability of the null hypothesis. Another advantage of Bayes’ theorem is that the BF can be used to test a set of hypotheses ( Hoijtink et al., 2019 ). BF then selects the best suitable hypotheses. Since we have two sets of hypotheses (2a and 2b resp. 3a, 3b, and 3c), we can use Bayesian variance analysis to model our hypotheses against each other. We perform the data analysis with the Bayes-Factor-Package bain 5 in the statistics program R ( Gu et al., 2018 ). This follows in the tradition set by O’Hagan (1995) . We present our results based on the recommendation for reporting results from Hoijtink et al. (2019 , p. 553–554).

Table 2 provides an overview of all dependent variables and their main summary statistics that we calculate using the total analytical sample of all variables. Across all groups, it is evident that research knowledge is trusted ( M -values: 2.16–2.25) and perceived as practically relevant ( M -values: 2.27–2.53) and applicable ( M -values: 2.48–2.57).

Table 2. Descriptive statistics of dependent variable.

To examine our three hypotheses (or sets of hypotheses), Bayesian analyses of variance were performed. The posterior distribution of the Bayesian analysis summarizes the information in the data and the prior distribution in relation to the population mean of each of the groups in the ANOVA. The Bayes factors vs. H u 6 and the Bayesian probabilities are displayed in the table below. The Bayesian probabilities—also called posterior probabilities—quantify the support for hypothesis (e.g., H 0 ) and H u after the data is observed ( Hoijtink et al., 2019 ). Hence, P( H 0 | data) can be regarded as the Bayesian error probability if H u is chosen as the preferred hypothesis, and P( H u | data) is the Bayesian error probability if H 0 is chosen as the preferred hypothesis. The ratio of these probabilities (the posterior odds) can be calculated using the BF and prior odds over P ⁢ ( H 0 | d ⁢ a ⁢ t ⁢ a ) P ⁢ ( H u | d ⁢ a ⁢ t ⁢ a ) = B ⁢ F 0 ⁢ u × P ⁢ ( H 0 ) P ⁢ ( H u ) ( Hoijtink et al., 2019 , p. 544).

In our first hypothesis we assumed that trust in research knowledge does not depend on research practice collaboration during the research process. Table 3 shows the results from testing our hypotheses on trust in research knowledge. Two hypotheses corresponding to the Bayesian variance analysis are displayed: 7

Table 3. Bayesian informative hypothesis testing (ANOVA) of Trust.

As can be seen, B F 1 u = 602430.05, that is, the support for H 1 is still 602 430.05 times larger than for H u . The Bayesian error probability associated with preferring H 1 equals zero. H 1 is the preferred hypothesis. This means we can assume that trust in research knowledge is not dependent on research practice compositions in the research process.

Second, four hypotheses for the variables of practical relevance are evaluated, which are firstly, the higher the proportion of practitioners in the research process, the higher the practical relevance of the research knowledge (2a) and secondly, when there is research collaboration between researchers and practitioners, the practical relevance of the research knowledge is higher than without research collaboration (2b). Following the Bayesian approach, these hypotheses were again tested against the H 0 , that there is no difference, and against the H u , that there is no relationship between the constellations.

The Bayes factors vs. H u and the posterior probability are displayed in Table 4 . As can be seen, H 0 is supported more than H 2 a , H 2 b , and H u . The posterior probability H 0 has the highest posterior model probability (0.96) and thus is the best suitable hypothesis of the set of hypotheses. We can therefore not accept any of our hypotheses on the influence of research compositions on the perception of practical relevance. This is because the null hypothesis is confirmed, i.e., practical relevance in research knowledge is not dependent on research practice compositions in the research process.

Table 4. Bayesian informative hypothesis testing (ANOVA) of practical relevance.

To examine the third set of hypotheses with regard to the applicability of research knowledge, three hypotheses were contrasted: The higher the proportion of practitioners in the research process, the higher the perception of applicability of research knowledge (H3a), in case of research collaboration between researchers and practitioners, the perception of applicability of research knowledge is higher than in case of no research collaboration (H3b), and the higher the share of scientists in the research process, the higher the perception of the applicability of research knowledge (H3c). Five hypotheses are evaluated for the variable of applicability according to Bayesian analysis of variance:

The results in Table 5 show the Bayes factor resulting from the ANOVA analysis. As can be seen, B F 0 u = 665957.83, that is, the support for H 0 is still 665 957.83 times larger than for H u . It can also be seen that the support for H 3b is 26088.13 times larger than the support for H u . The posterior probabilities are obtained by including H u in the set of hypotheses examined. They show that H 0 , with a posterior probability of 0.96, is the hypothesis with the greatest support and that the preference for H 0 is associated with an error probability of 0.04. Again, as in hypothesis two, we confirm the null hypothesis, i.e., applicability of research knowledge is not dependent on research practice compositions in the research process.

Table 5. Bayesian informative hypothesis testing (ANOVA) of applicability.

Summary of Results

Overall, across the varying research team compositions presented, research knowledge is associated with a rather high level of trust, relevance and applicability. Our analyses confirm the assumption that trust in research knowledge is not dependent on research collaboration (Hypothesis 1a). Concerning the question of whether signals about a (no) research collaboration per se point to practice-relevant and applicable research knowledge, the findings show that practitioners neither perceive signals of practice-relevance nor applicability from any collaborative research setting nor from homogeneous research teams (Hypotheses 2 and 3).

Against the background of the science-practice gap, our study examines whether information about research collaborations between science and practice influences the reception of research findings in the field of adult education. The dimensions examined—trust in the findings as well as assessments of their relevance and applicability—are central prerequisites for the actual use of research findings in the field. Our survey experiment varied compositions of scientists and practitioners in a research team around an identical finding. With reference to considerations based on system and signal theory, our hypotheses suggested that research-practice collaboration and the ratio between participating scientists and practitioners in the research team makes a difference in the reception of the dimensions studied. According to our results, it does not. On average, the descriptive results on trust in the finding, as well as the assessment of its relevance and applicability, show a positive tendency—regardless of the composition of the research team. On the one hand, the results of the Bayesian models support our assumption that trust does not depend on research collaboration. On the other hand, the results of Bayesian models do not support our assumptions about the influence of compositions within research collaborations on reception by signals. Neither the relevance to practice nor the applicability of research findings is influenced by signals about the composition of researchers and practitioners.


The results indicate that practitioners have a high level of trust in scientific findings regardless of the composition of the research team. Trust reduces complexity and uncertainty and is therefore a basic prerequisite for scientific knowledge to be translated into decisions and action in the field. An unconditionally high level of trust is generally a good premise for knowledge translation. Are the ivory tower metaphor and sweeping accusations about a lack of practical relevance therefore water under the bridge of the science-practice gap? What are the implications for the discussion on evidence based practice in education?

Trust in science has different degrees of complexity and its conditions are difficult to define ( Resnik, 2011 ). Although our findings indicate that information about research collaboration does not strengthen trust in, nor improve the perception of the relevance and applicability of research knowledge, we cannot conclude that information about research collaboration does not matter because we measured attributions. Research collaboration as a multifaceted element should be considered in further research. After all, research knowledge produced through collaborative research can enrich relevance and applicability as it is integrated with experiential knowledge and situational awareness of complexity in educational practice ( van Schaik et al., 2018 ). To this point, (mostly case) studies (e.g., Coburn and Penuel, 2016 ; Wentworth et al., 2017 ) show potential benefits of research collaboration in the specific context of the collaboration (that is those organizations, practitioners and students involved or in close proximity to the research practice partnership).

Our results suggest that cooperation between academics and practitioners in research teams may be beneficial for the realization of research but does not per se lead to widespread use of practitioners’ research knowledge. It would be worthwhile to further explore whether and how evidence-based action in small-scale settings can spill over into large-scale knowledge-sharing settings. Against this background, the focus could shift from trust in individual research findings and their origins to trust in media and institutions that act as knowledge brokers to communicate scientific findings to professionals in various educational settings, e.g., clearing houses, practical journals and blogs. Potential spill-over effects of collaborative research results could also be investigated in a more differentiated way with regard to various transfer products from individual projects. Transfer products, such as trainings, textbooks or digital media tailored for practice, are per se more application-oriented ( Goeze and Schrader, 2011 ) and could be especially efficient if they were developed in mutual collaboration. The expertise of practitioners on conditions and barriers of the use of research results in the practice of professionals as well as further studies on the user behavior in different professional fields ( Henson, 2001 ; Levin and Rock, 2003 ) can provide important insights and design information.


Although survey experiments by design promise internal and external validity, by combining experimental designs with representative samples, the application of the method brings limitations and trade-offs for any study based on wbmonitor data. An additional module to the regular question program was enabled, which had a correspondingly limited question program. In form of a classic split-ballot experimental design, the study is limited to the analysis of only one vignette dimension, namely the different composition of actors in a research collaboration. The representation of no or more or less practitioners, respectively, scientists in a research team has only limited informative value for aspects of cooperative research and its potentials. Thus, we are not in a position to test the influence of further relevant characteristics for the description of cooperative research processes (e.g., detailed descriptions of persons involved or descriptions of scope and quality of the involvement) on the reception of scientific knowledge. Likewise, we were unable to vary other factors outside the research collaboration, such as characteristics of the research knowledge (e.g., research methods, scientific language, mode of presentation, etc.).

Furthermore, there is a certain proximity between the two terms “expert” and “scientist” in German. Even though we have added the words “from an adult education institution” to the term “experts,” we cannot rule out the possibility that respondents may also associate the term with a scientific nature. Moreover, future research should take up questions of how the impact of knowledge about collaborations in research processes on reception is influenced by recipients’ characteristics (e.g., general attitudes toward science and/or contextual information on the working environment). Finally, we admit that it cannot be ruled out that the effects could be different in other scientific disciplines. In medical research, for example, cooperation with economically oriented pharmaceutical industries critically affects trust in research. In particular, trust in (educational) science as a complex construct deserves closer examination, which should consider further detailed information of contexts in which research results are produced and contexts in which they are to be used ( Mohajerzad and Specht, 2021 ).

On a more general note, this study counteracts the observation that too little importance is given to the reception of research results ( St. Clair, 2004 ). We think that an expansion of research on the reception of scientific knowledge and its effectiveness in the context of knowledge translation is required. In view of constantly growing empirical research on education, questions of how generated knowledge can be used to inform evidence-based practice in education are receiving relatively little attention. This question should not only be answered conceptually but should also be guided empirically in line with the evidence-informed approach.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. The patients/participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.

Author Contributions

AM, JC, and SW contributed to the study conception and design, and performed the material preparation and data collection in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). AM and HM performed the data analysis. HM wrote the first draft of the manuscript. AM, JC, SW, and HM wrote sections of the manuscript. All authors commented on the earlier versions of the manuscript, read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

  • ^ Replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) .
  • ^ Tooley and Darby (1998) as cited in Feuer et al. (2002) and Schrader (2014) as quoted in Schrader (2014) also mention such defects.
  • ^ For further information on the survey design: Koscheck and Ohly (2010) .
  • ^ Results based on wbmonitor 2018 show following shares for tasks performed by respondents (multiple responses per respondent): planning/management = 87%, teaching/consulting = 29%, administration = 17% (Source. Own calculations using wbmonitor 2018).
  • ^
  • ^ The subscript u denotes that the means are unrestricted. The Bayesian factors are calculated by integrating so-called posterior and priority distributions with respect to (parts of) Hu ( Hoijtink et al., 2019 ).
  • ^ 4S = four Scientists, 3S1E = three Scientists and one Expert, 2S2E = two Scientists and two Experts, 2E2S = two Experts and two Scientists, 3E1S = three Experts and one Scientist and 4E = four Experts.

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Figure A1. Treatment and Outcomes.

Keywords : science and practice relationship, research collaboration, research findings, survey experiment, Bayes factor method

Citation: Mohajerzad H, Martin A, Christ J and Widany S (2021) Bridging the Gap Between Science and Practice: Research Collaboration and the Perception of Research Findings. Front. Psychol. 12:790451. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.790451

Received: 06 October 2021; Accepted: 25 November 2021; Published: 16 December 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Mohajerzad, Martin, Christ and Widany. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Hadjar Mohajerzad, [email protected]

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Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Community-Based Drug Treatment; Lamb S, Greenlick MR, McCarty D, editors. Bridging the Gap between Practice and Research: Forging Partnerships with Community-Based Drug and Alcohol Treatment. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1998.

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Bridging the Gap between Practice and Research: Forging Partnerships with Community-Based Drug and Alcohol Treatment.

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6 Findings and Recommendations

The committee's review of current research, models for collaboration between research and practice, community-based organizations, and dissemination strategies led to findings and recommendations in six areas: (1) strategies for linking research and practice, (2) strategies for linking research findings, policy development, and implementation, (3) strategies for knowledge development, (4) strategies for dissemination and knowledge transfer, (5) strategies for consumer participation, and (6) training strategies for community-based research collaboration. The committee believes that attention to its recommendations will lead to improvements in clinical practices and will enhance the value of treatment research to clinicians, investigators, policymakers, clients, and to the general public.


The committee found some striking examples of strong collaborations between community-based drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs and academic research institutions. It was apparent, however, that relatively few investigators work closely with community treatment programs and even fewer programs participate actively in research.

Treatment programs benefit from being part of a learning culture that, among other characteristics, values knowledge development and hypothesis testing. Research collaboration can provide tangible and intangible benefits that improve an agency's competitive position—enhanced information systems, education and mentoring for clinical staff, contributions to overhead costs, access to state-of-the-art treatment interventions, staff pride, and more informed consumers.

Research participation becomes a possibility for treatment providers when community-based organizations are compensated for the true costs of research participation, and when program staff and investigators collaborate in construction of hypotheses, research design, and data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Only a small proportion of community-based agencies currently have the capacity to participate fully in long-term partnerships with teams of investigators. The level of participation in research collaborations depends on an agency's stage of organizational development, the compatibility of the studies with the organization's mission and culture, and its financial stability. Thus, participation may vary from relatively passive participation (completing surveys and submitting data to state databases) to involvement as a partner in the development of research questions, data collection, and data interpretation. However, incentives must change for all parties if real progress is to be made.

The trust necessary for long-term collaboration is generally based on a history of increasing involvement. Successful collaborative programs from other health fields include support for a permanent infrastructure that facilitates long-term development. The National Cancer Institute's Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) uses this strategy to bring state-of-the-art oncology research to community-based cancer treatment programs. CCOP facilitates research collaborations and enhances the ability of treatment programs to apply research findings to the general patient population. Development of a similar mechanism for use in community-based drug abuse treatment programs could catalyze research/practice collaborations and stimulate improvements in practice. The CCOPs are not inexpensive and they present a significant managerial challenge. The infrastructure alone at each clinical site can exceed $200,000. However, the infrastructure recommendation that follows does not necessarily require a model with that complexity. It could begin as a demonstration project involving a basic infrastructure enhancement of perhaps one full-time equivalent staff person and some computer support to a small set of diverse treatment sites. This level of support would be the target, whichever of the various network collaboration models is finally implemented.

Based on these findings, the committee offers two recommendations and identifies certain key characteristics that will facilitate their successful implementation.

RECOMMENDATION 1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment should support the development of an infrastructure to facilitate research within a network of community-based treatment programs, similar to the National Cancer Institute's Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) networks.

To be successful, the infrastructure and network development will depend on commitment from the community-based treatment programs and researchers. Certain key areas will need to be addressed to foster partnership. For the community-based treatment programs, these include:

  • encouraging and, when appropriate, participating in biomedical, social-behavioral, treatment effectiveness, and services research;
  • seeking collaboration with researchers to build information systems that enhance the delivery of clinical services, improve program management and operations, and contribute to research databases;
  • enhancing quality improvement strategies and fostering the development of organizational learning; and
  • promoting staff education on current research and creating strategies to encourage adoption of clinical protocols that hold promise to improve treatment services.

Likewise, for treatment researchers, the following approaches are suggested:

  • encouraging and, when appropriate, seeking collaborative opportunities with community-based drug treatment organizations (CBOs);
  • recognizing the burdens of research on programs and consumers and providing fair compensation for the time and resources required to participate in studies;
  • remaining sensitive to any potential their work has to harm consumers or treatment programs;
  • guarding against the misuse of their research findings and the findings of other researchers in the development of funding and regulatory policies and the design of clinical protocols;
  • supporting, through their work and their policy participation, consumer education on state-of-the-art clinical services; and
  • recognizing the value of consumer participation by providing information accessible to consumers about the benefits of research, by including consumers on study advisory groups and by integrating informed consumer opinion in research proposals and study designs.

RECOMMENDATION 2. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism should develop research initiatives to foster studies that include community-based treatment programs as full partners.

Issues to be addressed by these initiatives are:

  • including representatives from the treatment community in the development of the research initiative and in the review of proposals;
  • showing sensitivity to the needs and constraints of community-based programs;
  • requiring, in the proposal, an assessment of the study's burden and impact on the treatment program and its clients, as well as its potential relevance and practicality for CBO implementation;
  • requiring active, early, and permanent participation of treatment staff in the development, implementation, and interpretation of the study;
  • emphasizing the consideration of gender, gender identity, race, and urban/rural issues in research priorities; and
  • providing a rapid funding mechanism to promote small research projects on emerging issues affecting treatment (e.g., managed care, welfare reform, performance measurement).

State and federal policies sometimes hinder the diffusion of knowledge flowing from research relevant to drug abuse treatment. Selective prohibitions on the use of state and federal funds can inhibit the application of proven research findings. Language in the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, for example, prohibits the use of federal funds for needle exchange, despite studies demonstrating this improves the effectiveness of outreach to the population at highest risk for HIV infection. A similar restriction on the use of funds for client payments inhibits the implementation of behavioral reinforcement strategies. Local laws and policies restrict the development and operation of methadone services. Moreover, state and federal officials have generally not used funding mechanisms to facilitate collaboration between treatment programs and researchers, to foster adoption of new and effective treatments, or to improve the design of clinical research.

The committee believes that the coordination of state and federal programs is important to facilitate active collaboration and improvement of drug and alcohol treatment. Two recommendations are offered emphasizing the role of states in this collaboration, accompanied by approaches to undergird needed support.

RECOMMENDATION 3. State authorities should provide financial incentives for collaborative investigations between CBOs and academically oriented research centers; and should support structures to foster broad participation among researchers, practitioners, consumers, and payers in the development of a treatment research agenda, including studies to measure outcomes and program operations.

RECOMMENDATION 4. CSAT and the states need to cooperate in the development of financial incentives that encourage the inclusion of proven treatment approaches into community-based treatment programs. This approach should include making additional funds available for implementing targeted treatment approaches.

To improve treatment, the following are considered critical areas to address:

  • Creating mechanisms to ensure the adoption of treatments proven to be effective and development of requests for proposals that support implementations of specific treatments within local community-based settings.
  • Supporting the development of management information systems within community-based drug treatment programs, including consultation for system planning. These data systems should not be a one-way conduit to a state database but should also provide information to the treatment programs in a usable format and become the basis of public reports on outcomes.
  • Expanding researcher, provider, and consumer participation in the development of licensing standards, staff development requirements, and initiatives to enhance consumer participation. State licensing standards provide the basis for monitoring treatment outcomes and processes and for managing progress toward desired patient outcomes. The best staff development standards require ongoing staff training and education (e.g., through publications, seminars, enrollment in continuing education, and attendance at training sessions that disseminate information on emerging developments in clinical care). Consumer participation standards provide consumers with information on state-of-the-art treatment techniques, and outcomes measurement systems are best developed with input from families and patients.

Drug and alcohol abuse treatment providers were often critical of treatment research. At the same time, there was considerable support for collaborating on research projects that had immediate application to problems faced in patient care. Practitioners and policymakers requested more research on treatment effectiveness—studies that help programs operate more effectively and identify interventions that serve clients more effectively.

The committee's findings suggest that expanding the range of studied treatment settings, treatment modalities, and treatment populations may result in more broadly applicable treatment research findings. These observations led the committee to make two specific recommendations in this area.

RECOMMENDATION 5. CSAT and NIDA should develop mechanisms to enable state policymakers to monitor service delivery in community-based treatment programs and to determine if consumers receive services empirically demonstrated as effective and to ascertain if the treatment dosage and intensity are sufficient to be effective.

RECOMMENDATION 6. NIDA and NIAAA should continue to support ''real world" services research and cost-effectiveness studies and include the development of services research in their strategic plans.


The committee found at least four factors that inhibit diffusion of drug abuse treatment knowledge: (1) the structure of treatment delivery systems; (2) the diversity of the clients, providers, and other stakeholders; (3) the stigmatization of people who are dependent on alcohol and other drugs; and (4) an inadequate base of knowledge about technology transfer specific to the field. Differences in perspective among consumers, clinicians, researchers, and policymakers also inhibit knowledge dissemination and use.

While there is a general knowledge base about technology transfer, there has been little research on information exchange in the drug abuse treatment field. Research findings about technology transfer specific to drug abuse treatment are needed to help overcome the critical barriers to information exchange and reduce the knowledge gaps in this field.

Treatment programs are underutilizing research findings in the area of psychosocial interventions, pharmacotherapy, and integrated service delivery approaches. Several approaches have been shown in other fields to successfully close the gaps between treatment, research, and policy and there are models that could be applied more widely in the future.

Because providers and payers are often unaware of the latests research, the committee found a pressing need to create consensus in the field about which treatments have been proven to be effective and which have been proven to be ineffective. Further, the research agendas of the federal agencies should continue to be fueled by agreement in the field on which models have not received adequate study. The fruits of this consensus process should be widely distributed.

Key to improving knowledge dissemination will be cooperation and collaboration across federal agencies, states, professional organizations, and consumer groups, among others. The committee recommends two general approaches to establish the needed collaboration.

RECOMMENDATION 7. CSAT, NIDA, NIAAA, and AHCPR are the federal agencies that should develop formal collaborations, where appropriate, to synthesize research, reduce the barriers to knowledge transfer, and provide updated information about drug and alcohol treatment strategies to purchasers of health care.

A variety of approaches could be utilized to accomplish these goals. For example, expert panels of investigators, practitioners, program administrators, policymakers, and consumers could be convened by NIDA, NIAAA, and CSAT to generate up-to-date consensus recommendations for community-based drug and alcohol treatment programs based on current research. NIDA-, NIAAA-, and AHCPR-sponsored research on drug treatment knowledge dissemination would help to reduce barriers to the transfer of treatment knowledge and encourage treatment programs and policymakers to adopt proven treatments. Research findings need to be prepared in a form, and disseminated within channels, that enhance availability and acceptability to community-based treatment programs—especially front-line treatment staff. Continued support for and improvement of electronic and print publications directed to treatment programs and consumers is necessary; and other media, such as public access television, should be considered.

CSAT, NIDA, and NIAAA also have an important role in the development of information to enable purchasers of care to take research findings into account explicitly in making purchasing decisions. At the same time, purchasers should develop treatment criteria that ensure treatments of proven effectiveness are adequately funded and should consider withholding funding when the science base shows the treatment to be unequivocally ineffective.

RECOMMENDATION 8. CSAT, in collaboration with state substance abuse authorities, professional organizations, and consumer organizations in the addiction field, should continue the development of evidence-based treatment recommendations for use by clinicians of all disciplines involved in the treatment of drug and alcohol use disorders.

To ensure that these treatment recommendations have a positive impact on health care, these agencies and groups should work to encourage their use. Measurement of the impact of guidelines on clinical care delivery will optimally include short-, intermediate-, and long-term treatment outcomes.


Consumers are rarely involved in the issues of how drug abuse treatment research is supported and conducted. Although many community-based treatment programs were founded by men and women in recovery and counselors in recovery make up a significant portion of the workforce, there are few advocacy groups for patients and their families. In view of the stigma and legal hazards attached to illicit drug abuse, the reluctance to advocate is understandable but unfortunate. Consumer advocacy for state-of-the-art services has improved care for individuals with cancer and with HIV/AIDS. Drug abuse treatment may enjoy similar benefits if drug treatment consumers become informed consumer advocates.

RECOMMENDATION 9. CSAT and NIDA, in collaboration with state substance abuse authorities, should develop public awareness programs to encourage consumers and their families to recognize high-quality treatment programs so they will begin to demand that treatment programs include research-proven treatment approaches within their treatment models.

There are a variety of approaches that can be considered by these groups to accomplish this goal. These include:

  • Encouraging provider quality scorecard development to assure that consumer-oriented quality and satisfaction data, including shortand long-term data, are available to the public. Scorecard development is an early stage but growing movement in health care generally and could provide useful information about community-based treatment programs.
  • Reviewing and updating the formats and content of communication vehicles to assure that treatment and research information is accessible to consumers and to the community-based treatment organizations.

It is also critically important that representatives of consumers and their families, with the support and assistance of the research, treatment, and policy communities, promote local as well as national advocacy groups to work with state funding agencies, insurers, managed care organizations, and self-insured employers to encourage the use of valid and reliable measures of treatment outcomes. Such measures serve as a basis for evaluating the efficacy of specific treatment modalities and the cost effectiveness of treatment programs, individual treatment providers and networks of care. State and federal government and employers and purchasing alliances could then be encouraged to use these data to inform their health care purchasing and contracting decisions. Consumer groups should also advocate for the development of standards of care in community-based clinics, treatment networks, integrated delivery systems, and managed care networks. Such standards could be used in accreditation of treatment programs and are best if based on findings from clinical research as well as broadly accepted clinical consensus.


Research collaboration, especially collaboration in services research, requires skills and knowledge not generally provided in most graduate training programs. In order to foster collaborative research, it is necessary to enhance these skills in the next generation of drug abuse researchers. At the same time, despite the plethora of prior recommendations for addressing this problem, clinical training programs often fail to provide the background and orientation for treatment research. Thus, both clinical and research training programs need to be more attentive to the need for collaboration to improve treatment in this field.

The committee made three recommendations specific to preparing trainees for active participation in clinical research studies.

RECOMMENDATION 10. NIDA and other research funding agencies should support predoctoral and postdoctoral research training programs that provide experience in drug abuse treatment research and health services research within community-based treatment programs. Programs funded should have the full and active participation of community-based treatment programs and should include resources to fund the costs of participation for the treatment programs.

RECOMMENDATION 11. University training programs in the health professions should:

  • enhance exposure of students to didactic teaching about substance abuse and dependence;
  • require didactic teaching as well as supervised clinical experiences in community-based treatment settings;
  • teach students to interpret substance abuse treatment research and apply research findings in their clinical practices;
  • work with professional organizations to enhance continuing education about the addictions within the residency training curriculum of the various health professions; and
  • support researchers seeking to enhance collaborative relationships with treatment programs by offering tuition credit for CBO staff involved in funded collaborative research.

RECOMMENDATION 12. NIDA, CSAT, and other appropriate funding agencies should create research training programs for staff members of community-based treatment programs to strengthen the ability of the treatment programs to include research activities and to adopt the findings of research into their treatment approaches. Training programs should promote research training for clinical staff through fellowships and tuition remission, and incentives for attending professional meetings.

To enhance the likelihood that these recommendations are given serious consideration by the agencies to which they are addressed, the assistance of foundations is also needed. Foundations could play an important role by developing grant programs to:

  • Support training in clinical and services research in the addiction disorders. These grants should emphasize skills needed for participating in collaborative research and in the translation and implementation of treatment research into local community settings.
  • Support training for consumers and their families in becoming effective advocates and in the development of advocacy organizations to promote state-of-the-art treatment and treatment research, as well as consumer participation in policy areas such as the development of standards of care.
  • Cite this Page Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Community-Based Drug Treatment; Lamb S, Greenlick MR, McCarty D, editors. Bridging the Gap between Practice and Research: Forging Partnerships with Community-Based Drug and Alcohol Treatment. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1998. 6, Findings and Recommendations.
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Research Method

Home » Research Findings – Types Examples and Writing Guide

Research Findings – Types Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

Research Findings

Research Findings


Research findings refer to the results obtained from a study or investigation conducted through a systematic and scientific approach. These findings are the outcomes of the data analysis, interpretation, and evaluation carried out during the research process.

Types of Research Findings

There are two main types of research findings:

Qualitative Findings

Qualitative research is an exploratory research method used to understand the complexities of human behavior and experiences. Qualitative findings are non-numerical and descriptive data that describe the meaning and interpretation of the data collected. Examples of qualitative findings include quotes from participants, themes that emerge from the data, and descriptions of experiences and phenomena.

Quantitative Findings

Quantitative research is a research method that uses numerical data and statistical analysis to measure and quantify a phenomenon or behavior. Quantitative findings include numerical data such as mean, median, and mode, as well as statistical analyses such as t-tests, ANOVA, and regression analysis. These findings are often presented in tables, graphs, or charts.

Both qualitative and quantitative findings are important in research and can provide different insights into a research question or problem. Combining both types of findings can provide a more comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon and improve the validity and reliability of research results.

Parts of Research Findings

Research findings typically consist of several parts, including:

  • Introduction: This section provides an overview of the research topic and the purpose of the study.
  • Literature Review: This section summarizes previous research studies and findings that are relevant to the current study.
  • Methodology : This section describes the research design, methods, and procedures used in the study, including details on the sample, data collection, and data analysis.
  • Results : This section presents the findings of the study, including statistical analyses and data visualizations.
  • Discussion : This section interprets the results and explains what they mean in relation to the research question(s) and hypotheses. It may also compare and contrast the current findings with previous research studies and explore any implications or limitations of the study.
  • Conclusion : This section provides a summary of the key findings and the main conclusions of the study.
  • Recommendations: This section suggests areas for further research and potential applications or implications of the study’s findings.

How to Write Research Findings

Writing research findings requires careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some general steps to follow when writing research findings:

  • Organize your findings: Before you begin writing, it’s essential to organize your findings logically. Consider creating an outline or a flowchart that outlines the main points you want to make and how they relate to one another.
  • Use clear and concise language : When presenting your findings, be sure to use clear and concise language that is easy to understand. Avoid using jargon or technical terms unless they are necessary to convey your meaning.
  • Use visual aids : Visual aids such as tables, charts, and graphs can be helpful in presenting your findings. Be sure to label and title your visual aids clearly, and make sure they are easy to read.
  • Use headings and subheadings: Using headings and subheadings can help organize your findings and make them easier to read. Make sure your headings and subheadings are clear and descriptive.
  • Interpret your findings : When presenting your findings, it’s important to provide some interpretation of what the results mean. This can include discussing how your findings relate to the existing literature, identifying any limitations of your study, and suggesting areas for future research.
  • Be precise and accurate : When presenting your findings, be sure to use precise and accurate language. Avoid making generalizations or overstatements and be careful not to misrepresent your data.
  • Edit and revise: Once you have written your research findings, be sure to edit and revise them carefully. Check for grammar and spelling errors, make sure your formatting is consistent, and ensure that your writing is clear and concise.

Research Findings Example

Following is a Research Findings Example sample for students:

Title: The Effects of Exercise on Mental Health

Sample : 500 participants, both men and women, between the ages of 18-45.

Methodology : Participants were divided into two groups. The first group engaged in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five times a week for eight weeks. The second group did not exercise during the study period. Participants in both groups completed a questionnaire that assessed their mental health before and after the study period.

Findings : The group that engaged in regular exercise reported a significant improvement in mental health compared to the control group. Specifically, they reported lower levels of anxiety and depression, improved mood, and increased self-esteem.

Conclusion : Regular exercise can have a positive impact on mental health and may be an effective intervention for individuals experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Applications of Research Findings

Research findings can be applied in various fields to improve processes, products, services, and outcomes. Here are some examples:

  • Healthcare : Research findings in medicine and healthcare can be applied to improve patient outcomes, reduce morbidity and mortality rates, and develop new treatments for various diseases.
  • Education : Research findings in education can be used to develop effective teaching methods, improve learning outcomes, and design new educational programs.
  • Technology : Research findings in technology can be applied to develop new products, improve existing products, and enhance user experiences.
  • Business : Research findings in business can be applied to develop new strategies, improve operations, and increase profitability.
  • Public Policy: Research findings can be used to inform public policy decisions on issues such as environmental protection, social welfare, and economic development.
  • Social Sciences: Research findings in social sciences can be used to improve understanding of human behavior and social phenomena, inform public policy decisions, and develop interventions to address social issues.
  • Agriculture: Research findings in agriculture can be applied to improve crop yields, develop new farming techniques, and enhance food security.
  • Sports : Research findings in sports can be applied to improve athlete performance, reduce injuries, and develop new training programs.

When to use Research Findings

Research findings can be used in a variety of situations, depending on the context and the purpose. Here are some examples of when research findings may be useful:

  • Decision-making : Research findings can be used to inform decisions in various fields, such as business, education, healthcare, and public policy. For example, a business may use market research findings to make decisions about new product development or marketing strategies.
  • Problem-solving : Research findings can be used to solve problems or challenges in various fields, such as healthcare, engineering, and social sciences. For example, medical researchers may use findings from clinical trials to develop new treatments for diseases.
  • Policy development : Research findings can be used to inform the development of policies in various fields, such as environmental protection, social welfare, and economic development. For example, policymakers may use research findings to develop policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Program evaluation: Research findings can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs or interventions in various fields, such as education, healthcare, and social services. For example, educational researchers may use findings from evaluations of educational programs to improve teaching and learning outcomes.
  • Innovation: Research findings can be used to inspire or guide innovation in various fields, such as technology and engineering. For example, engineers may use research findings on materials science to develop new and innovative products.

Purpose of Research Findings

The purpose of research findings is to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of a particular topic or issue. Research findings are the result of a systematic and rigorous investigation of a research question or hypothesis, using appropriate research methods and techniques.

The main purposes of research findings are:

  • To generate new knowledge : Research findings contribute to the body of knowledge on a particular topic, by adding new information, insights, and understanding to the existing knowledge base.
  • To test hypotheses or theories : Research findings can be used to test hypotheses or theories that have been proposed in a particular field or discipline. This helps to determine the validity and reliability of the hypotheses or theories, and to refine or develop new ones.
  • To inform practice: Research findings can be used to inform practice in various fields, such as healthcare, education, and business. By identifying best practices and evidence-based interventions, research findings can help practitioners to make informed decisions and improve outcomes.
  • To identify gaps in knowledge: Research findings can help to identify gaps in knowledge and understanding of a particular topic, which can then be addressed by further research.
  • To contribute to policy development: Research findings can be used to inform policy development in various fields, such as environmental protection, social welfare, and economic development. By providing evidence-based recommendations, research findings can help policymakers to develop effective policies that address societal challenges.

Characteristics of Research Findings

Research findings have several key characteristics that distinguish them from other types of information or knowledge. Here are some of the main characteristics of research findings:

  • Objective : Research findings are based on a systematic and rigorous investigation of a research question or hypothesis, using appropriate research methods and techniques. As such, they are generally considered to be more objective and reliable than other types of information.
  • Empirical : Research findings are based on empirical evidence, which means that they are derived from observations or measurements of the real world. This gives them a high degree of credibility and validity.
  • Generalizable : Research findings are often intended to be generalizable to a larger population or context beyond the specific study. This means that the findings can be applied to other situations or populations with similar characteristics.
  • Transparent : Research findings are typically reported in a transparent manner, with a clear description of the research methods and data analysis techniques used. This allows others to assess the credibility and reliability of the findings.
  • Peer-reviewed: Research findings are often subject to a rigorous peer-review process, in which experts in the field review the research methods, data analysis, and conclusions of the study. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Reproducible : Research findings are often designed to be reproducible, meaning that other researchers can replicate the study using the same methods and obtain similar results. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.

Advantages of Research Findings

Research findings have many advantages, which make them valuable sources of knowledge and information. Here are some of the main advantages of research findings:

  • Evidence-based: Research findings are based on empirical evidence, which means that they are grounded in data and observations from the real world. This makes them a reliable and credible source of information.
  • Inform decision-making: Research findings can be used to inform decision-making in various fields, such as healthcare, education, and business. By identifying best practices and evidence-based interventions, research findings can help practitioners and policymakers to make informed decisions and improve outcomes.
  • Identify gaps in knowledge: Research findings can help to identify gaps in knowledge and understanding of a particular topic, which can then be addressed by further research. This contributes to the ongoing development of knowledge in various fields.
  • Improve outcomes : Research findings can be used to develop and implement evidence-based practices and interventions, which have been shown to improve outcomes in various fields, such as healthcare, education, and social services.
  • Foster innovation: Research findings can inspire or guide innovation in various fields, such as technology and engineering. By providing new information and understanding of a particular topic, research findings can stimulate new ideas and approaches to problem-solving.
  • Enhance credibility: Research findings are generally considered to be more credible and reliable than other types of information, as they are based on rigorous research methods and are subject to peer-review processes.

Limitations of Research Findings

While research findings have many advantages, they also have some limitations. Here are some of the main limitations of research findings:

  • Limited scope: Research findings are typically based on a particular study or set of studies, which may have a limited scope or focus. This means that they may not be applicable to other contexts or populations.
  • Potential for bias : Research findings can be influenced by various sources of bias, such as researcher bias, selection bias, or measurement bias. This can affect the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Ethical considerations: Research findings can raise ethical considerations, particularly in studies involving human subjects. Researchers must ensure that their studies are conducted in an ethical and responsible manner, with appropriate measures to protect the welfare and privacy of participants.
  • Time and resource constraints : Research studies can be time-consuming and require significant resources, which can limit the number and scope of studies that are conducted. This can lead to gaps in knowledge or a lack of research on certain topics.
  • Complexity: Some research findings can be complex and difficult to interpret, particularly in fields such as science or medicine. This can make it challenging for practitioners and policymakers to apply the findings to their work.
  • Lack of generalizability : While research findings are intended to be generalizable to larger populations or contexts, there may be factors that limit their generalizability. For example, cultural or environmental factors may influence how a particular intervention or treatment works in different populations or contexts.

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A male and female student work at a desk while a teacher helps other students in the classroom.

How educational research could play a greater role in K-12 school improvement

research findings gap

Clinical Professor of Applied Human Development, Boston University

Disclosure statement

Detris Honora Adelabu does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

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For the past 20 years, I have taught research methods in education to students here in the U.S. and in other countries. While the purpose of the course is to show students how to do effective research, the ultimate goal of the research is to get better academic results for the nation’s K-12 students and schools.

Vast resources are already being spent on this goal. Between 2019 and 2022, the Institute of Educational Sciences , the research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Education Department, distributed US$473 million in 255 grants to improve educational outcomes.

In 2021, colleges and universities spent approximately $1.6 billion on educational research .

The research is not hard to find. The Educational Research Information Center, a federally run repository, houses 1.6 million educational research sources in over 1,000 scholarly journals.

And there are plenty of opportunities for educational researchers to network and collaborate. Each year, for instance, more than 15,000 educators and researchers gather to present or discuss educational research findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association .

Yet, for all the time, money and effort that have been spent on producing research in the field of education, the nation seems to have little to show for it in terms of improvements in academic achievement.

Growing gaps

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, test scores were beginning to decline. Results from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, , or NAEP – the most representative assessment of what elementary and middle school students know across specific subjects – show a widening gap between the highest and lowest achievement levels on the NAEP for fourth grade mathematics and eighth grade reading between 2017-19. During the same period, NAEP outcomes show stagnated growth in reading achievement among fourth graders. By eighth grade, there is a greater gap in reading achievement between the highest- and lowest-achieving students.

Some education experts have even suggested that the chances for progress get dimmer for students as they get older. For instance, in a 2019-2020 report to Congress , Mark Schneider, the Institute of Educational Sciences director, wrote: “for science and math, the longer students stay in school, the more likely they are to fail to meet even NAEP’s basic performance level.”

Scores on the International Assessment of Adult Competencies , a measure of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, suggest a similar pattern of achievement. Achievement levels on the assessment show a slight decline in literacy and numeracy between 2012-14 and 2017. Fewer Americans are scoring at the highest levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy.

As an educational researcher who focuses on academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color , I believe these troubling results raise serious questions about whether educational research is being put to use.

Are school leaders and policymakers actually reading any of the vast amount of educational research that exists? Or does it go largely unnoticed in voluminous virtual vaults? What, if anything, can be done to make sure that educational research findings and recommendations are actually being tried?

Here are four things I believe can be done in order to make sure that educational research is actually being applied.

1. Build better relationships with school leaders

A man in a blue suit accompanies an elementary school-aged boy as they walk down a school hallway.

Educational researchers can reach out to school leaders before doing their research in order to design research based on the needs of schools and schoolchildren. If school leaders can see how educational research can specifically benefit their school community, they may be more likely to implement findings and recommendations from the research.

2. Make policy and practice part of the research process

By implementing new policies and practices based on research findings, researchers can work with school leaders to do further research to see if the new policies and practices actually work.

For example, The Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fund the implementation and evaluation of education interventions with a record of improving student achievement. Through the fund, $679 million was distributed through 67 grants – and 12 of those 67 funded projects improved student outcomes. The key to success? Having a “tight implementation” plan, which was shown to produce at least one positive student outcome.

3. Rethink how research impact is measured

As part of the national rankings for colleges of education – that is, the schools that prepare schoolteachers for their careers – engagement with public schools could be made a factor in the rankings. The rankings could also include measurable educational impact.

4. Rethink and redefine how research is distributed

Evidence-based instruction can improve student outcomes . However, public school teachers often can’t afford to access the evidence or the time to make sense of it. Research findings written in everyday language could be distributed at conferences frequented by public school teachers and in the periodicals that they read.

If research findings are to make a difference, I believe there has to be a stronger focus on using research to bring about real-world change in public schools.

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Teacher Well-Being: Gaps Between Research and Practice

Melanie hodges shares well-being research coming out of university of melbourne..

Posted September 1, 2023 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods

  • What Is Burnout?
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  • The most recent Gallup survey found 44% of K-12 workers (and 52% of K-12 teachers) now feel burned out.
  • K-12 teachers have the worst burnout rate of any industry.
  • The teacher burnout pandemic is worsening over time.
  • Lack of time, excessive workloads, and issues with administration are main issues facing teachers.

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This is the first of a two-part series.

Many guessed teacher burnout peaked during the pandemic’s scramble to remote learning in 2020, but schools' burnout rate has instead widened since then. A Gallup survey of thousands found that in 2020, 36 percent of those working at schools serving students and teens (K-12) felt “always” or “very often” burned out at work, but Gallup’s most recent findings were that the situation has worsened considerably: 44 percent of K-12 workers (and 52 percent of K-12 teachers) now feel burned out.

Worse, K-12 schools have the worst burnout rate of any industry , and the next closest is that of another subset of education : college and university staff, landing in second place for professional burnout. While this was a U.S. study, the problem exists worldwide, and research from abroad offers help to all. With education outpacing every other industry in burnout, teacher well-being is a more important research topic than ever. Yet is that research being applied?

Melanie Hodges, MAPP, of the University of Melbourne has conducted an extensive literature review on the topic, completed just this year. I had the chance to interview Hodges about her latest findings and how they can help educators and students moving forward.

Jenny Grant Rankin: How did your own professional experiences inspire and prepare you to cover this topic?

Melanie Hodges: Having been through burnout due to overextending my professional boundaries and not understanding that the word “No” can be a single sentence, I looked around and saw that underneath the professional veneer that teachers carry, there is the same pattern of thought. The pattern that leads us to continue to allow work to take over our nights, weekends and holidays. The last thought before we finally go to sleep is often about what we need to do the next day and which kid we need to check in on, or which assessment task needs to be re-assessed for the following year, rather than what can I do for myself so I can get a good night’s sleep just for once.

Burnout is a black hole that can suck the very soul out of a person before they even realize it has happened. We will ask others if they are OK, but we rarely ask ourselves if we are doing well.

JGR: You mention that being well is not something universities cover as they prepare students for the teaching profession. How can universities do a better job in this area?

MH: Universities do a fantastic job teaching the theory of teaching, giving the mechanics behind what is going on. However, until a teacher is in front of a class with students coming at them—metaphorically or physically—they don’t know what they are going to do. Going into a "practicum" is when student teachers first meet teachers as a professional. In some regards, this can be a bit backward. Maybe some universities need to invite teachers to them to give guest lectures about the realities of teaching.

Many first-time student teachers come to us thinking that they know the realities because they were once in a school, not too long ago, so they “know what it’s like to be a teacher.” But that does not really prepare them.

Universities also need to prepare students for maintaining their well-being. As a profession, we are probably one of the longest-running ones and yet we still don’t have the resources for teachers to maintain their own well-being. We have to learn how to do this ourselves. If we start at the university level, maybe we break this barrier earlier on.

JGR: What do teachers report as the main issues affecting their well-being at work?

MH: Time. Workloads. Administration work that has taken over our jobs. Support from the upper echelons. Something more than a fact sheet would be great.

To continue reading, Part II will be posted soon.

Jenny Grant Rankin Ph.D.

Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., is a Fulbright Specialist for the U.S. Department of State.

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Gap reports mixed second quarter and decline in sales across all brands

A shopper carries a Gap bag outside a store in San Francisco, California, US, on Thursday, April 27, 2023.  Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Gap reported declining sales across all four of its brands – Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta – in the second quarter, noting continued uncertainty among consumers.

At its flagship Gap stores, sales were driven by “continued strength in the women’s category,” the company noted in its earnings statement, but that was “offset by strategic store closures in North America.”

Across its brands, the company reported an 11% decline in online sales versus store sales, which were down 7%.

The company said in the statement that its outlook considers “the continued uncertain consumer and macro environment.”

The brand’s earnings report comes as consumers have shifted some of their post-pandemic shopping to experiences rather than material goods, with retailers from Macy’s to Target and beyond reporting challenging environments for sales.

Gap’s net sales were $3.55 billion, a decrease of 8% compared to last year. Refinitiv analysts had predicted revenue of $3.57 billion.

Excluding the negative impact from selling Gap China to Baozun in January, shutting down Yeezy Gap, and headwinds from a stronger dollar, sales declined 4% at Gap.

Old Navy sales declined 6% compared to last year, Banana Republic sales were down 11% and Athleta decreased 1%.

Late last month, Gap named Richard Dickson, from toy giant Mattel, as its new CEO. This quarter’s results came out on his third official day, Dickinson said in the company’s earnings call.

Sales of the mall staple have been struggling for years. The decline is prompting the retailer to close 30% of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America by next year.

CNN’s Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.

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From poverty to empowerment: Raising the bar for sustainable and inclusive growth

Growth, inclusion, and sustainability are connected , often complementing one another but sometimes pulling in different directions. 1 While inclusion intersects with issues of race and gender, this report focuses on economic inclusion for the population as a whole. MGI and McKinsey have a large body of research examining inclusion from racial and gender perspectives. Similarly, while sustainability encompasses many priorities, this research focuses specifically on the net-zero transition. This research explores how growth can contribute to higher living standards and a greener world, building on the tremendous progress of the past half century. Specifically, it looks at the economics of addressing both poverty and climate change in a decisive way—as well as the trade-offs involved.

We focus on established global aspirations without imposing constraints on the ambitions. On the sustainability side, the Paris Agreement laid out a framework to limit temperature rise to well below 2.0°C (and preferably to 1.5°C) relative to preindustrial levels. In response, many countries have committed to reaching net-zero emissions. On inclusion, while the world has made historic strides against extreme poverty, development experts and economists have discussed setting a higher bar for living standards. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) propose achieving adequate nutrition, health, education, clean water, energy, and living conditions for all. The concept of economic empowerment used in this research captures these aspirations. For each country, we estimate the point at which individuals can meet their essential needs and begin to have some security. This does not undermine the goal of eliminating extreme poverty; it explores how to move further toward a world in which people realize more of their own potential.

The actions taken (or not) in this decade will determine what kind of world the next generation will inherit. This research therefore considers how much progress could be feasible by 2030. 2 We use a 2020 starting point to give a clear decade-long view of potential progress. Scenarios from the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), the basis for our sustainability analysis, use 2020 as their starting point. Based on investment in low-emissions assets and increases in empowerment in 2021 and 2022, the scale of spending needed this decade has not dramatically shifted. The time frame is intentional. At today’s level of emissions, the world’s carbon budget for holding to a 1.5°C path is expected to run out around the end of the decade. In addition, 2030 is the target for the SDGs. Without faster progress on empowerment, the next generation could enter adulthood ill-equipped for the jobs of the future, putting many at risk of falling further behind.

Key findings

  • This research considers growth, inclusion, and sustainability as parts of a connected system. It assesses the extent to which accelerated growth can further the two defining societal aspirations of our time: raising minimum living standards and limiting global warming. It also frames the choices countries face in a decisive decade that will determine the state of the world in 2050.
  • Beyond ending poverty, the next challenge is progressing toward economic empowerment, which enables people to realize more of their potential. Economic growth has fueled tremendous poverty reduction in the past half century. Many have argued that the $2.15 per day extreme poverty line needs a complementary benchmark to gauge progress beyond that point. We frame this higher bar as the empowerment line, the level at which people can afford to meet essential needs such as nutrition, housing, healthcare, and education; they also gain a modest sense of security and have reduced risk of slipping back into poverty. Empowerment starts at $12 per day in purchasing power parity terms globally, with regional variations to account for different norms and costs. As of 2020, some 730 million people lived in extreme poverty, while 4.7 billion were below the empowerment line.
  • The pursuit of economic empowerment must be viewed in conjunction with global net-zero commitments. Addressing the causes of climate change is a pressing economic and social challenge—and at today’s emissions levels, the carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°C is trending toward being exhausted by 2030. Achieving net-zero emissions, as many countries have pledged to do, would require a major increase in investment and in the capacity of energy and resource systems.
  • The dual goals pose tensions that need to be managed. Rapid improvement in living standards could raise demand for energy- and emissions-intensive products and services (although historical patterns could change if new consumers shift behaviors). A disorderly net-zero transition could increase energy and other costs for consumers and cause labor market frictions, creating a disproportionate burden for low-income households; if people feel it is crowding prospects for their lives to improve, support could waver. At the same time, not acting to curb temperature rise could harm economies, and the poorest populations are most heavily exposed to physical risks.
  • The combined empowerment and net-zero investment gaps amount to an enormous 8 percent of global GDP annually over the decade. We quantify the cumulative spending boost that would close both gaps by 2030. Lifting everyone above the empowerment threshold implies that the people currently below it would need 40 percent more spending power on average by 2030 (even more in sub-Saharan Africa and India). To get on a net-zero trajectory, the world would need to muster an additional $41 trillion in low-emissions investment (above continued 2020 spending levels, cumulatively through 2030). These are shifts in income, consumption, and investment of an unprecedented magnitude.
  • Businesses and the market economy can generate half the combined resources through growth and innovation. This involves not only maintaining baseline growth but also boosting productivity even further through investment in technology, new businesses, and human capital. Accelerated growth and better-paying jobs could close almost two-thirds of the global empowerment gap. On the climate transition, even with current policies, we see potential for almost $10 trillion of low-emissions alternatives to become viable for private actors, especially in power and mobility. All told, growth and innovation, even without policy changes, could unlock just over a third of the step-up needed in net-zero spending.
  • Beyond what market forces can address under current policies, substantial gaps remain—and so do hard choices about whether and how to fill them. Growth and innovation alone could generate progress that would be historic in and of itself. Yet closing both gaps in full would take even more than what they can deliver without new policies and incentives. We estimate the unfilled economic gap at 4 percent of GDP per year globally, or $40 trillion, cumulatively through the decade. Developing countries account for nearly two-thirds of this.
  • Additional societal commitments could accelerate progress but come with their own risks. Combined public and private action could deliver housing, healthcare, education, and food that is more affordable and leads to better outcomes, potentially unlocking $3 trillion of benefits to those below the empowerment line. Public finance support could change the risk and cost profiles of net-zero investments, unlocking a further $17 trillion from private actors over the decade. However, such extensive commitments could distort the baseline economy. In a scenario where high-income economies choose to shoulder both gaps for the world, it would amount to 3.5 percent of their own GDP annually; the global financial system would need to accommodate higher cross-border flows.
  • Empowering large populations while getting on a net-zero trajectory would take a global push for growth, innovation, and collaboration. Growth boosts economic empowerment and creates the financing capacity for net zero. The upside is compelling: some 2.1 billion people could move above the empowerment line and 600 million people out of poverty, taking significant steps on their journey toward full economic empowerment. Yet addressing residual gaps would take bolder innovation in finance, technology, industry, and policy. The possibilities include creating new multilateral financing vehicles; integrating low-income countries into global trade in a way that lifts local communities and small businesses; developing sustainable cities with affordable housing; and designing effective carbon markets. Private actors, governments, and nonprofits would need to combine their capabilities and expertise—and think without limits about how they can contribute to meeting this moment.

Since these are urgent, simultaneous challenges, we bring them together to offer a more holistic view, considering the interactions between growth, economic inclusion, and the net-zero transition (Exhibit 1). Productivity-driven growth lifts incomes and raises living standards while unlocking the financing capacity needed for a low-emissions future. Meanwhile, innovation that goes hand in hand with growth can bring down the costs of low-emissions technologies. This could lower the spending needed for the transition and reduce the risk of households facing higher costs as a result.

Yet tensions exist in the system. Global economic empowerment implies billions of people with growing demand for energy, while a disorderly net-zero transition could create challenges of affordability. Some may view investment in the transition as a project that crowds out prospects for their lives to improve—but since the poorest populations are most exposed to the physical risks of climate change, reducing those risks is part of ensuring general well-being.

This research sizes the empowerment and net-zero gaps and explores scenarios of how they could theoretically be closed. The empowerment gap is the cumulative boost in consumption needed to meet everyone’s essential needs by 2030, while the net-zero investment gap is the cumulative spending on low-emissions technologies needed over the decade, above what is happening at present. Since neither could be addressed instantaneously, we assume steadily upward progress over the decade. This hypothetical would require the equivalent of 8 percent of global GDP annually, with significant variations by region.

This is obviously a massive sum, and its scale leads us to explore how much market forces could deliver. We find that accelerated growth and business innovation could take the world halfway to closing the combined gaps. Companies can make major contributions and benefit from new opportunities, even under current policy frameworks.

We frame the empowerment line as the level at which people can meet their essential needs and realize more of their potential. It has a global floor of $12 per day in PPP (versus the extreme poverty line of $2.15 PPP).

Beyond this point, the remaining economic gaps leave societies with choices about whether to address both challenges in full, in part, or not at all. Countries might prioritize one of these transformations over the other, or leave both unaddressed beyond what market forces can do. They might also attempt to make partial progress on both fronts. Closing the gaps would require protecting baseline growth against headwinds, boosting productivity and innovation to maximum levels, and potentially making societal commitments equivalent to 2 percent of global GDP, as an annual average, over the decade ($20 trillion cumulatively). Importantly, societal commitments would activate more innovation and investment by private actors. But actions on this scale would also take economies into uncharted territory, demanding more attention to maintaining economic growth and stability.

Societies are already spending on the twin priorities. In 2020, some 90 percent of the $1.4 trillion of global net-zero spending was either made by the public sector or subsidized in some way. About 20 percent of the consumption of people below the empowerment line was supported by public and social spending on in-kind transfers in 2020, by our estimates.

Are there further opportunities to close gaps without risking growth? All economies have constraints on fiscal resources. They would need to weigh those constraints against the implications of leaving urgent needs unaddressed—and against the potential longer-term payoff of an economically empowered population and a stable climate. Our research aims to provide ambition, provocation, and a fact base to inform these debates.

Economic empowerment raises living standards

More than a billion people have exited extreme poverty in recent decades. Yet large populations above this line lack adequate healthcare, quality education for their children, or decent housing. The SDGs incorporate higher aspirations, while the UN Development Programme calls to “expand the sense of possibility in people’s lives.” 3 Human development report 2021–22: Uncertain times, unsettled lives: Shaping our future in a transforming world , UN Development Programme, September 2022. When people have health, education, and stability, they are equipped to improve their own circumstances.

Continuing to raise the bar everywhere in the world

The World Bank’s extreme poverty line was recently updated from $1.90 to $2.15 per person per day (in purchasing power parity, or PPP, terms). 4 This 2022 update in the global poverty line also involved changing from 2011 PPP terms to 2017 PPP terms. But as more people exceed it, the world needs a complementary benchmark to track progress toward a higher living standard.

The concept of economic empowerment described in this research ensures that everyone has the means to access the full range of basics (Exhibit 2). Empowerment  still implies living in frugal circumstances. But people can begin to build a modest buffer for weathering emergencies and can invest in themselves to become more productive. 5 This concept is rooted in earlier MGI research that quantified the cost of a basket of essential goods and services for households in India. See From poverty to empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth, and effective basic services , McKinsey Global Institute, February 2014.

When people rise meaningfully above poverty, many outcomes improve, including childhood mortality, life expectancy, years of schooling, and digital and financial inclusion. Life satisfaction increases when people shed the stress of not being able to make ends meet and can fulfill more of their material desires. 6 Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, “High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , volume 107, issue 38, September 2010. Andrew T. Jebb et al., “Happiness, income satiation and turning points around the world,” Nature Human Behaviour , volume 2, 2018, found a similar relationship between life satisfaction and prosperity globally.

Image description: A circular diagram illustrates ten components of empowerment. Eight of them are characteristics of sufficiency, including food, healthcare, and education, and the other two are characteristics of security, including civic engagement and a savings buffer. End of image description.

How we quantify the higher bar

We start with consumption of $12 per person per day in PPP terms as a global floor, in line with other research (see sidebar, “Measuring economic inclusion”). For countries at higher income levels, we raise the line to account for local norms and the costs of food, housing and energy, safe water access, transportation, healthcare, education, clothing, and communication, using WageIndicator data as of 2022 and 2023. Purchasing power is consistently set to obtain that basket of goods plus a small margin for social activities and savings. 7 We note that having one empowerment threshold for a given country does not reflect how housing and other costs vary from region to region within the country; it costs more to live an empowered life in an expensive major city than in a poorer rural area. The housing may be a modest apartment; the transportation could be a transit pass, a used car, or perhaps a motorbike in some contexts.

Measuring economic inclusion

It’s been said that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. In the case of poverty, the challenge is not a lack of metrics but rather a proliferation of them. 1 Anthony B. Atkinson, Measuring poverty around the world , Princeton University Press, 2019. Starting with the holistic SDGs, economic inclusion can be framed as moving everyone toward health and well-being, education, affordable essentials, and sustainable communities.

Poverty can be more specifically expressed in monetary or nonmonetary terms. 2 Nonmonetary approaches include the Multidimensional Poverty Index developed by Sabina Alkire and James Foster, and the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index. See Global multidimensional poverty index 2023 , Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative and UNDP, 2023. It is often calculated monetarily by looking at income or consumption, using both absolute and relative terms or a hybrid of the two (exhibit). The World Bank, for example, sets its global extreme poverty line at $2.15 per person per day in 2017 purchasing power parity terms. This is the median of national poverty lines in more than two dozen of the world’s poorest countries. 3 Updated from $1.90 in 2011 PPP. See Dean Jolliffe et al., Assessing the impact of the 2017 PPPs on the international poverty line and global poverty , World Bank policy research working paper number 9941, February 2022. To account for higher living standards as countries move up the development curve, the World Bank introduced poverty lines specific to lower-middle- and upper-middle-income economies. 4 R. Andres Castaneda Aguilar et al., “September 2022 global poverty update from the World Bank: 2017 PPPs and new data for India,” World Bank Data Blog, September 14, 2022.

Image description:

Two sets of vertical, stacked bar charts show an example of daily spending patterns that illustrates how the means to achieve sufficiency in basic needs varies by stages of development. The set of bar charts on the left shows two bars for the daily spending patterns of a low-/middle-income economy in 2017 PPP terms. One bar is for the extreme poverty line, at $2.15, and the other is for the empowerment line, at $12.

The set of bars on the right shows two bars and compares the breakdown of spending categories for a low-/middle-income economy empowerment line vs a high-income economy empowerment line. Figures are shown as a percent of total, and categories include food, housing, health, education, transportation, and all others. The low-/middle-income economy bar shows more spending on food than in a high-income economy. The high-income economy bar shows spending on housing equal to spending in a low-/middle-income economy but more spending on health compared to a low-/middle-income economy.

Below each set of bars, scaled circles visualize the population living below the specified line in 2020. In low-/middle-income economies, 0.7 billion live below the extreme poverty line and 3.7 billion live below the empowerment line; in high-income economies, 0.3 billion live below the empowerment line.

End of image description.

Another approach uses the extreme poverty threshold as a floor, combined with lines that rise with countries’ income levels. 5 See, for example, Martin Ravallion and Shaohua Chen, “A proposal for truly global poverty measures,” Global Policy , volume 4, issue 3, September 2013. Others have proposed an entirely relative line based on median income or consumption. 6 Christopher Garroway and Juan R. de Laiglesia, On the relevance of relative poverty for developing countries , OECD Development Centre, working paper number 314, September 2012.

Another set of literature uses the aspiration for everyone globally to reach a higher living standard. Development economist Lant Pritchett, for example, proposes using the high-income poverty threshold universally, arguing that there is basic unfairness in setting a line with lower living standards in developing countries. 7 Lant Pritchett, “Monitoring progress on poverty: The case for a high global poverty line,” in Eradicating global poverty: A noble goal, but how do we measure it? Emma Samman, ed., Overseas Development Institute working paper, 2013. The lower bound of a high-income poverty threshold has inspired definitions of a global middle class, a topic of debate. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have explored the consumption patterns that point to someone exiting poverty and entering the global middle class. 8 Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, “What is middle class about the middle classes around the world?” Journal of Economic Perspectives , volume 22, number 2, spring 2008; and William Easterly, “The middle class consensus and economic development,” Journal of Economic Growth , volume 6, 2001.

The concept of economic empowerment in this research defines a minimum acceptable standard of living as having the means to afford nutrition, education, healthcare, housing, water and sanitation, and energy. Many of these aspirations are embodied in the SDGs; they are essential to enabling people to realize more of their potential. Empowerment starts with an absolute floor that lifts people past the point at which they are no longer at extreme risk of falling back into poverty. 9 Latin American economic outlook 2019: Development in transition , OECD, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, CAF Development Bank of Latin America, and the European Union, 2019. Middle-class households have also been defined as “comfortably clear of the risk of poverty” in Anthony B. Atkinson and Andrea Brandolini, “On the identification of the middle class,” in Income inequality: Economic disparities and the middle class in affluent countries , Janet C. Gornick and Markus Jantti, eds., Stanford University Press, 2013. Research from Brookings economist Homi Kharas (cofounder of World Data Lab, one of the main sources of data for this analysis) suggests that this level is $12 per person per day in PPP terms. 10 Homi Kharas, The emerging middle class in developing countries , OECD Development Centre, working paper number 285, January 2010, defines the global middle-class line as $10 in 2005 PPP, since raised to $12 in 2017 PPP. Also using this general level are Surjit Singh Bhalla, Second among equals: The middle-class kingdoms of India and China , 2007; Nancy Birdsall, Nora Lustig, and Christian Meyer, The strugglers: The new poor in Latin America? Center for Global Development working paper number 337, 2013; and Rakesh Kochhar, “The pandemic stalls growth in the global middle class, pushes poverty up sharply,” Pew Research Center, March 2021. See also

Since we aim to use a common definition of basic needs and security worldwide, why not an absolute PPP threshold? First, the data set from the WageIndicator Foundation that we use for setting thresholds above the global floor prices a consistent basket of essential goods and services, not the economy-wide basket used in PPP measures. 11 This data set compiles costs of essential goods (rather than the whole economy, which PPP indices measure). See Martin Guzi et al., Living wages and income worldwide , WageIndicator Foundation, 2023, and Second, some costs vary due to differing norms for the type or amount of a good or service related to empowerment (for example, the type of transportation required to secure a job or the minimum quantity of healthcare available to consumers). Our approach therefore gradually scales up empowerment lines for countries with progressively higher levels of income. 12 The combination of a floor with a gradual scaling-up approach is used by Dean Jolliffe and Espen Beer Prydz, “Societal poverty: A relative and relevant measure,” World Bank Economic Review , volume 35, issue 1, February 2021.

Our approach is consistent with economist Martin Ravallion’s view: “Any absolute line you choose will not adjust over time or across countries for differences in the costs of avoiding social exclusion and relative deprivation. . . . Where and when you live matters as to whether you should be considered poor at any given level of real consumption.” 13 Martin Ravallion, “Two goals for fighting poverty,” in Eradicating global poverty: A noble goal, but how do we measure it? Emma Samman, ed., Overseas Development Institute working paper, 2013. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen also notes that what is needed for daily life may differ across societies. 14 Amartya Sen, Development as freedom , Oxford University Press, 1999.

Empowerment is related to the “living wage” concept that has gained traction for employers and workers to evaluate wages against living costs. It has been broadly defined as the amount individuals need to earn to cover their basic household expenses plus taxes. 15 See, for example, Amy K. Glasmeier, Living Wage Calculator, The empowerment line is a consumption-based counterpart that complements this income-based metric.

In both high- and low-income countries, we view empowerment as the point at which people can begin to invest in themselves and have a fuller range of choices about shaping their lives. This echoes Sen’s assertions that income alone does not reflect well-being. Economic empowerment conveys the ability to participate in society, the freedom to enjoy life, and individual agency.

Finally, economic inclusion raises the larger topics of inequality and redistribution. In this research, we determine what it would take to lift the poorest population segments, a goal that has widespread support. We explicitly do not model redistribution from the wealthiest segments as the means to achieve this. We also recognize that poverty intersects with issues of race and gender, but this analysis does not incorporate demographics.

We then convert from PPP terms to 2020 US dollars. Expressed that way, the empowerment threshold ranges between $3 and $50 per capita per day across the countries in our data set. 8 Iceland and Switzerland are outliers on the upper end of the empowerment line range and above $50. To give some examples, the line is about $3 per capita in Afghanistan and Sudan; $4 to $5 in India, Indonesia, and Nigeria; $8 to $11 in China, Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand; $15 to $45 in Australia, Denmark, Italy, Japan, and Poland; and $50 in the United States. Establishing each country’s threshold makes it possible to size its empowerment gap—the share of the population that falls short of sufficiency as well as the dollar amount that would bridge this gap.

Because we use a consumption-based metric, taxes and direct transfers are already taken into account. Cost-of-living thresholds are then adjusted for the estimated in-kind transfers provided in each country. Universal healthcare, for example, lowers out-of-pocket healthcare costs for individuals. We note, however, the challenges of accurately tracking how public services reach the targeted recipients. Indeed, one way for countries to advance empowerment is through logistical and operational improvements to ensure that social benefit programs can be accessed by their intended beneficiaries.

Finally, we note that empowerment is a per-person metric. Families that combine their resources would have better prospects for meeting their basic needs than individuals below this line living alone.

Children holding a planet outdoors - stock photo

Driving sustainable and inclusive growth in G20 economies

Who is not fully economically empowered.

About 4.7 billion people worldwide (approximately 60 percent of the global population) are not yet fully economically empowered by this benchmark (Exhibit 3). 9 For both empowerment and sustainability analyses, we use regional groupings that follow NGFS conventions. Some 4.4 billion of them live in low- and middle-income countries; nearly half are in sub-Saharan Africa and India. Some may live in rural villages far from the nearest medical clinic; others are in crowded urban tenements.

For many people below the empowerment line, especially in the world’s major cities, the high cost of housing eats into other priorities.

Yet more than 300 million people in high-income countries also fall into this category, including just over a quarter of the population in the United States and in the European Union and United Kingdom. While even high-income countries have some degree of homelessness and deprivation, most of the population below the empowerment line in these regions does not experience such severe poverty. Yet some of their essential needs are not sufficiently met. In many cases, the high cost of housing eats into other priorities. People may not be able to invest in better education or training for themselves or their children. Closer to the threshold, a person may rent a basic apartment with a decently equipped kitchen; he may even own a TV, a mobile phone, or a used car. But living paycheck to paycheck means there is little savings to handle emergencies, move, or retire comfortably. Someone whose family members have disabilities may have limited prospects for employment without caregiving support, for example.

The family of four squeezed into a small studio apartment in Los Angeles is not fully empowered. Neither is the street vendor in Lima nor the subsistence farmer in Laos.

A horizontal bar chart shows the breakdown of the population by spending level in relation to the empowerment line globally and by regions. The first bar is the global bar, which shows 4.7 billion people, or 61% of the global population, live below the empowerment line. Regional breakdowns show that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of population below the empowerment line, at 90%, followed by India, at 77%. Japan has the lowest percentage of people below the empowerment line, 19%.

The magnitude of lifting everyone to empowerment

Our analysis assumes that people below the line gain a bit more spending power each year through 2030. Because we adopt a common time frame for the world, this ramp-up to full empowerment would be steeper for the poorest deciles and more gradual for deciles closer to the line.

Using these parameters, achieving universal empowerment by 2030 would involve boosting the cumulative consumption of 4.7 billion people worldwide over the decade by just over $37 trillion (the empowerment gap). This boost is equivalent to 40 percent of this cohort’s continued spending at 2020 levels. 10 The empowerment gap refers exclusively to the boost in spending power over 2020 levels. The current consumption of people below empowerment thresholds would amount to some $94 trillion over ten years, if extended at current levels. We note that the gap is the product of how the threshold and the timeline are set. Lowering the threshold or allowing this trajectory to play out over a longer time frame would produce different results.

Making progress toward closing the empowerment gap matters. For billions of people, achieving minimum living standards is the foremost existential issue. Their hopes involve getting out of unsustainably high debt, securing healthcare for their children, or moving in search of a better job. Leaving so many people in vulnerable circumstances imposes limits on growth and risks destabilizing societies.

Empowerment could yield long-term benefits—and not only for the individuals whose lives improve. It would eventually create a virtuous cycle. Many more people would have the skills and agency to participate in a knowledge-intensive and digital economy. They would also become consumers, fueling future growth.

The net-zero investment gap is the incremental low-emissions spending needed by 2030 to change the climate trajectory

Alongside the aspiration to raise living standards, countries and companies worldwide have committed to reducing emissions to net zero, aiming to limit global warming to 1.5°C relative to preindustrial levels in the current century. This research builds on scenarios from the Network for Greening the Financial System to quantify the low-emissions spending needed to get on this pathway by 2030 (see sidebar, “Measuring the net-zero investment need”). Across seven sectors globally, our analysis finds the biggest needs in power and mobility (Exhibit 4).

Square area charts show the low-emissions spending need and net-zero investment gap by energy and use sectors. From largest spending need to lowest, they are power, mobility, buildings, agriculture, industry, forestry, and hydrogen.

Each square is sized by each sector’s spending need, and each contains a shaded region that shows the proportion of spending need that is the net-zero investment gap. Power and buildings have the smallest gaps compared to other sectors proportionally. Globally, $55 trillion is the total for low-emissions spending need, and $41 trillion is the net-zero investment gap.

This research looks at scenarios of baseline economic growth (2.7 percent globally) and accelerated growth (3.4 percent globally). 11 Baseline growth relies on projections from Oxford Economics (aggregating different growth rates across countries). Accelerated growth is an adjusted scenario in which productivity gains add another 0.7 percentage point. Given the critical importance of growth to economic inclusion, we use the higher assumption for net zero, a scenario that could add an estimated 3 gigatons (Gt) of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2030 if historical relations of growth and emissions hold. This means that low-emissions spending would correspondingly need to scale up almost $5 trillion globally beyond what would be needed in a baseline scenario. In this high-growth world, getting on track for net zero would take cumulative investment and spending of $55 trillion on low-emissions assets over the decade—a step-up of $41 trillion as compared with simply extending 2020 levels. We refer to this step-up as the net-zero investment gap. 12 These figures differ from those in our 2022 report The net-zero transition: What it would cost, what it could bring . Here we focus only on low-emissions spending rather than total high- and low-emissions spending, and we use a 2030 rather than a 2050 time frame. This research also includes updated data and refined assumptions. At the same time, higher growth would expand the world’s financing capacity.

It is important to note that this $41 trillion figure does not reflect the world’s full energy and land-use investment; it excludes spending on high-emissions assets. Some high-emissions spending would continue, particularly in developing economies that are still expanding energy access, but overall global levels would fall. Some of the step-up in low-emissions spending could be captured as capital is reallocated away from high-emissions assets, provided that low-emissions alternatives become viable and cost competitive.

Measuring the net-zero investment need

We build on scenarios from the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), adjusting for baseline and accelerated growth. NGFS scenarios are frequently used in risk analysis, provide regional granularity, and include a holistic view of emissions. This analysis is performed for approximately 50 key low-emissions technologies and 12 regions, addressing 85 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In some cases, NGFS variables were downscaled for more granular quantification. Our “investment” need includes both capital investment and consumer spending on items such as electric vehicles. We include only low-emissions investments such as solar and wind power, while excluding high-emissions investments in areas such as fossil fuels.

We build on the NGFS Net Zero 2050 scenario (with warming of 1.5°C by 2100) to estimate the incremental low-emissions investment that would be needed (the net-zero investment gap). The NGFS Current Policies scenario enables us to estimate how much spending is likely under current policy frameworks (with warming of about 3.0°C by 2100). Other “current policy” scenarios may produce slightly different warming outcomes, though all would find a gap with a net-zero trajectory.

We also employ the McKinsey Transition Finance Model to answer the question of who pays. First we determine, for each lever and region combination, the share of grant and concessional spending required to make low-emissions technologies cost competitive with high-emissions alternatives based on their total cost of ownership, and to compensate consumers and companies for the technological and market risks associated with them. We rely on this modeling even for 2020, due to limited data on present-day subsidies; however, where available, we have triangulated our results with actual data. The rest of the spending need is then split between private actors (corporations and consumers) and public actors (governments, state-owned enterprises, multilaterals, and philanthropies) based on historical patterns and expert input. We acknowledge the many uncertainties  in both this allocation and the size of the investment gap. 1 See The net-zero transition: What it would cost, what it could bring , McKinsey Global Institute, January 2022.

A note on data sources

The net-zero modeling used in this research relied on several proprietary McKinsey assets, including McKinsey Net Zero Analytics, McKinsey Hydrogen Insights, the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, and McKinsey Power Solutions.

Among the external sources of data in this report, we acknowledge the International Energy Agency (Paris). We specifically relied on three IEA sources: Net zero by 2050 , 2021,; World energy outlook 2021 ,; and Energy technology perspectives 2017 , All are license CC BY 4.0.

We note that some analysis in this research was derived from IEA material, and MGI is solely liable and responsible for it; it is not endorsed by the IEA in any manner. This holds true for all providers of the data that went into our analysis. We gratefully acknowledge their assistance and input, but the conclusions and any errors are our own.

Our analysis assumes that providing incentives for low-emissions spending through subsidies would produce the same outcome as discouraging high-emissions spending through taxes. In practice, however, more policy mechanisms are needed to limit high-emissions spending. Some scholars have pointed to carbon taxes and subsidies as complements rather than a binary choice, especially at early stages of the net-zero transition. 13 For example, see Daron Acemoglu et al., “The environmental and directed technical change,” American Economic Review , volume 102, number 1, February 2012.

Empowerment and the net-zero transition affect each other—and some tensions would need to be managed

As people move toward empowerment, their consumption rises. As mentioned earlier, our analysis builds in the assumption that higher economic growth increases the net-zero financing need, relying on the historical relationship of growth to the production and consumption of energy- and emissions-intensive products. Going further to achieve full empowerment by 2030 could push these needs—and therefore emissions—even higher than what is accounted for in this adjustment.

Using data from India, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, we estimate that moving everyone to the empowerment line could raise demand for energy-intensive products and services, and in turn emissions, by as much as an additional 15 percent above the effects of accelerated growth alone. 14 Data on household energy expenditures from the UK Office for National Statistics, US Consumer Expenditure Survey, Statistics South Africa, and India 68th Round of National Sample Survey. Energy expenditures are uplifted for each decile under the empowerment line, then used to estimate the relative increase in emissions per capita for each country (based on World Bank CO 2 energy-related emissions data for each country’s direct emissions). Does not include non-energy and non-CO 2 emissions, which could change the estimate. However, significant uncertainties surround the effects of growth and empowerment on emissions. Historical patterns could change, for example, if consumers shift behaviors.

Just as empowerment affects the net-zero transition, the reverse is also true. If interventions such as carbon taxes increase the costs of energy and other goods for consumers, they could create a disproportionate burden for people below the empowerment line. 15 Energy prices could rise in the near term, for example, if carbon prices are imposed before low-emissions energy sources are widely available and cost competitive. But they could also decline over the longer term (for example, due to the lower operating costs of renewable energy sources and through energy efficiency). Actions such as recycling carbon tax revenue into transfers or subsidies could protect low-income households and provide economic development for distressed communities. 16 See, for example, Jonathan L. Ramseur and Jane A. Leggett, Attaching a price to greenhouse gas emissions with a carbon tax or emissions fee: Considerations and potential impacts , US Congressional Research Service, 2019; Frederick van der Ploeg and Maria Chiara Paoli, “Recycling revenue to improve political feasibility of carbon pricing in the UK,” VoxEU, October 2021; and Baoping Shang, The poverty and distributional impacts of carbon pricing: Channels and policy implications , IMF working paper, 2021.

The net-zero transition could redistribute jobs across industries and regions.

The net-zero transition could produce a surge of jobs in construction, certain types of manufacturing, and operations. Previous MGI research found that job gains could slightly outweigh job losses globally. 17 The net-zero transition: What it would cost, what it could bring , McKinsey Global Institute, January 2022. See also World Employment and Social Outlook 2018: Greening with jobs , International Labour Organization, 2018. However, the small net impact disguises the possibility of substantial churn as jobs are redistributed across industries and regions. In addition, the jobs being added may require different skills.

These potential impacts on households and labor markets make it crucial to manage the transition effectively and support consumers and workers in the most affected regions and sectors.

The two aspirations also have complementary aspects. Not acting to curb temperature rise could harm growth—and empowerment—substantially through effects such as impairing the ability to work outdoors, agricultural losses, and damage to capital stock. Lower-income people would become even more exposed to hazards if climate change is not convincingly addressed. And research has shown that as households become more empowered, they are more likely to be aware of the risks of climate change and, in turn, lend support to net-zero policies. 18 Higher-income households are more likely to buy products with sustainability-related claims; see “ Consumers care about sustainability—and back it up with their wallets ,” McKinsey & Company, February 2023.

The gaps vary widely across regions

The empowerment and net-zero investment gaps vary in magnitude across different parts of the world, not only in absolute dollar terms but also relative to GDP.

In the timeline we have set to 2030, the global empowerment gap would be equivalent to about 4 percent of world GDP on average annually. However, it is only 1 percent of annual GDP in high-income regions, including Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States (Exhibit 5).

In developing regions, the starting point is harder. The total empowerment gap is the equivalent of 4 percent of GDP on average annually in the Middle East, 6 percent in Asia (not including China, India, or Japan), 7 percent in Latin America, 13 percent in India, and a daunting 45 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

A table of three columns shows statistics on the empowerment gap by region. In the first column, a doughnut chart for each region shows the share of the global empowerment gap that region makes up. The second column shows a bar chart for each region that visualizes the annualized % of GDP equivalent, based on 2021–30. The third column lists the empowerment gap as a percentage of continued 2020 spending of people below the empowerment line. The table shows that lower-income regions, like sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Asia excluding China, India, and Japan generally account for a higher share of the $37 trillion empowerment gap.

The net-zero investment gap is also equivalent to about 4 percent of global GDP each year. It ranges from about 2 percent of GDP in Japan to 14 percent on average annually in India (Exhibit 6).

High-income regions have an annual net-zero investment gap on the order of about 3 percent of annual GDP on average, about four to five times higher than their 2020 levels of investment. Most developing regions have a larger net-zero investment gap relative to GDP. They face the twin challenges of replacing fossil fuel generation while substantially broadening energy access and meeting the energy needs of growing economies—and doing so in a low-emissions way. 19 NGFS scenarios account for difference in likely emissions reduction trajectories across developed and developing economies. Developed countries typically reach net zero earlier than developing countries.

A table of three columns shows statistics on the net-zero investment gap by region. In the first column, a doughnut chart for each region shows the share of the net-zero investment gap that region makes up. The second column shows a bar chart for each region that visualizes the annualized % of GDP equivalent, based on 2021–30. The third column lists the increase over 2020 levels of low-emissions spending. The table shows that each region has a unique share of the $41 trillion net-zero investment gap. China, US, and EU and UK account for the largest share of the gap.

Growth and business-led innovation could be the biggest drivers of economic empowerment

How could populations below the empowerment line gain more spending power? Our scenario starts with growth. By our estimates, aggregate baseline growth of 2.7 percent per year globally could generate enough income to give our target population the ability to meet some $14 trillion more of their needs over ten years. 20 The lift required for global empowerment is based on 2020 empowerment thresholds. We do not adjust annually, although the line may in fact rise due to increasing per capita income, changes in input costs, and other factors. Conversely, we also do not model the potential positive GDP implications of having many more empowered and productive workers. This could help lift 830 million people into empowerment by 2030 and bring some 160 million people out of poverty, reducing the share of the global population in poverty from 11 to 8 percent. 21 We use 20 percent of the empowerment line as a proxy for poverty. For countries at the floor of $12 PPP per day, this is slightly higher than the World Bank’s $2.15 line.

On top of this, businesses can improve productivity to accelerate global growth. Farm and non-farm sectors have the potential to raise productivity, in aggregate, by at least 0.5 to 1.0 percent each year across regions, as outlined in many prior MGI research  efforts. 22 Recent research includes The future of wealth and growth hangs in the balance (May 2023) and Rekindling US productivity for a new era (February 2023). This is not only about cost-saving efficiencies; it is also about innovation and new business creation, new types of work, and products and services that address new markets. If global growth could reach 3.4 percent annually by harnessing such opportunities, more resources would also become available for public goods and social spending.

Increasing investment and technology adoption will be key to these efforts. This creates the challenge—and the opportunity—to upskill workers to use those technologies and make successful job transitions into more productive sectors and better-paying occupations. Previous MGI research  has explored the scale of the skill shifts and occupational transitions that will likely be needed in the years ahead. 23 See, for example, Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages , McKinsey Global Institute, November 2017. Our analysis here suggests that roughly 10 percent of lower- and mid-skill workers could see their wages rise if they are equipped to take on higher-skill jobs by 2030 in response to technology, sector-specific growth opportunities, and other trends.

Businesses have a critical role here. About half of workers’ lifetime earnings  is due to skill building through work experience and learning on the job; this dynamic is especially important for those without educational credentials who start out in low-wage work. 24 Human capital at work: The value of experience , McKinsey Global Institute, June 2022. Businesses can become more productive by accelerating this process: during the pandemic, for example, US workers  moved into different occupations, including better-paying ones, at a rate 50 percent higher than in the past. 25 Generative AI and the future of work in America , McKinsey Global Institute, July 2023. But upskilling does not happen without intentional effort. It will be a heavy lift for businesses to improve this dynamic, especially where the process involves bringing people from subsistence farming into more productive work.

Faster economic growth could almost eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

All told, higher growth combined with creating and filling more productive jobs could close an additional $10 trillion of the global empowerment gap beyond what baseline growth can deliver, by our estimates. This includes the impact of social and public transfers rising in line with higher growth. This could raise living standards and transform lives on a massive scale, lifting 2.1 billion people into empowerment and 600 million more out of poverty. In this scenario, the share of the global population below the empowerment line drops from 60 percent to 30 percent and the share in poverty shrinks to 3 percent over the decade.

Lower-income countries would take longer to achieve full empowerment. But accelerated economic growth could eliminate the most severe forms of poverty in much of the world by 2030 (although we note the unique difficulties in places where conflicts are ongoing, among other deep-rooted structural issues).

The toughest challenge is in sub-Saharan Africa. If economic growth remains at the baseline, the absolute numbers of those experiencing the most extreme deprivation might actually tick up as the population rises. But accelerated productivity-driven growth could cut that population in half, which translates to 250 million people exiting poverty. The gap remaining to fully erase poverty in this scenario amounts to $120 billion over a decade, equivalent to about 5 percent of total public spending in these countries, projected at historical rates. At the same time, living standards would continue to improve for the rest of the population. In a high-growth scenario, the population above 50 percent of the empowerment standard would rise from 260 million in 2020 to 550 million in 2030. Transforming so many lives would expand the continent’s possibilities.

Some $15 trillion of new low-emissions spending could be unlocked this decade through growth and innovation

How much low-emissions spending can be spurred by growth and innovation? And what role will private actors play? This depends on whether each low-emissions investment opportunity is “in the money”—that is, competitive in total cost of ownership relative to traditional alternatives. We have analyzed these by technology, sector, and region.

Only about 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion low-emissions investment in 2020 was fully private. Our model starts by assuming these levels continue over the decade. This would mean an additional $14 trillion coming on stream by 2030. 26 Our breakdown of spending across public and private actors is based on a granular bottom-up modeled assessment across technologies and regions. For the public sector, we include grants and concessional financing and direct public spending. We have triangulated our results from 2020 with external estimates and find them broadly in line. Any discrepancies are likely due to differences in how subsidies are accounted for.

On top of that, an additional $15 trillion in investment could occur, even without changes to the policy frameworks that existed in 2020. 27 This includes, for example, carbon taxes in place as of 2020 in the EU. Of this, $3 trillion could come from current investment simply rising in line with baseline growth (assuming that spending levels stay consistent as a share of GDP). The remaining $12 trillion could occur with accelerated economic growth and, more importantly, with technological advances on the horizon making low-emissions alternatives more cost competitive.

$10 trillion in low-emissions spending could become viable for businesses and consumers in this decade.

While some of this $15 trillion step-up would continue to be financed or subsidized by public budgets, the majority could consist of “in the money” spending by the private sector. Combined with continued spending at 2020 levels, some $10 trillion in low-emissions spending could become viable for private actors by 2030.

Where exactly are these “in the money” opportunities? The power and mobility sectors in China, Europe, India, and the United States collectively make up about 70 percent of this category—and these are precisely the areas with the biggest needs for investment. Action is already building in these areas. With new supply chains turning out batteries and a wider array of models hitting the market, electric vehicles are poised to become more affordable. Meanwhile, technology advances and continued cost reductions could create almost $700 billion of new viable investment opportunities across solar and wind generation in these regions.

The extent to which growth, innovation, and continued current policies could close the combined gaps varies by region

Market forces—the combination of higher productivity-driven growth, business innovation, and technology advances—plus the continuation of current policies and public commitments could move the world much further on both fronts. At the global level, these forces could close roughly half of the combined empowerment and net-zero investment gaps (Exhibit 7). By our estimates, just under one extra percentage point of growth reduces the unfilled empowerment gap by more than one percentage point of GDP. 28 While economic growth increases the low-emissions spending need to reach a net-zero trajectory, the unfilled gap remains largely constant as a share of GDP.

Image description: Two waterfall-style bar charts plot breakdowns of the $37 trillion inclusion spending gap and the $41 trillion sustainability gap. About two-thirds of the inclusion gap is covered by market-led opportunities and continued current policies, leaving $13 trillion unfilled. About one-third of the sustainability gap is covered, leaving $26 trillion unfilled. End of image description.

But growth and business-led innovation have uneven potential across countries (Exhibit 8).

By 2030, these two forces could fill roughly 55 to 85 percent of the empowerment gap in high-income regions. Across the rest of the world, the picture varies widely. The greatest potential lift could occur in India and China. Accelerated growth and business innovation could erase more than 90 percent of the empowerment gaps in both countries, lifting about 700 million people in India and over 730 million in China above the threshold by 2030. But these two forces may have lower impact by 2030 in many other developing countries.

For net zero, the potential impact of growth is less, as discussed previously. Growth and business-led innovation plus continued current policies could together fill about 30 to 60 percent of the gap, with economies in Asia (apart from India) at the lower end.

Two sets of horizontal bar charts show a regional breakdown of the potential of baseline growth and business-led innovation to fill gaps. The left side shows the empowerment gap, and the right side shows the net-zero investment gap. The bars are split into three categories: baseline growth, business-led innovation, and unfilled gap. The charts show that the portion of the gap that can be filled varies by region.

The residual gaps raise fundamental questions

After accounting for growth, business innovation, and continued current policies, the unfilled gaps amount to $40 trillion across both empowerment and net zero. This is the global total, cumulative through the decade, with roughly $13 trillion on the empowerment side and $26 trillion for net-zero investments through 2030. Each country and region has a unique share of this residual gap, depending on its current development challenges, its growth prospects, and how carbon-intensive its economy currently is (Exhibit 9). Developing countries account for nearly two-thirds of the residual gap globally.

A tree map on the left shows the regional breakdown of the $40 trillion global gap for empowerment and net zero (2021–30). Sub-Saharan Africa leads at 19%, followed by the US and China at 15% each. On the right is a horizontal bar chart that shows unfilled gaps as a share of annualized GDP equivalent by region, broken down by empowerment and net zero. Sub-Saharan Africa leads at 36.7%, with a majority of the gap being from empowerment, followed by India at 10.2%, with the gap mostly due to net zero.

Different outcomes are possible depending on the extent of growth, innovation, and public-private action

The choices societies make about prioritizing these aspirations and putting resources into them can produce a broad range of outcomes.

If economic growth stays at the baseline, but innovation does not bring down the cost of low-emissions technologies as much as expected and no additional commitments are made, some 830 million people would cross the empowerment line by 2030. But some 3.9 billion would remain below it, and the world would be on a trajectory for over 3.0°C of warming in 2100. 29 Drawing on expected warming under the NGFS Current Policies scenario as of 2100.

Exhibit 10 shows the degrees of progress that could be achieved in line with higher growth, innovation, and commitments. While these are global results, the trade-offs differ across countries and regions.

Image description: In the first of 5 slides, 6 square matrices are arranged in 2 rows and 3 columns to show how gaps can be filled in different scenarios. The top row is for the $37 trillion empowerment gap, and the bottom row is for the $41 trillion net-zero investment gap. Each of the columns represents a scenario. The first scenario is for accelerated growth and innovation with continued policies. The second scenario shows societal commitment to filling the net-zero investment gap only. The third shows societal commitments toward filling both gaps. End of image description.

Image description: The second slide fills in some squares in each of the matrices to show how baseline growth can cover one-third of the $37 trillion empowerment gap and only about $3 trillion of the $41 trillion net-zero investment gap. End of image description.

Image description: The fourth slide fills in more squares to show how higher societal commitments can close the gaps. End of image description.

Image description: On the fifth slide, bullet points of statistics at the bottom of each scenario column show that higher societal commitments could put the world on a path to prevent an extra 1.5°C of warming and bring an additional 2.6 billion people, the rest of the world's population, over the empowerment line. End of image description.

  • Innovation-led accelerated growth. Countries could choose to rely solely on maximizing what market forces can do. With higher economic growth and innovation delivering the anticipated productivity improvements and reductions in the price of low-emissions technologies, 2.1 billion people could move above the empowerment threshold, but the world would be on a 3.0°C warming path. This would produce much more progress, especially on the empowerment side, than the current trajectory, although it would be far from closing the gaps.
  • Commitment to partially address either gap. Assuming high growth and innovation, societies could choose to address one of the residual gaps, leaving the other to be addressed by market forces alone. The exhibit illustrates societies choosing to tackle net zero completely but not empowerment. The choice is not binary, of course. Many combinations could yield partial progress on both challenges in tandem.
  • Commitment to fully close both gaps. In this scenario, the global population would be fully empowered with a higher standard of living, and the world would be on track to achieve net zero by mid-century, hopefully limiting warming to 1.5°C by 2100. This would take a best-case scenario of global growth and innovation along with commitments that wholly—and effectively—address the combined $40 trillion residual gap over the decade.

The important assumption in the final two scenarios is that public commitments on such a scale would spur additional private activity and investment. However, it is possible that such extensive commitments could distort the baseline economy.

These scenarios lead us to three questions about how additional commitments could theoretically close the last-mile gaps as well as the implications for countries that lack the economic resources.

Question 1: How could societies get closer to full empowerment beyond what current market forces can do?

The options for closing the residual $13 trillion economic gap for universal empowerment involve delivering essential goods and services more affordably and effectively, improving work arrangements and pay, and injecting more direct support. As a thought experiment, we quantify some of these avenues, cautioning that the effects of intervention on this scale are not known (Exhibit 11).

Making housing, healthcare, education, and nutrition more affordable—and raising the bar for quality—can yield not only financial savings but greater well-being and human potential.

First, beyond incomes, one of the biggest factors determining empowerment is the price of essential goods and services. Multiple efficiencies could bring down these costs. Benchmarking against the productivity gains and outcome improvements that some countries have achieved in past decades, we estimate the potential to improve capacity and productivity in housing, healthcare, education, and nutrition. If these are passed on to consumers, they could yield some $3 trillion of benefits to those below the empowerment line (cumulatively through 2030). In effect, this would lower the empowerment threshold. In places where the public sector provides essential services, looking for operational efficiencies and raising the bar for quality can ensure that public funds are well spent. Beyond the financial savings, these could yield immense benefits in terms of well-being and human potential.

Image description: A waterfall-style bar chart plots a breakdown of a funding scenario that could potentially close the $37 trillion empowerment gap. It shows $20 trillion covered by private business actions under current market frameworks, $14 trillion of public support, and the rest mostly covered by public and private action to increase the affordability of essentials, including education, healthcare, housing, and food. End of image description.

For instance, we estimate that improved construction productivity could lower housing expenditures by 11 percent globally if all countries emulated their best-performing peers and these gains reached consumers. Health outcomes (expressed in healthy life expectancies) could improve by 36 percent globally, even keeping current levels of healthcare spending constant, if each country matched its best-performing peer over the next decade. Globally, we find an opportunity to improve learning outcomes (expressed as both years of schooling and test performance) by 42 percent, with the greatest potential gains in low- and middle-income countries.

Policies and incentives could spur more business attention and innovation in the affordable segments of the housing, healthcare, food, and education markets. In housing, for example, local governments can change regulations related to land use, density, and permitting to lower costs for private developers. They can also require a percentage of affordable units in larger multifamily projects or offer concessional finance to buyers and developers of affordable housing.

On a different front, more labor-friendly policies and business decisions to offer higher wages or benefits could address labor’s declining share of national incomes, particularly in high-income economies. This could occur alongside structural factors we have accounted for as part of economic growth, such as changing employment mixes.

For the remaining unfilled $10 trillion global gap, one option could be well-administered transfers to households. While better-paying jobs are the biggest driver of higher living standards, transfers can be targeted to those who do not benefit from these opportunities, especially the very poorest, those living in remote communities, children, the elderly, and people unable to work. In many places, there is room to make subsidy programs more transparent. Digital tools can spot leakages while streamlining eligibility processes and delivering benefits more efficiently. In addition, governments, philanthropies, social investors, development finance institutions, and multilateral agencies could consider increased direct funding for affordable housing, health, and quality education.

A $10 trillion incremental commitment to achieve full empowerment would be equivalent to about 3 percent of total global government budgets over the decade (assuming both accelerated growth and government spending held constant at its current share of GDP). But the regional differences are stark. The amount needed to close the gap in the United States, for example, equals about 1 percent of government spending, while in sub-Saharan Africa, it would take 1.3 times the region’s government spending. Even if the region’s gap could be closed through international transfers, uncertainties remain about the potential size and duration of such aid. Large capital flows could affect prices, labor markets, savings, and ultimately growth.

Question 2: What would it take to get on a true net-zero trajectory beyond what current market forces can do?

After accounting for market forces, technological advances, and the continuation of current policies, the residual unfilled net-zero investment gap is $26 trillion, cumulative through the decade. This is equivalent to 3 percent of global GDP annually.

Increased public commitments for net zero could activate even more private capital and create faster learning effects that bring down the costs of low-emissions technologies.

Fully addressing this unfilled economic gap would require a combined public–private effort. Higher public commitments could activate even more private capital and create even faster learning effects (that is, the lowering of costs as technologies mature and are deployed widely). For example, the vast majority of wind and solar will come on stream only if there is sufficient investment in transmission and distribution, which is largely a public-sector effort today in many parts of the world. All of this rests on the unproven assumption that these shifts do not damage the base economy.

We present a scenario illustrating how such commitments could play out if countries choose to make them. Beyond the levels of public funding suggested by growth and the continuation of current policies, we estimate that an injection of just under $10 trillion in public funding could potentially unlock almost $17 trillion in additional positive impact collectively to 2030. Public support could take the form of concessional finance (that is, lending below market rates), subsidies, and projects undertaken by state-owned enterprises and development finance institutions.

One-quarter of the total $55 trillion needed through 2030 could be private in-the-money spending (plus avoided spending), up from 10 percent in 2020. All told, some $31 trillion could potentially come from private actors (Exhibit 12), including what is expected to become cost competitive as well as what could be unlocked through additional policies and public finance. Public support alone makes up some 36 percent of the total in this scenario, down from half in 2020.

Image description: A waterfall-style bar chart plots a breakdown of the global spending needed to fill the $41 trillion net-zero investment gap. It shows $13 trillion coming from public support, $16 trillion from private sources influenced by that public support, $9 trillion from private consumer finance and commercial finance sources, and $4 trillion counted as avoided spending from accelerated learning. End of image description.

About 60 percent of crowded-in private spending could occur in the building and mobility sectors, based on our bottom-up modeling. Public support would be critical for building decarbonization, since heat pumps, a key technology, are not yet cost competitive relative to gas boilers. Similarly, there are significant opportunities in mobility, but public-sector support may still be needed, especially for heavy-duty electric vehicles , which are expected to become cost competitive only in the second half of the decade. 30 “ Preparing the world for zero-emission trucks ,” McKinsey & Company, November 2022.

Such levels of public and private action could also yield up to $4 trillion in avoided investment, thanks to additional R&D, economies of scale, and learning by doing.

As with the empowerment gap, the $10 trillion of public commitment to be on track for net zero represents about 3 percent of total global government budgets over the decade (assuming both accelerated growth and government spending remain constant as a share of GDP). This ranges from less than 1 percent of current government budgets in the European Union and United Kingdom to 14 percent in India. The consequences of scaling up public commitments and international capital flows to this extent would be uncharted territory.

Even if the residual gap for net zero is not fully addressed, pursuing everything that market forces can do would already be a tremendous ramp-up in spending and progress. At this scale, and with this additional momentum, the environment becomes more fertile for breakthroughs and societal shifts that we cannot foresee today. This argues for a continued focus on growth and innovation.

Question 3: Will societies have the capacity and willingness for higher public and private commitments?

If governments choose to address some or all of the residual gaps, they could explore making their spending more efficient, reallocating existing spending, issuing new debt, or raising taxes. Capital could also come from philanthropies, multilateral agencies, or social investors.

Carbon pricing can play a role in spurring the switch away from high-carbon assets. We model how the need for public support to achieve both empowerment and net zero would change if carbon taxes, rather than subsidies, were the primary vehicle to shift incentives toward low-emissions spending. 31 We use carbon prices estimated by NGFS that range from about $78 per ton of emissions in emerging economies like India to about $300 in the United States. We found that they reduce the need for additional public support to reach net zero by 0.4 percentage point of GDP. At the same time, the residual empowerment gap would rise by 0.2 percentage point of GDP (on average annually) unless this effect is mitigated by revenue recycling. 32 Based on changes in private consumption seen in the National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s NiGEM model when shifting from a no-transition, no-physical-risk baseline to a net-zero scenario, looking forward to 2030. NiGEM incorporates NGFS carbon prices as taxes, as well as NGFS energy prices.

Most high-income countries theoretically have the resources to make higher commitments if they choose to, although how much debt countries can carry is the subject of ongoing debate. 33 See, for example, Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer, Fiscal space and the aftermath of financial crises: How it matters and why , Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Spring 2019; and Oliver Blanchard, “Public debt and low interest rates,” American Economic Review , volume 109, number 4, April 2019. Yet the choice to aim for full empowerment, net zero, or both would involve difficult trade-offs with other national priorities.

Sustainability and inclusion are global projects, with ramifications that do not stop at national borders.

Achieving full empowerment and a net-zero trajectory in the current decade appears more challenging for lower- and middle-income countries. Allocating large amounts to the net-zero transition could eat into existing social welfare programs, potentially worsening the empowerment gap. India’s need for incremental public support to get on a net-zero pathway is more than 50 percent higher than the share of GDP that currently goes to social protection spending, for example. Debt, too, is problematic for the developing world: the IMF estimates that 60 percent of low-income countries are already in debt distress or approaching it. 34 “Debt dynamics,” in Crisis upon crisis: IMF annual report 2022 , International Monetary Fund, September 2022. See also The human cost of inaction: Poverty, social protection and debt servicing, 2020–2023 , UNDO Global Policy Network Brief, July 2023.

Yet sustainability and inclusion are global projects, with ramifications that do not stop at national borders. For context, if high-income countries were to take on the combined residual gaps in the entire world, it would require an amount equivalent to about 3.5 percent of their GDP on an average annual basis (up from less than 1 percent of GDP to bridge only their own residual gaps). Even if high-income societies were willing to bear that cost, the world would need a mix of mechanisms for cross-border flows that could include international aid, cross-border debt, assistance from multilateral institutions, and debt relief (including creative debt-for-nature or debt-for-climate swaps). New financial vehicles might need to be designed.

We are reaching a fork in the road

We undertook this exercise to show what is theoretically possible and inform the debate. Regardless of whether countries decide to increase public commitments, this research lead to two important takeaways.

The importance of productivity-driven growth cannot be overstated

Faster growth propels inclusion. Almost 40 percent of the empowerment gap can be closed by baseline growth—and, as noted earlier, just under one extra percentage point of growth reduces the unfilled empowerment gap by more than one percentage point of GDP.

Additionally, growth can give governments more fiscal flexibility. The incremental GDP growth from higher productivity would allow for more than $30 trillion in additional public debt to be incurred globally without raising the 2020 global public debt–to-GDP ratio. At a global level, and specifically for high-income regions, this additional debt capacity exceeds the incremental public support needed to fill the empowerment and net-zero investment gaps. It is a question of whether or not those countries choose to assume that kind of debt, and where to allocate it.

Visionary agendas are more likely to be pursued when the pie is growing and put aside when it is shrinking. 35 Benjamin M. Friedman, The moral consequences of economic growth , Knopf, 2005. While growth can’t overcome every structural challenge, it can create space for new solutions to take root. Although growth in its current form has increased both emissions and inequality in the past, businesses, institutions, and governments can address these externalities more directly.

Higher growth and innovation could bring 600 million more people out of poverty, taking steps on a longer journey toward empowerment.

For developing economies, the prospects for more people to exit poverty are inextricably linked to their ability to grow. These countries would need to double down on productivity, skill development, and technological leapfrogging. 36 See, for example, Reimagining growth in Africa: Turning diversity into opportunity , McKinsey Global Institute, June 2023. They may also need institutional reforms, from clearer legal frameworks for property rights to stronger oversight that prevents leakages of public spending. 37 Realizing property rights , Hernando de Soto and Francis Cheneval, eds., Frank/Wynkin de Worde, 2006. New collaborations may be needed to integrate low-income countries more fully into global flows of trade, finance, technology, and knowledge.

The upside is compelling: higher growth and innovation could lead to some 600 million people moving out of poverty, taking significant steps on their journey toward full economic empowerment. Even in the absence of greater commitments and international transfers, growth and the actions of businesses can unlock real progress that changes lives.

Innovation at scale is critical

Relentlessly focusing on technology development is one of the keys to getting to net zero and lowering the price tag associated with doing so. The significant recent drops in the costs of wind and solar power offer reason for hope. R&D, learning by doing, and scaling up eventually drive costs down. The faster this happens, the lower the risk of households facing higher energy costs.

On the inclusion side, innovation and technology adoption generate demand for higher skills and better jobs. Innovation is also needed to tap efficiency-boosting opportunities and bring down the costs (and prices) of basic needs, from housing and food to education and healthcare.

Innovation is also needed in a broader sense. Lifting minimum living standards and containing climate change would involve sweeping transformations, requiring bold approaches in policy, finance, technology, and industry. The possibilities could include creating new multilateral financing vehicles; integrating low-income countries into global flows of capital and trade in a way that lifts local communities and small businesses; developing sustainable cities with affordable housing; strengthening education and healthcare systems worldwide; and designing effective carbon markets, including incentives for countries to preserve biodiversity and critical carbon sinks.

Progress toward empowerment and net zero would depend on private actors, governments, and NGOs and nonprofits combining their capabilities and expertise—and thinking without limits about how they can contribute to meeting this moment. Regardless of whether countries fully close the gaps, they have real opportunities to build a more stable, prosperous future.

We recognize the scope of these challenges as well as the political realities and the gravitational pull of the status quo. Financing is only one aspect of what would need to be done; achieving consensus and moving toward implementation would be incredibly complex. Countries that decide to take on these generational transformations would need an entirely different magnitude of public–private cooperation. The size of the challenge is not a reason for resignation; it is a call for everyone to roll up their sleeves on what can be done today. Every incremental step forward advances the continuum of progress.

Anu Madgavkar is a partner of the McKinsey Global Institute, based in in New Jersey; Sven Smit , based in Amsterdam, chairs MGI. Mekala Krishnan is a partner with MGI, where Kevin Russell and Rebecca J. Anderson are senior fellows. Jonathan Woetzel and Kweilin Ellingrud are MGI directors, based in Shanghai and Minneapolis, respectively. Tracy Francis , a senior partner in the Sao Paolo office, leads McKinsey’s ESG initiatives.

This report was edited by Lisa Renaud, an MGI executive editor in Los Angeles.

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