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Three perspectives on evidence-based management: rank, fit, variety

Peter F. Martelli (Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Tuna Cem Hayirli (Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 August 2018

Issue publication date: 24 September 2018




The debate on evidence-based management (EBMgt) has reached an impasse. The persistence of meaningful critiques highlights challenges embedded in the current frameworks. The field needs to consider new conceptual paths that appreciate these critiques, but move beyond them. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


This paper unpacks the concept of finding the “best available evidence,” which remains a central notion across definitions of EBMgt. For each element, it considers relevant theory and offers recommendations, concluding with a discussion of “bestness” as interpreted across three key dynamics – rank, fit, and variety.


The paper reinforces that EBMgt is a social technology, and draws on cybernetic theory to argue that the “best” evidence is produced not by rank or fit, but by variety. Through variety, EBMgt more readily captures the contextual, political, and relational aspects embedded in management decision making.

Research limitations/implications

While systematic reviews and empirical barriers remain important, more rigorous research evidence and larger catalogues of contingency factors are themselves insufficient to solve underlying sociopolitical concerns. Likewise, current critiques could benefit from theoretical bridges that not only reinforce learning and sensemaking in real organizations, but also build on the spirit of the project and progress made towards better managerial decision making.


The distinctive contribution of this paper is to offer a new lens on EBMgt drawing from cybernetic theory and science and technology studies. By proposing the theoretical frame of variety, it offers potential to resolve the impasse between those for and against EBMgt.



Martelli, P.F. and Hayirli, T.C. (2018), "Three perspectives on evidence-based management: rank, fit, variety", Management Decision, Vol. 56 No. 10, pp. 2085-2100.



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