Our aim to improve conceptual understanding, as well as the utility of choosing values of inclusivity and collaboration as a framework for action, should be evaluated in conjunction with the ultimate aim of research and dissemination in applied sciences—to influence and improve practice. There are numerous issues to examine with respect to improving practice, which has always been an aim of TAVB. Among the issues particularly relevant to decisions made with respect to the future of TAVB is the question of why the empirical research (or conceptual analyses) presented here may not always be taken up by practitioners in the field. A gap between research and practice is evident in many—perhaps all—fields of applied science. If we have an aim of publishing innovative work, we must also consider what will lead to adopting research-based innovations. To this end, we would do well to consider research that has been done both within our own field (such as in special education, e.g., Greenwood & Abbott, 2001, and positive behavior supports, e.g., Carr et al., 1999) and outside our field, looking to the research in dissemination and implementation science, as well as other fields such as nursing and mental health, for guidance. For example, Carnine (1997) identified three qualities of research that are likely to lead to adoption in practice: trustworthiness, usability, and accessibility. As another example, the “diffusion of innovation model” suggests that characteristics of research that make adoption more likely include relative advantage, compatibility, and complexity (Dingfelder & Mandell, 2011). We may wish to consider these qualities both as we evaluate the quality of research submitted to the journal and in how we might improve the conditions for these qualities of research. I would also like to see in these pages an analysis of the research-to-practice gap with respect to research on verbal behavior, from the perspective of an analysis of verbal behavior.
In looking to improve practices while embracing a diversity of theoretical and conceptual analyses, it may also be fruitful to look for common ground in how different areas of verbal behavior research might map onto one another in application. It is likely here that we have the clearest alignment of goals, and the best chance of research progressing more quickly—if we can stay rooted in our shared values and aims. In applied work, our focus as behavior analysts is necessarily on socially valid outcomes in terms of behavior change. As an example, in my own work in early language development, I specify my overarching goal as establishing flexible, generative verbal behavior—and will therefore use whatever analysis (or procedures derived from a given analysis) will allow me to effect behavior change efficiently and with generality and generativity. In the case of my work in early intervention, it is in fact a combination, if not a true synthesis, of approaches that I use. I look to apply theory and research on how to best teach early verbal operant repertoires, which comes from the perspective of a strictly Skinnerian analysis of verbal behavior, along with theory and applied research from an RFT perspective on how to facilitate the emergence of derived relational responding. And, if I am working with relations of sameness, I see no reason not to use procedures that have arisen from the research done by theorists within the naming and stimulus equivalence traditions, whether or not I am in complete agreement with these conceptual analyses, if by doing so I can achieve the goals as I set out. However, it is only by deeply understanding each of these conceptual analyses that the practitioner will be able to see how research from these different perspectives might map onto one another in practice and then use the language and perspective that is most practical and useful within that particular moment. This broad and deep understanding is not only the foundation for my research and direct clinical work but also the foundation and focus of my training and coaching practice with students and behavior analysts. Thus I believe that any discussion of improving practice also requires a consideration of supervision and graduate training programs and how TAVB might impact the training of the next generation of researchers, as well as the next generation of practitioners.
TAVB has had an aim of contributing to the teaching of verbal behavior since the beginning (e.g., Johnson, 1982), and I certainly use classic articles from early issues in my own classes. As our mission acknowledges and values the diversity of conceptual perspectives, and the utility that such diversity affords, we will need to ensure that future issues of TAVB also contribute to the teaching of these perspectives. Our strategies with respect to the development of topics for special issues or with respect to recruiting tutorials and submissions from particular research areas or populations will need to be developed with this aim in mind.
We also might consider how we can influence graduate training programs and promote action in service of our stated values and aims. In valuing a broad scope of practice, I believe that we need to move outside the departments of applied behavior analysis and into the fields that we hope to influence. Rather than inviting lecturers on “outside topics” (environmental science, business, etc.) into our programs, how can we invite ourselves into their spaces? Our field is young, and behavior analysis departments have a critical function to teach theory and application. However, we cannot possibly teach to all of the areas of application that our science could influence, because the essential aim has been to influence all areas of human life—to “save the world with behavior analysis.” If we are going to do this, we need to produce graduates who have a deep enough theoretical understanding to move into any area of interest and apply behavior analysis to it as they go on to further study in that field. As behavior analysts, we also need to teach directly to students in those fields and both listen and speak to researchers in those fields—they already have the passion for their subject matter, and we can give them powerful tools with which to analyze and shape action within those fields, if we can listen to them and help identify what they need. I believe that an important measure of our success as a field will be when behavior analysis can be seen as a common approach from which an environmental policy advisor works, or a pediatrician, or a marketing director, rather than as an isolated specialty field. When it comes to the future of verbal behavior research and graduate training programs, we must work in true collaboration with other disciplines. In a wide variety of fields, language is a critical tool for intervention, and we have both a powerful framework for analysis and powerful tools for effecting change. Let us use them wisely, and widely.