Across the Great Divide: A Systematic Literature Review to Address the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Estefania Arteaga*, Robbert Biesbroek, Johanna Nalau, Michael Howes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


An unresolved dilemma facing many disciplines is how theory and practice can better work together to enhance the decision-making processes on the ground. This widely-known theory-practice gap often contributes to the misdiagnosis of problems and undermines the effectiveness of responses. Despite decades of research into why this gap remains, there is still a continuing and heated debate as to why it exists and how it could be resolved. This article examines the theory-practice gap through a systematic review that draws insights across diverse disciplines such as health, science, governance, and business. It builds a conceptual framework based on the findings, allowing for the analysis of the various drivers and solutions for addressing the gap. The findings show that to resolve this gap is necessary to change our perspective of the gap and understand it as a bilateral issue, where both theory and practice play a role in creating the gap. Thus, solutions to the gap need to follow a cyclical and integrative approach. As the gap may never be fully closed, the framework provides the tools to respond to it whenever it arises. Future research will be required to empirically test and advance the framework.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSAGE Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • implementation gap, solutions
  • knowledge gap
  • theory-practice gap
  • transdisciplinary research


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