The Oxford Review Top Ten Research Topics & Trends 2019-2020

The Top Ten Research Topics / Research Trends 2019-2020

Top 10 2019/20

A look at the latest (people and organisations) research topics and research volumes for 2019 – 2020,

Looking at our own stats and research volumes, the top 10 most popular research topics covered this year have been:


  1. Organisational culture and climate (by far the most searched for topics)
  2. Human Resource Cycles and models
  3. Open innovation
  4. Organisational commitment and engagement
  5. Absorptive capacity and organisational learning
  6. Evidence-based practice
  7. Phronesis and wisdom in organisations
  8. Learning
  9. Openness to change
  10. Generations in the workplace



2019 – 2020 Research volumes

In terms of published research volume, the top ten (bearing in mind that we only include here research papers within our interest area of people and organisations).  You will notice that the sub items do not add up to the main research topics. The subitems represent allied research topics and are not subsets of the main topic. For example, research-based practice and learning trends are not primary research areas we cover all the time.


  1. Evidence-based practice – 126,000 papers
    1. Research based practice 141,000
    2. Evidence-based management – 76,800
    3. Evidence based implementation – 61,000
    4. Evidence-based leadership – 41,900
  2. Management / management model– 122,000 papers
    1. Management style – 90,700
    2. Management strategy – 78,500
    3. Management trends 75,200
  3. Knowledge management – 116,000
  4. Open innovation 99,100
  5. Human Resources – 82,000
    1. Human Resources model – 24,400
    2. Human Resources cycle – 13,300
    3. Employee engagement – 25,900
  6. Leadership – 69,000 papers
    1. Leadership trends – 20,300
    2. Transformational leadership – 17,400
    3. Servant leadership – 10,200
  7. Organisational Model – 86,700
    1. Organisational performance – 55,100
    2. Organisational culture – 41,100
    3. Organisational strategy – 41,100
    4. Organisational structure – 38,200
    5. Organisational climate – 32,300
    6. Organisation trends 19,300
    7. Organisational adaptation – 18,700
    8. Organisational engagement – 16,500
    9. Organisational citizenship – 7,220
  8. Generation gap – 53,700
    1. Generation X – 102,000
    2. Generation Z – 92,400
    3. Generation Y – 85,300
    4. Generations in the workplace – 10,400
  9. Organisational psychology – 47,000 – Work psychology – 53,100
    1. Positive organisational psychology – 21,900
    2. Positive organisational scholarship – 18,400
  10. Organisational learning – 25,500
    1. Learning trends – 55,700
    2. Absorptive capacity – 8,760

Commentary and notes: 

There are some interesting observations and notes to be made about these two lists. The first list is based on the popularity / interest and search volumes of topics we have covered in the review.


The second list is based on research volumes or approximate numbers of papers published on a topic.


The first thing to note is that the issues people are interested in and the research volumes aren’t too far apart, but there are a few big differences.


Evidence-based practice

Whilst scholars publish the most around evidence-based practice in terms of research volume, the interest from organisations is somewhat more muted. The world-wide search volume for evidence-based practice has remained constant:


The world-wide search volume for evidence-based practice

In the US there has been a slight increase in interest (search volume) over the years :

In the UK search volumes have been pretty steady, which is largely the same picture in Australia, Germany, The Netherlands and just about every other country over the last 10 years.


There are a number of explanations here for this year’s research volumes. The first is that evidence-based practitioners, because they are close to the research evidence, appear to be significantly more likely to publish evaluations and other practitioner-focused materials in peer reviewed journals (as opposed to most of the published research being conducted largely by academics) than almost any other form of practitioner, thus boosting the publication figures.

The second observation, which ties in with the first assumption, is the relatively high numbers of papers looking at evidence-based practice implementation and management.

What is interesting is that the publications on research-based practice firstly exceed those of evidence-based practice (141,000 papers this year v 126,000 for EBP) and secondly the publication of papers around implementation and management of these practices is really telling.


Research volume

Research-based practice


Evidence-based practice


Research-based practice implementation


Evidence-based practice implementation


Research-based practice management


Evidence-based practice management


What is the difference and what is this telling us?

Firstly, whilst the two terms are frequently confused and used interchangeably, there is a big difference between research and evidence-based practice in terms of complexity. Research-based practice is based on using research to inform practice. Evidence-based practice, on the other hand, involves a systematic analysis of what the:


  • Research literature
  • Practitioner experience and expertise
  • Client requirements / needs
  • Work based knowledge and testing


tell us about the situation. All of this data is then used for decision-making and problem solving.

Academic – practitioner gap and the time it takes for research to enter practice

A number of commentators and research papers (which we cover frequently in our briefings) have shown that there is often a considerable gap between academic / university derived knowledge and practice on the ground floor or in any community[i]. Also, that academic / university derived knowledge and models tend not very often to be readily translated into practical and operational settings, in many areas of work or practice[ii]. Indeed, recent studies[iii] have shown that the time it takes for academic research to enter practice spans from an average of between 9 to17 years, and often even longer!


The research volumes appear to reflect the relative complexity and difficulty of implementing evidence-based practice compared to research-based practice.

Leadership and Management

There is quite a difference between the volumes of management and leadership research.   Management research = 122,000 papers in 2019 vs leadership research = 69,000 papers. That equates to 334 papers a day being published around management and 189 papers a day being published around leadership topics!

This is a ratio of roughly of 2:1 research papers being published in management: leadership fields.

This difference in research interest is mirrored in search volumes on Google (not research related):

The red lines and volumes relate to management related searches over 2019 and the blue to leadership.

The search volume ratios for management and leadership are more like 4:1

In terms of management and leadership developers on LinkedIn we have:

For people with management development in their title 45.6 million people

For people with leadership development in their title 23.6 million people

Which is a rough ratio of 2:1

We have the same rough ratios of research output and people engaged in the development of managers and leaders (2:1), but this does not relate to actual public interest levels of the two topics (4:1).



Knowledge management and organisational learning

Last year we published a briefing about how knowledge management was splitting from the learning domain within organisations and was not, largely (and bizarrely), being seen as part of the same process. In 2019 I tried to conduct a survey of organisational learning practitioners, managers and directors etc. Very few were willing to engage on the topic of knowledge management. This low return rate was the highest I have ever experienced.

It would appear that learning practitioners are not routinely involved in knowledge management, nor is knowledge management being seen as a learning issue. The research volumes also back this up with approximately 317 research papers a day (116,000 a year) being published about knowledge management and only 70 papers a day being published about topics connected to organisational learning (25,500).

Part of the issue appears to be that knowledge management is often being seen in organisations as a technology issue and learning often isn’t.

Innovation, open innovation, change and continuity

Innovation (93,000 papers in 2019) and open innovation – 66,500 papers, continue to be hot research topics last year. This is not surprising, given the evidence of increasing levels of competitiveness, market and social volatility and uncertainty. And yet, research levels looking at organisational ambidexterity (how to manage innovation / change and continuing operations / business / continuity at the same time) are relatively low at 2,500 papers in 2019. It could be that organisations don’t quite see (or are not quite thinking about) the challenges involved in continuity and change.

Given the above research volumes, it may come as a surprise to many practitioners that research around organisational change, on its own, was only around 37,500 papers in 2019 and business continuity about 21,900 research papers.

Something interesting is happening here. When we look at the Google search volumes, we see a world obsessed with innovation:

When we remove the issue of innovation …

It looks like people aren’t connecting innovation, change and continuity and how to manage and deal with these often-competing issues, especially in our organisations.

The generations in the workspace

There are relatively high levels of research and public interest in generations in the workplace.

This is despite a lot of good research (and research briefings and special reports we have published) and systematic reviews showing that there is really not much difference between the generations as such. The issues are maturity issues, rather than there being some fundamental difference between generations. Its maturational not generational. However, why let a good story and popular understanding get in the way of the facts!

In terms of work (53,100) and organisational psychology (47,500) the research numbers are looking pretty even for last year (2019) and mirror public interest in these topics:

But are eclipsed by interest in topics like management:

Concluding remarks

It has been a busy year. Currently there are approximately 105,000 research papers published every day around the world (up from 97,000 papers a day in 2018)!  This rate of increase is about 9% per year per year, which is a not unreasonable heuristic for the rate of change.


In our areas of people and organisations we get to see about 200 papers a day. We use 3 sets of criteria for working out what to translate out of “academic” into “human”:

  1. That the research looks like reasonable (valid and reliable) research
  2. That the topic is of interest to our members
  3. That the research is saying something new and not just a re-validation of older studies

From that 200 approximately 65% are rejected on research quality grounds. This is usually either because:

  1. The research methods or results appear to be dubious or the wrong method was used.
  2. We can’t see how they have obtained their results.
  3. There is little connection between the data and the reported findings.
  4. There is no data to support the findings.

The desire and motivation to publish papers often exceeds the desire for rigour and science! Just because it’s in a peer reviewed paper doesn’t mean it is either correct or accurate.


We keep in pretty close contact with our members and have a pretty good handle on what they are working on / are interested in.

Lastly, looking forward, we will continue to be guided by our ever growing numbers of members, who are almost entirely evidence-based practitioners and experts in their field, either working in organisations or are active consultants, advisors, coaches and other professionals. About 5% of our members are academics, the rest are practitioners, authors and doers.

I hope this review is useful and interesting and I wish you a very happy and productive 2020.

David Wilkinson – Editor

January 1st 2020

Get research briefings every week

Not a member?

Apply to join now and get:


  1. Weekly research briefings sent direct to you every week
  2. A copy of the Oxford Review containing between twelve and sixteen additional research briefings every month
  3. Research Infographics
  4. Video research briefings.
  5. Special reports / short literature reviews on topics that appear to be getting a lot of research attention or if there has been a recent shift in the thinking or theory
  6. The ability to request a watch list for new research in keyword areas (as long as it is within the realms of:
    1. Leadership
    2. Management
    3. Human resources (not legal aspects)
    4. Organisational development
    5. Organisational change
    6. Organisational learning
    7. Learning and development,
    8. Coaching
    9. Work Psychology
    10. Decision making
  7. Request specific research / brief literature reviews
  8. Access to the entire archive of previous research briefings, copies of the Oxford Review, infographics, video research briefings and special reports.
  9. Access to Live Reports – continually updated as new research on the topic is released
  10. Members only podcasts – research briefings in audio – coming soon
  11. Live continually updated reports

Apply now




Glasgow, R. E., & Emmons, K. M. (2007). How can we increase translation of research into practice? Types of evidence needed. Annu. Rev. Public Health, 28, 413-433.


Dingfelder, H. E., & Mandell, D. S. (2011). Bridging the research-to-practice gap in autism intervention: An application of diffusion of innovation theory. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 41(5), 597-609.


Green, L. W. (2008). Making research relevant: if it is an evidence-based practice, where’s the practice-based evidence? Family practice, 25(suppl_1), i20-i24.

Balas, E. A., & Boren, S. A. (2000). Managing clinical knowledge for health care improvement. Yearbook of medical informatics, 9(01), 65-70.

Locke, J., Rotheram-Fuller, E., Harker, C., Kasari, C., & Mandell, D. S. (2019). Comparing a Practice-Based Model with a Research-Based Model of social skills interventions for children with autism in schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 62, 10-17.

Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page