Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report on a Forum for HRD initiative to proactively engage with HRD practitioners to develop “new commons” in the research-practice nexus. Researchers joined a community of UK university HRD practitioners, negotiated a research project mapping the terrain of HRD practice, explored how research informed these are and identified future practice relevant HRD research. Design/methodology/approach – The research process is described as grounded in relationship building and collaboration. Researchers utilized qualitative research methods to develop small-scale empirical research and explore HRD practice in four case study universities and the UK Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Findings – Findings are presented in the following themes: organizational approaches to HRD; underpinning philosophies and interventions as research informed and contracting and evaluating external providers and identifies opportunities to develop new commons between theory and practice via collaborative partnerships between the Forum for HRD and UK university HRD practitioners. Research limitations/implications – Future empirical research which is practice relevant is necessary in the area of evaluation of non-accredited HRD interventions, the challenges of developing leadership and management in UK HE and the HRD research-practice nexus. Practical implications – The paper has valuable implications for bridging the space between HRD research and practice; it surfaces the practitioners' “lack of voice” within the profession and field of HRD and the lack of opportunities for the development of individual HRD practitioners. Originality/value – The link between practice and theory within universities should be more developed, as HRD academics, a theoretical resource, are also “clients” of a University's HRD approach in practice. The research highlights how the reverse is the case, with the link between theory and practice under developed.