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Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of improving their strategies, practices, and knowledge of the environments within which they practice. As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to help their community improve its work practices (Center for Collaborative Action Research). Kurt Lewin, then a professor at MIT, first coined the term “action research” in about 1944. In his 1946 paper “Action Research and Minority Problems” he described action research as “a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action” that uses “a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action”.

Contents

Overview

Action research is an interactive inquiry process that balances problem solving actions implemented in a collaborative context with data-driven collaborative analysis or research to understand underlying causes enabling future predictions about personal and organizational change (Reason & Bradbury, 2001). After six decades of action research development, many methodologies have evolved that adjust the balance to focus more on the actions taken or more on the research that results from the reflective understanding of the actions. This tension exists between

  1. those who are more driven by the researcher’s agenda to those more driven by participants;
  2. those who are motivated primarily by instrumental goal attainment to those motivated primarily by the aim of personal, organizational, or societal transformation; and
  3. 1st-, to 2nd-, to 3rd-person research, that is, my research on my own action, aimed primarily at personal change; our research on our group (family/team), aimed primarily at improving the group; and ‘scholarly’ research aimed primarily at theoretical generalization and/or large scale change.

Action research challenges traditional social science, by moving beyond reflective knowledge created by outside experts sampling variables to an active moment-to-moment theorizing, data collecting, and inquiring occurring in the midst of emergent structure. “Knowledge is always gained through action and for action. From this starting point, to question the validity of social knowledge is to question, not how to develop a reflective science about action, but how to develop genuinely well-informed action — how to conduct an action science” (Torbert 2001).

Major Theories

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Chris Argyris' Action Science

Chris Argyris' Action Science begins with the study of how human beings design their actions in difficult situations. Human actions are designed to achieve intended consequences and governed by a set of environment variables. How those governing variables are treated in designing actions are the key differences between single loop learning and double loop learning. When actions are designed to achieve the intended consequences and to suppress conflict about the governing variables, a single loop learning cycle usually ensues. On the other hand, when actions are taken, not only to achieve the intended consequences, but also to openly inquire about conflict and to possibly transform the governing variables, both single loop and double loop learning cycles usually ensue. (Argyris applies single loop and double loop learning concepts not only to personal behaviors but also to organizational behaviors in his models.)This is different from experimental research in which environmental variables are controlled and researchers try to find out cause and effected in isolated envirnoment.

John Heron and Peter Reason's Cooperative Inquiry

Cooperative inquiry, also known as collaborative inquiry was first proposed by John Heron in 1971 and later expanded with Peter Reason. The major idea of cooperative inquiry is to “research ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ people.” It emphasizes that all active participants are fully involved in research decisions as co-researchers. Cooperative inquiry creates a research cycle among four different types of knowledge: propositional knowing (as in contemporary science), practical knowing (the knowledge that comes with actually doing what you propose), experiential knowing (the feedback we get in real time about our interaction with the larger world) and presentational knowing (the artistic rehearsal process through which we craft new practices). The research process includes these four stages at each cycle with deepening experience and knowledge of the initial proposition, or of new propositions, at every cycle.

Paulo Freire's Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Participatory action research has emerged in recent years as a significant methodology for intervention, development and change within communities and groups. It is now promoted and implemented by many international development agencies and university programs, as well as countless local community organizations around the world. PAR builds on the critical pedagogy put forward by Paulo Freire as a response to the traditional formal models of education where the “teacher” stands at the front and “imparts” information to the “students” that are passive recipients. This was further developed in "adult education" models throughout Latin America.

William Torbert’s Developmental Action Inquiry

The Developmental Action Inquiry is a “way of simultaneously conducting action and inquiry as a disciplined leadership practice that increases the wider effectiveness of our actions. Such action helps individuals, teams, organizations become more capable of self-transformation and thus more creative, more aware, more just and more sustainable” (Torbert, 2004). Action Inquiry challenges our attention to span four different territories of experience (at the personal, group, or organizational scales) in the midst of actions. This practice promotes timeliness – learning with moment to moment intentional awareness – among individuals and with regard to the outside world of nature and human institutions. It studies the “pre-constituted internalized and externalized universe in the present, both as it resonates with and departs from the past, and as it resonates with and potentiates the future” (Torbert, 2001)...

Jack Whitehead's and Jean McNiff's Living Theory approach

In the Living Theory approach of Whitehead (1989) and Whitehead and McNiff (2006) individuals generate explanations of their educational influences in their own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of social formations. They generate the explanations from experiencing themselves as living contradictions in enquiries of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing?' They use action reflection cycles of expressing concerns, developing action plans, acting and gathering data, evaluating the influences of action, modifying concerns, ideas and action in the light of the evaluations. The explanations include life-affirming, energy-flowing values as explanatory principles. A living theory approach with the above qualities is distinguished from the living theories produced by practitioner-researchers because of the uniqueness of each living theory generated by individuals.

Action research in organization development

Wendell L French and Cecil Bell define organization development (OD) at one point as "organization improvement through action research". [1] If one idea can be said to summarize OD's underlying philosophy, it would be action research as it was conceptualized by Kurt Lewin and later elaborated and expanded on by other behavioral scientists. Concerned with social change and, more particularly, with effective, permanent social change, Lewin believed that the motivation to change was strongly related to action: If people are active in decisions affecting them, they are more likely to adopt new ways. "Rational social management", he said, "proceeds in a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of action".[2]

Figure 1: Systems Model of Action-Research Process

Lewin's description of the process of change involves three steps [2]:Unfreezing: Faced with a dilemma or disconfirmation, the individual or group becomes aware of a need to change.Changing: The situation is diagnosed and new models of behavior are explored and tested.Refreezing: Application of new behavior is evaluated, and if reinforcing, adopted.Figure 1 summarizes the steps and processes involved in planned change through action research. Action research is depicted as a cyclical process of change. The cycle begins with a series of planning actions initiated by the client and the change agent working together. The principal elements of this stage include a preliminary diagnosis, data gathering, feedback of results, and joint action planning. In the language of systems theory, this is the input phase, in which the client system becomes aware of problems as yet unidentified, realizes it may need outside help to effect changes, and shares with the consultant the process of problem diagnosis. The second stage of action research is the action, or transformation, phase. This stage includes actions relating to learning processes (perhaps in the form of role analysis) and to planning and executing behavioral changes in the client organization. As shown in Figure 1, feedback at this stage would move via Feedback Loop A and would have the effect of altering previous planning to bring the learning activities of the client system into better alignment with change objectives. Included in this stage is action-planning activity carried out jointly by the consultant and members of the client system. Following the workshop or learning sessions, these action steps are carried out on the job as part of the transformation stage. [3]The third stage of action research is the output, or results, phase. This stage includes actual changes in behavior (if any) resulting from corrective action steps taken following the second stage. Data are again gathered from the client system so that progress can be determined and necessary adjustments in learning activities can be made. Minor adjustments of this nature can be made in learning activities via Feedback Loop B (see Figure 1). Major adjustments and reevaluations would return the OD project to the first, or planning, stage for basic changes in the program. The action-research model shown in Figure 1 closely follows Lewin's repetitive cycle of planning, action, and measuring results. It also illustrates other aspects of Lewin's general model of change. As indicated in the diagram, the planning stage is a period of unfreezing, or problem awareness. [2] The action stage is a period of changing, that is, trying out new forms of behavior in an effort to understand and cope with the system's problems. (There is inevitable overlap between the stages, since the boundaries are not clear-cut and cannot be in a continuous process). The results stage is a period of refreezing, in which new behaviors are tried out on the job and, if successful and reinforcing, become a part of the system's repertoire of problem-solving behavior.Action research is problem centered, client centered, and action oriented. It involves the client system in a diagnostic, active-learning, problem-finding, and problem-solving process. Data are not simply returned in the form of a written report but instead are fed back in open joint sessions, and the client and the change agent collaborate in identifying and ranking specific problems, in devising methods for finding their real causes, and in developing plans for coping with them realistically and practically. Scientific method in the form of data gathering, forming hypotheses, testing hypotheses, and measuring results, although not pursued as rigorously as in the laboratory, is nevertheless an integral part of the process. Action research also sets in motion a long-range, cyclical, self-correcting mechanism for maintaining and enhancing the effectiveness of the client's system by leaving the system with practical and useful tools for self-analysis and self-renewal. [3]

Participatory video

Participatory video is a set of techniques that involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film, in order to explore, solve and communicate their issues. It started in 1967 by Canadian advocate Don Snowden, who changed the lives of Newfoundland's Fogo Islanders. Then Director of the Extension Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Snowden worked with filmmaker Colin Low as part of the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change program. By watching each other’s films, the different villagers on the island came to realise that they shared many of the same problems and that by working together they could solve some of them. The films were also shown to politicians who lived too far away and were too busy to actually visit the island. As a result of this dialogue, government policies and actions were changed. The techniques developed by Snowden became known as the Fogo process. Its chief power is that the video is edited by its participants..[4][5]

References

  1. ^ Wendell L French; Cecil Bell (1973). Organization development: behavioral science interventions for organization improvement. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. pp. 18. ISBN 0136416624 9780136416623 0136416543 9780136416548. OCLC 314258. 
  2. ^ a b c Kurt Lewin (1958). Group Decision and Social Change. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 201. 
  3. ^ a b Richard Arvid Johnson (1976). Management, systems, and society : an introduction. Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Goodyear Pub. Co.. pp. 222–224. ISBN 0876205406 9780876205402. OCLC 2299496. 
  4. ^ Quarry, Wendy. The Fogo Process: An Experiment in Participatory Communication. 1994: Thesis, University of Guelph. http://www.uoguelph.ca/~snowden/fogo.htm. 
  5. ^ Schugurensky, Daniel (2005). "Challenge for Change launched, a participatory media approach to citizenship education". History of Education. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/research/edu20/moments/1966cfc.html. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 

See also

Further reading

  • General sources for action research
    • Center for Collaborative Action Research Contains examples of peer-reviewed action research reports and a wiki for supporting those engaged in the process of writing or supporting action research.
    • Burns, D. 2007. Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol: Policy Press.
    • Davison, R., Martinsons, M., & Kock, N. (2004). Principles of canonical action research. Information Systems Journal, 14(1), 65-86.
    • Noffke, S. & Somekh, B. (Ed.) (2009) The SAGE Handbook of Educational Action Research. London: SAGE. ISBN 978-1-4129-4708-4.
    • Greenwood, D. J. & Levin, M., Introduction to action research: social research for social change, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1998.
    • Reason, P. & Bradbury, H., (Ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research. Participative Inquiry and Practice. 1st Edition. London: Sage, 2001. ISBN 0-7619-6645-5.
    • Reason & Bradbury, Handbook of Action Research, 2nd Edition. London: Sage, 2007. ISBN 9781412920292.
    • Sherman & Torbert, Transforming Social Inquiry, Transforming Social Action: New paradigms for crossing the theory/practice divide in universities and communities. Boston, Kluwer, 2000.
    • Stringer, E.T. (1999). Action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
    • Woodman & Pasmore, Research in Organizational Change & Development series. Greenwich CT: Jai Press
    • Addison-Wesley Series in Organization Development
    • Pine, Gerald J. (2008). Teacher Action Research: Building Knowledge Democracies, Sage Publications.
  • Scholarly Journals
  • Philosophical sources of action research
    • Abram, D. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage.
    • Argyris, C. Putnam, R. & Smith, D. 1985. Action Science: Concepts, methods and skills for research and intervention. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    • Gadamer, H. 1982. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroad.
    • Habermas, J. 1984/1987. The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol.s I & II. Boston:Beacon.
    • Hallward, P. 2003. Badiou: A subject to truth. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
    • Lewin, K. (1946) Action research and minority problems. J Soc. Issues 2(4): 34-46.
    • Lewin, G.W. (Ed.) (1948). Resolving social conflicts. New York, NY: Harper & Row. (Collection of articles by Kurt Lewin)
    • Malin, S. 2001. Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum physics and the nature of reality, a Western perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Polanyi, M. 1958. Personal Knowledge. New York: Harper.
    • Senge, P. 1990. The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday Currency.
    • Torbert, W. 1991. The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry
    • Varela, F., Thompson, E. & Rosch E. 1991. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
    • Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2006) Action Research Living Theory, London; Sage. ISBN 9781412908559.
    • Wilber, K. 1998. The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating science and religion. New York: Random House
  • Exemplars and methodological discussions of action research
    • Argyris, C. 1970. Intervention Theory and Method. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.
    • Argyris, C. 1980. Inner Contradictions of Rigorous Research. San Diego CA: Academic Press.
    • Argyris, C. 1994. Knowledge for Action. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
    • Cameron, K. & Quinn, R. 1999. Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.
    • Flyvbjerg, B. 2001. Making Social Science Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press.
    • Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder & Herder.
    • Garreau, J. 2005. Radical Evolution: The promise and peril of enhancing our minds, our bodies – and what it means to be human. New York: Doubleday.
    • Heikkinen, H., Kakkori, L. & Huttunen, R. 2001. This is my truth, tell me yours: some aspects of action research quality in the light of truth theories. Educational Action Research 1/2001. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a739035953
    • Heron, J. 1996. Cooperative Inquiry: Research into the human condition. London: Sage.
    • McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. (2006) All You Need To Know About Action Research, London; Sage.
    • Ogilvy, J. 2000. Creating Better Futures: Scenario planning as a tool for a better tomorrow. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.
    • Reason, P. & Rowan, J. 1981. Human Inquiry: A Sourcebook of New Paradigm Research. London: Wiley.
    • Reason, P. 1995. Participation in Human Inquiry. London: Sage.
    • Schein, E. 1999. Process Consultation Revisited. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.
    • Senge, P., Scharmer, C., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. 2004. Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge MA: Society for Organizational Learning.
    • Torbert, W. & Associates 2004. Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership.
  • 1st-Person Research/Practice Exemplars
    • Bateson, M. 1984. With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. New York: Plume/Penguin.
    • Raine, N. 1998. After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back. New York: Crown.
    • Harrison, R. 1995. Consultant's Journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
    • Todhunter, C. 2001. Undertaking Action Research: Negotiating the Road Ahead, Social Research Update, Issue 34, Autumn.
    • Whitehead, J. (1993) The Growth of Educational Knowledge, Bournemouth; Hyde. Retrieved 1 March 2007 from http://www.actionresearch.net/writings/jwgek93.htm

External links

This article is written like a personal reflection or essay and may require cleanup. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. (December 2007)

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Action research is essentially research through action. It is usually a collaborative activity - involving input from people who are likely to be affected by the research - but this is not strictly necessary. Action research is about changing an environment, system, or practice, and learning about this context through changing it. To quote action research's instigator Kurt Lewin: "if you want truly to understand something, try to change it". This kind of work is not simply about changing, but also improving an environment. As John Elliott says, action research is “the study of a social situation with a view to improving the quality of action within it” (Elliott, p. 69).

Contents

Action research - a cycle or spiral?

"Reflective spiral", from Carr and Kemmis, p. 186

The image on the left is from Carr and Kemmis' book, illustrating the "moments of action research", or the "self-reflective spiral". It shows a cycle of action and reflection, broken into phases of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting. Each one of these phases, say Carr and Kemmis, is validated by the previous phase, and looks forward to the next (so, for example, the action phase is validated by the planning phase, and looks forward to the observation). The cycle can begin at any stage, and does not stop after one circuit has been completed, but rather begins another one, hence it is a "spiral", rather than "cycle".

Another visualization from the Center for Collaborative Action Research emphasizes the iterative process of action research. The researchers both act and seek to learn from the actions taken. The subject of action research is the actions taken, the change, and the theory of change that is held by the persons enacting the change. While the design of action research can originate with an individual, social actions taken without the collaborative participation of others are often less effective. To be successful, the action researchers have to plan in such a way as to draw an ever widening group of stakeholders into the arena of action. The goal is to work towards a better understanding of their situation in order to affect a positive personal and social change.

This form of research then is an iterative, cyclical process of reflecting on practice, taking an action, reflecting, and taking further action. Therefore, the research takes shape as it is being performed. Better understanding from each cycle points the way to improved actions.Riel-action research.jpg

Building theories with action research

Action research is a practical research methodology - it is orientated around practice, with a view to developing theory through practice. As Carr and Kemmis (1986) put it, action researchers "see the development of theory or understanding as a by-product of the improvement of real situations, rather than application as a by-product of advances in 'pure' theory." (p. 28) This is a means to generate ideas (theory) that are relevant locally - to the people who are involved in the research, and to the environment in which it has taken place. However, action research is sometimes criticised for not generating theory that can be generalised globally - though this is a feature of any local intervention.

Development of action research

The origins of action research lie in the work of Kurt Lewin, who worked with organisations in order to see how they could change and improve their practice (see Smith, 2001). It fell in and out of popularity after his work, but since the work of Stenhouse in the UK in the 1970s it has become an increasingly popular methodology - particularly in education, organisation and development work. It's worth noting that Carr's and Kemmis' spiral is quite similar to the cycle/spiral of experiential learning, which is sometimes merged with the notion of action research, to create one of action learning (Dick, 1997). There are many other variations of the general model of action research, including: participatory action research, emancipatory research, co-operative inquiry, appreciative inquiry, and action science - all of which have distinctive elements, but all of which overlap significantly. (How these branches differ might be an interesting question for you to ask yourself.)

See also

References

Resources and further reading

Activities

External links


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