Describe Action Research as a Process and an approach

Action research may be described as a process, that is as an ongoing series of events and actions. It may be defined as follows:

                Action Research is the process of systematically collecting research data an ongoing system relative to some objective, goal, or need of that system; feeding these data back into the system; taking actions by altering selected variables within the system based both on the data and on hypotheses; and evaluating the results of actions by collecting more data.

This definition characterizes action research in terms of the activities comprising the process. First, the researcher takes a static picture of an organization. On the basis of “what exists”, hunches and hypotheses suggest actions typically entail manipulating variables in the system that are action researcher’s control, which often means doing something differently from the way it has always been done.

French shows how action research can be used as a generic process on organization development. This process is iterative and cyclical. He clarifies the model as follows:

The key aspects of the model are diagnosis, data gathering, and feedback to the client group, data discussion and work by the client group, action planning, and action. The sequence tends to the cyclical, with the focus on new or advanced problems as the client group learns to work more effectively together.

Action research is a process in two different ways. It is sequence of events and activities within each iteration ( data collection, feedback, and taking action based on the data) ; and it is a cycle of iterations of these activities, sometimes treating the same problem several times and then moving to different problems.

Action research may also be described as an approach to problem solving, thus suggesting its usefulness as a model, guide, or paradigm. Used in this way, action research may be defined as a follows:

Action research is the application of the scientific method of fact-finding and experimentation to practical problems requiring action solutions and involving the collaboration and cooperation of scientists, practitioners, and laypersons.

The desired outcomes of the action research approach are solutions to immediate problems requiring action solutions to immediate problems and a contribution to scientific knowledge and theory. Viewing action research from this perceptive reveals additional important features.

Shepard’s concept of action research model is shown in fig:

Shepard’s highlights the relations among goals (objectives), planning, and action in his diagram- a point we think is an important feature of action. Both he and French emphasize the action research is research inextricably linked to action, it is research with a purpose, that is, to guide present and future action.

In an action research approach, the role of the consultant/change agent takes on a special form, as shown by Shepard:

The role is to help the manager plan his actions and design his fact-finding procedures in such  a way that he can learn from them, to serve such ends as becoming a more skillful manger, setting more realistic objectives, discovering better ways of organizing. In this sense, the staffs concerned with follow-up research consultants. Their task is to help managers formulate management problems as experiments.

In viewing action research as an approach to problem solving we note following features: the normative nature of this model, the centrality of the objectives, and the different role requirements of the consultant/change agent vis- a- Vis the clients. Three additional features deserve discussion: first, the elements of the action research model that link it to the scientific method of inquiry; second, the collaboration relation among scientists, practitioners, and laypersons that often is a component of action research; and third, the increased richness of knowledge derived from action research programs.

An example applying action research to a typical organizational problem might be helpful. Suppose that the problem is unproductive staff meetings- they are poorly attended, members express low commitment and involvement in them, and they are \generally agreed to be unproductive. Suppose also that you are the manager in charge of both the meetings and the staff and that you desire to make the meetings more vital and productive. Following the action research model; the first step is to gather data about the status quo. Assume the data have been gathered and that the data suggest the meetings are generally disliked and regarded as unproductive. The next step is to search for causes of the problem and to generate one or more hypotheses from which you produce the consequences that will allow you to test the hypotheses. Say you come up with the following four hypotheses. Note that an action research hypothesis consists of two aspects: a goal and an action or procedure for achieving that goal.

  1. Staff meetings will be more productive if I solicit and use agenda topics from the staff rather than have the agenda made up just by me.
  2. Staff meetings will be more productive if I rotate the chair of the meeting among the staff rather than my always being chairperson.
  3. Staff meetings will be more productive if we hold them once a week instead of twice a week.
  4. I have always run the staff meetings in a brisk” all- business no-nonsense” fashion; Perhaps if I encourage more discussion and am more open about how I am reacting to what is being said, then staff meetings will be more productive.
  5. Each of these action research hypotheses has a goal, (better staff meetings productivity), and each has an action or procedure, for achieving the goal. Additional work would be done to clarify and specify the goal and the actions, and then the hypotheses would be systematically tested (implemented) one at a time and, through data collection, evaluated for their effects.

Another distinguishing feature of action research is collaboration between individuals inside the system- clients and individuals outside the system- change agents or researchers. Almost all authors stress the collaborative nature of action research, states with some seeing it as the primary reason for the model’s efficacy. A widely used belief states that people support what they have helped to create. Such a belief, highly congruent with the collaborative aspect of action research, impels practitioners and researchers to cooperate extensively with client system members. This point of view implies that the client system members and the researcher should jointly define the methods used for data collection, identify the hypotheses relevant to the situations, and evaluate the consequences of actions. This collaborative ingredient is found in both action research and organization development.

As scientists and laypersons work together to understand and change a problematic condition, their joint inquiry typically yields rich data and insights about the phenomenon. The problem is real, not hypothetical; the actors know more about the situation than the outsiders do; and the actors have a vested interest in getting the facts since they will benefit from solution. As Shani and Bushe observe: “it is the development of high-quality relations between action researchers and organizational members that creates access to important information that otherwise might not be available to outsiders”. As Deutsch observes, this characteristic of action research appealed to Kurt Lewin:

 In addition to the value that action research might have for social agencies, Lewin felt that linking research to social action might give the social scientist access to basic social processes, which he should otherwise be unable to study. Furthermore, Lewin’s orientation to dynamics in individual and group psychology led him to the conclusion that change studies are necessary to reveal underlying processes. Since the social scientist is rarely in the position to create social change on its own initiative, he has much to gain through co-operation with social agencies that attempts to produce social and community change.       

 

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