Action Research for Practicing Managers
Action Research (AR) theory suggests that the AR process starts with a notion in the practitioner’s mind that a change in practice is justified. This paper will explore a model of AR that can be applied to research in the area of management when experience and a literature review has enabled the researcher to have a reasonable idea of the problems to be investigated. The paper retains reference to my PhD research aim, but is otherwise generalisable.
In deciding upon an AR methodology, it is necessary to identify several issues (these can be found in detail in French (2009f) and then justify why they are important.
1. That there are knowledge gaps in current research.
2. Why the research will have value.
3. Ontological and Epistemological Issues.
4. A Discussion of the Qualitative / Quantitative Paradigms, particularly:
a. The application of rigorous techniques and methods for data collection and analysis, giving particular attention to issues of validity, reliability, and triangulation.
b. The credibility of the researcher.
c. A philosophical belief in the qualitative (phenomenological) paradigm.
5. That AR is the Appropriate Research Methodology.
What is Action Research?
The origins of AR can be traced back to the work of social scientists both in the USA and in Europe in the late 1940s. In recent times, AR has been used in a wide variety of settings in the social sciences, particularly in areas such as organisational development, education, health, and social care; “In these areas it has a particular niche among professionals who want to use research to improve their practices” (Denscombe, 1998, p. 57).
Krathwohl (1998) develops the argument that the intention of AR is to find solutions or improvements to practical problems. In the professions it is a useful approach to solving practical everyday problems; “The research is often carried out by the person facing a problem or considering adopting a practice. Usually they have help and guidance from a researcher, but sometimes they do it on their own” (Krathwohl, 1998, p. 28).
Dick (2002) suggests that AR is a family of research methodologies which pursue action through change and, concurrently, better understanding through research. In most of its forms this is achieved by cycles of action and critical reflection and in the later cycles, continuously refining methods, data, and interpretation in the light of the understanding developed in the earlier cycles. Hence, it is a process of emergence which changes and develops as understanding increases. It is also an iterative process which evaluates the trajectory of change as it converges towards a better understanding of what is happening.
As discussed there are many varieties of AR, and whilst there is much to be found in the literature, there is very little evidence as to how AR is actually done. In this paper an AR methodology is described that has both practitioner and academic validity. Many practicing managers wishing to pursue a higher degree and develop change in management practice can be confident that applying this methodology will be acceptable. This AR process is described in detail in Table 3 which describes in detail the seven steps that must be introduced with a full justification of Case Study methodology:
2. The Notion
3. The AR Cycles
4. The AR Criteria/Methodology Checklist
5. The Dick (1999b) Documentation Model
6. Other AR Characteristics