Rough Guide to Action ResearchThis slide gives Isobel’s personal view, as a busy person doing research ‘on the side’Action Research is very good, BUT …• Even experienced researchers find it demanding.• I view it as an aspiration or an ideal, not a benchmark.• When I do bits of Action Research, that’s good.• When I don’t, I explain: – Why Action research would have been better. – What I actually did, and why (no time, thought of it too late...) – How my results might have been better. – What I’d do next time…
ACTION RESEARCH (McNiff et al 1996)Action research is a method devised for professionalswho wanted to:• improve their own practice.• contribute to public knowledge about how to do their job.Action research is now used for other research problems:wherever objective logic alone cannot provide the answers.Because it requires subjective interpretation of events,action research must maintain the highest quality of:• enquiry• action• validation• results
ENQUIRYEnquiry must be systematic and critical.We ask the research question: ‘How can I improve ...?’ As research proceeds we refine the question.A systematic plan documents what we are looking for. The plan changes as we learn. We must explain why.In order to be critical, we must be willing to change:• what we do, how we do it and why.• how we think and what we pay attention to.We must be willing to listen and accept other people’s viewpoints.Seek ideas / suggestions / theories / models / problems / issues from:• the literature (textbooks, academic journals, the law, the press...• other practitioners (colleagues, people in other professions,...• beneficiaries (clients/users)
ACTIONAction must be involved, informed and overtly intentional.As an action researcher, you should:• Be committed to a worthwhile purpose. Explore and defend values.• Respectfully involve others as collaborators (not subjects).• Collect valid data according to a systematic plan.• Monitor the data as it is collected and use it to:• Identify issues, make claims, suggest theories and models• Amend research plan to test new issues / claims / theories / models.• Explore new issues, construct and test new theories and models.• Regularly write: – authentic descriptions of researcher’s actions and feelings. – explanations of possible meanings + motives.
VALIDATIONSelf validation:• Look back at early questions + assumptions. What has changed?• Can you now live out your values more effectively now?• Can you rationally describe your professional learning?Peer validation: Do colleagues take your new knowledge seriously?Up-liner validation: Can you prove to managers that your way is better? Can you convince them to support dissemination of your work?Client validation: Do customers see a difference? /get better service?Academic validation: Start by presenting your ideas to a local interest group.• Re-read McNiff et al chapter 7, before trying to publish.• Join with others to publish at conference > in refereed journal.General public:• Are any of your ideas more widely applicable / interesting?• Share ideas with friends / family• Learn to resolve potential misunderstandings.
VALIDATION GROUPWiIl people work together to validate your work?• Find people: local expert, supporters, critical friend, independent person.• Prepare + circulate a short report (1-2pp) on context, aims, method, outcome.• Present evidence to support your claims at a meeting (1 hour approx.)Ask group members to:• Identify problems / objections.• Set conditions.• Recommend next actions.
VALIDATION CRITERIA1. Intention. Context explained? / question developed? / rationale clarified?2. Plan. Is the link between reflection + action established? /research process transparent? / values demonstrated in practice?3. Collaborate. Is research role transparent? / collaborative intent realised?Are ethical principles applied?4. Act. Was comprehensive data collected? from different sources?Patterns + contradictions appreciated? Analysis exposed to critique?Alternatives considered?5. Evaluate. Are claims important? Patterns + contradictions appreciated?Findings related to critical professional discussion?Explanations convincing+ authenticated? Generate further questions?6. Report. Terms of reference? Structure? Minimal jargon? Succinct?Comprehensive? Identify strengths + weaknesses?Spells out implications? Critical evaluation info. from other sources?Enough references for readers to follow up their own interests?
RESULTSResults must be clarified and made public.• Make links between new knowledge and existing knowledge.• State the researcher’s past experience, acknowledge potential bias.Make claims and indicate:• The range of situations in which they have been tested.• The strength of the results, identifying potential risks.• A range of other situations to which they might also apply.Examine your claims against evidence and other people’s judgement.• Assemble evidence to support each claim.• Identify arguments against each claim and answer them.• Use qualitative results to offer explanations and viewpoints.• Use quantitative results (statistical concepts) to assess confidence.• Use rich explanations to convey meaning (self-reflection, dialogue, narrative).
‘I’ am central to action researchTraditionally science expected the researcher to:• objectively, impersonally stand outside the situation under observation• logically, unemotionally interpret results, avoiding any personal biasAction research asks questions that cannot be answered in this way.• Questions like : ‘How can I improve the usability of the software I build?’• and hence: ‘How can we help everyone to build more usable software?’I (the researcher) am committed to this project.• From the start, I give it meaning.• Throughout the enquiry I dedicate time and effort.• Throughout action I am also thinking about the research.• When I first publish my results, I lay my reputation on the line.• If my answers are important I’ll want to convince other people.
ACTION RESEARCH IS AN HEROIC JOURNEYEnquiry is asking questions for which nobody knows the answer.• I hold myself in a state of uncertainty, so I am open to new answers.• I must admit that some things I’ve been doing have not been helpful.• I expect that some of my treasured assumptions will be proved wrong.Action documents all my mistakes, misunderstandings and biases,.• I must have (and show) respect for viewpoints that I don’t agree with.• I still have to stand my ground when a point of principle is at stake.Results give a lot of myself in the theories, models and claims I publish.• I expose my cherished results to criticism (some of which will not be reasonable).• I justify claims with the best evidence I can get (it is never enough)• I expose my motives and reflect on how they influence my actions.• Always expose myself to validation by my own critical faculties.
ACTION RESEARCH OFFERS NEW OPPORTUNITIESI may struggle on the journey, but at the end I will achieve:• Improvements to my working practice,• Some contribution to work in my profession,• The ability to go on and achieve more.• Learning many interesting useful things.• Improving my performance at work.• Confidence that I’m doing the best job I possibly can.• Knowing mistakes, misunderstanding & bias are inevitable.• Ability to respond robustly & constructively to problems & confrontation.• Ability to help others improve their performance at work.• Experience of several important aspects of management.