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Action Research Literature Review

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Autor:   •  December 5, 2010  •  2,631 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,121 Views

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Executive Summary

Action Research believes that "Human organizations can only be understood as whole entities" (Baskerville, 1999) and that social processes are best to be studied when change is introduced to observe the effects of these. Furthermore, It makes use of a cyclical approach in order for an initial holistic understanding of a social setting. The action research literature has strongly challenged the character of positivism. It is believed that this type of research is derived from a different ontological basis; it tends to a humanistic social practice rather than a traditional natural science.

Lewin started with the term Ð''action research'. His approach to the process is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding. It is sometimes argued that Lewin's model place insufficient analysis at key points. Elliot (1991) argued that in the model the Ð''general idea' can be fixed in advance, that Ð''reconnaissance' is merely fact-finding and that Ð''implementation is a fairly straightforward process. Kemmis developed a more simplistic model that is composed of only four steps: plan, act, observe and reflect. In turn, Susman developed a more elaborate approach to action research. Its process was a continuous circle of diagnosing, action planning, taking action, evaluating, specifying learning and diagnosing, action planning and so on until the problem was resolved. By the mid Ð''70's 4 main streams have emerged. These consist of the traditional action research, contextual action research (action learning), Radical action research, and educational action research.

There are differences between the traditional approach and the research action approach.

Action research is claimed to be a broad process or a way of working rather than a definitive technique. There are many opinions about which method is the best to use and many innovative forms are applied. Action research tries to go beyond the routinely available data to provide not just understanding, but also enabling practical implementation.

The underlying philosophy of action research

In assessing the foundation of the underlying philosophy of action research, several viewpoints are being reviewed in the following part.

Action research believes that "human organisations can only be understood as whole entities" (Baskerville, 1999). This implicates that social settings like organisations, cannot lead to useful knowledge when dividing it into different components or variables. To understand the interaction of complex social settings between variables, it focuses on the purpose of the research: the management of change (Cunningham, 1995). This makes clear that social processes can be best studied when introducing change and observing the effects of these. This change-orientated method shapes the action research approach. Another important aspect of action research is the concept of the hermeneutical circle and that knowledge is not possible without this. It is a cyclical approach for the improvement of organisational changes and the associated actions over time (MÐ"јller, 2005). The hermeneutical circle takes the form of attempting an initial holistic understanding of a social setting and then using this understanding as a basis for interpreting the parts of the system (Susman, Evered, 1978). Every time a difference occurs between the part and the whole, researches should go back to the beginning concept and should revise it. The frequency of this decreases when the match of the researcher's concept of the social setting and that held by its members is increasing. This helps the researcher understanding its own preconceptions better and those held by his system members. In turn this enables the researcher to see possible solutions not seen by its group members. This automatically brings us to the next point: the involvement of practitioners and researches. This means the researcher is part of the organisation within which the research and change process are taking place (Zuber-Skerritt, 1996).

The points above basically relate to an interpretive approach, a philosophy that requires the researcher to seek to understand the subjective reality and meaning of participants (Saunders, 2003). Interpretivism beliefs that the world is socially constructed and subjective, that the observer is part of the what is observed and that science is driven by human interest. Furthermore, interpretivism, like action research, tries to understand what actually is happening by looking at the totality of each situation.

Positivism is a "research philosophy that involves working with the observable social reality. The emphasis is on highly structured methodology to facilitate replication, and the end product can be law-like generalisations similar to those produced by the physical and natural scientists" (Saunders, 2003). The basic beliefs are that the world can be seen as an external and objective object where the observer remains independent. The action research literature has strongly challenged the character of Ð''positivist' research (Waterman et al, 2001; Hart, 1996; Susman and Evered, 1978).

These can be summarised as follows:

Ð'§ The impossibility of achieving the assumption of objectivity in research findings and outcomes as well as the ability to control a limited number of research variables.

Ð'§ A critique of the notion of researchers attaining a detached/value free/neutral position

and a recognition of the existence of oppressive ideologies and vested interests;

Ð'§ A questioning of a Ð''scientific' approach and the features of generalisability,

establishing cause and effect relationships;

Ð'§ A failure to take account of the social context in which actors construct meaning;

Ð'§ A tendency to treat humans as passive subjects;

Ð'§ A disregard for features of the organisational context that shape delivery;

Ð'§ The resultant notion that positivist research deals with an artificial Ð''static' situation and is not helpful in Ð''real world' emergent problem solving.

In more positive terms, an alternative set of philosophical and conceptual resources are deployed by action researchers that attempt


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