Action-research can be defined as “an approach in which the action researcher and a client collaborate in the diagnosis of the problem and in the development of a solution based on the diagnosis” (Collis, J. & Hussey, R., 2003 ). In other words, one of the main characteristic features of action research is related to the collaboration between the researcher and the member of the organization to solve organizational problems. Action research is defined by Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2011) as "Research strategies that address real world problems in a participatory, collaborative and cyclical way to produce knowledge and action". It refers to a type of research methodology that works towards a type of change (be it social or professional). Because their goals are geared toward change rather than gathering knowledge alone, active research studies are often based on everyday problems and are concerned with creating practical solutions to these problems.
Characteristics of Action-Research
The following characteristics of action research need to be considered when considering its suitability for any given study: It is applied to improve specific practices. Action-research is based on action, evaluation, and critical analysis of practices based on collected data to introduce improvements in relevant practices. Such research focuses on specific situations and their context.
Elements of Action-Research
Elements of action research studies include:
Identify a problem
Investigate the problem and its probable causes
Develop an answer to the problem
Implement the proposed solution
Observe the implementation of the solution
Reflect on the results (and start over, if necessary)
Disadvantages of action research
Delays in the completion of action research due to a wide range of reasons are not uncommon.
Lack of repeatability and rigor. It is important to make a clear distinction between action research and consulting. Specifically, action research is larger than consulting in a way that action research includes both action and research, whereas business consulting activities are limited actions without research.
Action research spiral
The Action Study is a participatory study that consists of a spiral of the following self-reflective cycles:
Planning to initiate change
Implement the change (act) and observe the implementation process and its consequences
Reflecting on the processes of change and replanning
Acting and observing
Kemmis and McTaggart (2000) acknowledge that the individual stages specified in the Action Research Spiral model may overlap, and the initial blueprint developed for the research may become out of date in a short period of time due to a variety of factors. The main advantage of the Action Research Spiral model is related to the opportunity to analyze the phenomenon in greater depth each time, which translates into a higher level of understanding of the problem. Disadvantages of the action research spiral model include its assumption that each process takes a long time to complete, which is not always the case.
Principles of active research
What gives action research its unique flavor is the set of principles that guide the research. Winter (1989) offers a comprehensive overview of six key principles.
1) Reflective criticism
An account of a situation, such as notes, transcripts or official documents, will make implicit claims of being authoritative, that is, it implies that it is factual and true. The truth in a social setting, however, is relative to the narrator. The principle of reflective criticism ensures that people reflect on problems and processes and make explicit the interpretations, biases, assumptions and concerns about which they are judging. In this way, practical explanations can give rise to theoretical considerations.
2) Dialectical criticism
Reality, particularly social reality, is validated consensually, that is, it is shared through language. The phenomena are conceptualized in dialogue, which is why a dialectical critique is required to understand the set of relationships both between the phenomenon and its context, as well as between the elements that constitute the phenomenon. The key elements to focus on are those constituent elements that are unstable or opposed to each other. These are the ones that are most likely to generate change.
3) Collaborative resource
It strives to avoid the distortion of credibility derived from the prior condition of possessor of ideas. Especially it makes possible the ideas obtained by noticing the contradictions between many points of view and within a single point of view.
The process of change potentially threatens all previously established ways of doing things, thus creating psychic fears among practitioners. One of the most prominent fears comes from the risk to the ego that arises from open discussion of one's interpretations, ideas, and judgments.
5) Plural structure
The nature of the investigation embodies a multiplicity of points of view, comments and criticisms, leading to multiple possible actions and interpretations. Therefore, a report acts as a support for the ongoing discussion among the contributors, rather than as a final conclusion of fact.
6) Theory, practice, transformation
For action researchers, theory informs practice, practice refines theory, in continuous transformation. In any setting, people's actions are based on implicit assumptions, theories, and hypotheses, and with each observed outcome, theoretical knowledge is enhanced. The two are intertwined aspects of a single process of change. It is up to researchers to make the theoretical justifications for the actions explicit and to question the basis for those justifications.
When is action research used?
Action research is used in real situations, rather than in artificial experimental studies, since its main focus is solving real problems. However, it can be used by social scientists for preliminary or pilot research, especially when the situation is too ambiguous to ask an accurate research question. It is often the case that those who apply this approach are professionals who want to improve understanding of their practice, social change activists trying to mount an action campaign, or, more likely, academics who have been invited to an organization (or other field). by decision-makers aware of a problem that requires action research, but who lack the methodological knowledge necessary to tackle it.
Placing action research in a research paradigm
The main research paradigm in recent centuries has been that of logical positivism. This paradigm is based on a number of principles, including: the belief in an objective reality, the knowledge of which is only obtained from sensory data that can be directly experienced and verified between independent observers. Phenomena are subject to natural laws that humans logically discover through empirical tests, using inductive and deductive hypotheses derived from a body of scientific theory. His methods are largely based on quantitative measurements, and relationships between variables are commonly shown by mathematical means. Positivism, used in scientific and applied research, has been considered by many to be the antithesis of the principles of action research (Susman and Evered 1978, Winter 1989).
Over the past half century, a new research paradigm in the social sciences has emerged to break through the limitations imposed by positivism. With its emphasis on the relationship between the formation of socially generated concepts and language, it can be called the interpretive paradigm. By containing qualitative methodological approaches such as phenomenology, ethnography and hermeneutics, it is characterized by the belief in a socially constructed reality based on subjectivity, which is influenced by culture and history. However, it still retains the ideals of objectivity of the researcher and researcher as a passive collector and expert interpreter of data.
Paradigm of praxis
It deals with the predominant disciplines and activities in the ethical and political life of people. Aristotle contrasted this with Theoria, those sciences and activities that care to know for themselves. Both are equally necessary, he thought. That knowledge is derived from practice, and practice informed by knowledge, in a continuous process, is a cornerstone of action research. Action researchers also reject the notion of investigator neutrality, understanding that the most active investigator is often the one with the most at stake in solving a problem situation.
Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2011) “Business Research Methods” 3rd edition, Oxford University Press
Collis, J. & Hussey, R. (2003) “Business Research. A Practical Guide for Undergraduate and Graduate Students” 2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan
Kemmis, Stephen, and Robin McTaggart (2000). "Participatory Action Research," pp. 567-605 in Norman K. Denzin and Yvonne S. Lincoln, eds., The Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.