Research in Business Administration covers various fields. We can cite the challenges to improve customer service, technology management, human resource management, supply chain management and organizational change. Each of these sectors has its respective business context, competitive forces, critical success factors and technologies. The business and management context is changing rapidly.
For example, the impact of emerging technology, social networks and social tools. Also, the growing emphasis on innovation leadership and leadership capabilities has been impacted. Finally, the impact and growing global emphasis on sustainable development and sustainable organizations has also been positively affected. The emerging role and potential impact of collaborative research communities and progressing beyond traditional mechanisms of change are opportunities. Here, action research can contribute to their implementation and the generation of useful knowledge.
Action Research in Business Administration
In the context of business and management, action research operates in the field of strategies, operational tasks and structured hierarchical organizational systems. It addresses the challenges of customer service, innovation, globalization, financial management, human resources, supply chain and organizational change.
The different business sectors have their respective business contexts, competitive forces, critical success factors and technologies. The foundations of action research in industrial environments can be found in the work of Kurt Lewin (1890-1947). Lewin (1944) provided his own account of his involvement as an external action researcher (without using the term) in organizational change.
Two of his closest associates, Alfred Marrow and John French, described how they became involved as action researchers to enable change to take place in a manufacturing plant. The involvement of Coch and French (1948) in the Harwood pajama factory is considered a fundamental action research work in a factory and the founding of OD (Burnes, 2007). Here the action research work of Shepard and Katzell (1960) in ESSO is a significant development.
Action Research Background
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a rich tradition of action-research on OD developed. One of the pillars of OD is the view of organisations as systems and the development of the socio-technical theory of organisational and management systems within which the practice of change and development emerged. This foundation provides the context and guidance for a high level of commitment and collaborative work among a wide variety of actors.
Throughout the 70 years of action-research projects in industrial settings, multiple approaches, interventions, and studies have been conducted in various industries and business disciplines. Action research is found in industries such as agriculture, biopharmaceuticals, business and information, and construction. Likewise, it is present in education, energy, fashion design, food, defense, and health care. Finally, the automotive, telecommunications, fish farming, mining, pharmacy and public service sectors have benefited.
Examples of Business Functions
It is in business functions, including accounting, e-marketing, e-commerce, e-learning, finance and information systems (IS/IT). It also covers lean operations management, management, consulting, customer service, marketing and human resources. For its part, research and development (R&D), manufacturing, purchasing, supply chain management, research and development, and sales have improved organizational efficiency. It explores interorganizational dynamics, as in supply chain management and mergers. It is expressed through the lenses of action learning, action science, appreciative inquiry, and collaborative management research. Likewise, intervention research and the history of learning within the DO rubric has had great impact.
Application of Action Research
Over the years, action research has been used in a wide variety of industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture and biopharmaceuticals. Similarly, it can be used in business and information, construction, energy, fashion design, media, and food. It can also be applied in defense, health, automotive, telecommunications, fish farming, mining, pharmaceuticals and electronics. Action research has also been used in various business functions/disciplines. For example, in the area of operations management, it has provided theoretical foundations for the promulgation of action research in this particular business discipline.
Some of the journals in the commercial disciplines have dedicated special issues to action research, such as the European Journal of Marketing, Human Resource Management and the Journal of Information Systems. Other functions/disciplines included e-commerce, marketing, finance, human resource management. It also impacts information systems, research and development/R&D, lean management and operations. Supply chain management and mergers/acquisitions have been particularly favored. Clinical research, collaborative management research, intervention research, and learning history are clear examples.
Technology, social media and social tools
Technology creates learning opportunities for the development of new skills and knowledge, increasing human development and capabilities. In some cases, technology is replacing humans. This radical change creates opportunities for action researchers to guide the process of rethinking work and forms of organization that will enhance human development.
Technology also allows organizations and individuals to become more connected. New forms of connectivity offer opportunities for more people to engage in collaborative work and collaboration in new ways. For example, new tools and emerging social platforms driven by technology (such as Slack, Yammer, and Chatter) facilitate new forms of communication among employees. This is one of the major contextual driving forces in today's business world and places new demands on the action-research process and the quality of relationships.
Socio-technical Systems Theory
Socio-technical systems theory, a process of design and planned change, is one of the first theoretical frameworks on which the field of systems change and development was developed. It provides a fundamental starting point for the theory and practice of OD. Consequently, the design of the action-research process and the quality of relationships must be solidly based on a socio-technical mindset.
The new alternative designs of work and organization integrated in the thinking and the agility of the design
Technological, social and environmental changes are leading to the emergence of new work design orientations that seek to increase efficiency and flexibility simultaneously. Mergers, acquisitions, globalizations and virtual organizations create the opportunity for action-research projects. It encourages the creation of new ideas about design principles and processes of planned change and technology. Integrating an action research orientation into the discovery process of exploring appropriate designs can serve as an engine for implementation and action. Design thinking has evolved into one of the fastest growing approaches to innovation worldwide. This orientation encourages rapid prototyping, the creative process and innovation that creates an opportunity for human development and increased organizational capabilities.
Innovation leadership and leadership capacity
Innovation leadership links innovation and leadership. This emerging phenomenon has received increasing attention as the pressure to increase innovation increases. Therefore, creating the climate for innovation within organizations presents a unique opportunity for the field of action research.
Leadership capacity to foster and direct innovation processes is critical. Increasingly, leaders are seen to bring the value of both innovation and design. Each requires processes, methods, and tools. However, the most important factor in driving innovation is the involvement of people at all levels.
One of the challenges leaders face is how to progress from one or two agile innovation teams in a specific business area. Similarly, spreading the design of many Agile innovation teams across the enterprise can be complicated. Creating an innovative culture by design through collaborative action research processes provides a space for the field to make a significant impact and generate new knowledge.
Sustainable development and sustainable organizations
The established context and scope of sustainability and sustainable value, with its complexities in organizational, environmental and social expressions, are now considered to be at the center of the concerns of organizations and businesses. The renewed global interest in sustainability and sustainable value provides an opportunity for action research to engage and impact.
Also, the impact of sustainable value, a new key driver of business competitive advantage, creates important scope for the field to make a difference. Existing models for forms of organization, change and learning are limited. Thus, learning will occur at all levels (individual, collective, organizational, networks, coalitions and systems). The use of an action-research orientation, as documented in a few recent studies, demonstrates a field of opportunity. The field's knowledge base in creating and maintaining a tapestry of learning mechanisms and tools can provide an additional platform and opportunity. Thus we will have impressive results for practice and knowledge.
New collaborative research communities
The emerging nature of work and organizations suggests that the complexity of social systems is increasing. One such emerging system was labeled a community of practice. At the most basic level, communities of practice are groups of people in organizations who share an interest in generating new understanding, knowledge, and action on a specific challenge.
These communities evolved in response to the growing complexities of the systems and appear to be a collaborative effort to engage in action, research, and development. While notions of communities as business building are relatively new, the practice of action research since its inception has presented a philosophy. It is also a new orientation and professional approach to social action. It is also a research orientation through rigorous research methodologies and a wide range of action research modalities.
As such, at the heart of the evolution of action research over the past 70 years, an emphasis on collaborative research communities can be found in different forms and forums. The complex emerging business context can benefit from the practice and accumulated knowledge base of action research. It represents a further development of our understanding of these communities and their impact, while utilizing the processes of action research.
It also presents great future opportunities and is likely to increase the relevance and impact of action research. As such, the opportunity and choice to design the action research community of practice around a specific project is considered a possible integral part of the action research context. This is where the quality of relationships likely to influence the quality and outcomes of the effort begins to develop.
Avital, M. (2005). Innovation information systems education I: Accelerated systems analysis and design with appreciative inquiry-an action learning approach. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 15, 289–314.
Baker, T., Jayaraman, V. (2012). Managing information and supplies inventory operations in a manufacturing environment, Part 1: An action research study. International Journal of Production Research, 50(6), 1666–1681.
Ystrom, A., Ollila, S., Agogue, M., Coghlan, D. (2019). The role of a learning approach in building an inter-organizational network aiming for collaborative innovation. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 55(1), 27–49.
Zhang, W., Levenson, A., Crossley, C. (2015). Move your research from the ivy tower to the board room: A primer on action research for academics, consultants and business executives. Human Resource Management 54(1), 151–174.
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