Research in Business Administration covers various areas. 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 media and social tools. Likewise, the growing emphasis on innovation leadership and leadership capabilities have been impacted. Finally, the impact and growing global emphasis on sustainable development and sustainable organizations have also been positively affected.

The emerging role and potential impact of collaborative research communities and progress beyond traditional mechanisms of change are opportunities. Here, action research can contribute to its implementation and the generation of useful knowledge.

Action Research in Business Administration

In the context of business and management, action research operates in the realm of strategies, operational tasks and structured hierarchical organizational systems. It addresses the challenges of customer service, innovation, globalization, financial, human resources, supply chain and organizational change management. Different business sectors have their respective business contexts, competitive forces, critical success factors and technologies.

The foundations of action research in industrial environments lie 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 allow the change to take place in a manufacturing plant.

Coch and French’s (1948) involvement 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) at ESSO is a significant development.

Action Research Background

The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s developed a rich tradition of do research.D. One of the pillars of the DO is the vision of organizations as systems and the development of the sociotechnical theory of systems of organizations and management within which the practice of change and development emerged. This foundation provides the context and guidance for a high level of engagement and collaborative work among a wide variety of actors.

Throughout the 70 years of action research projects in industrial environments, multiple approaches, interventions and studies have been carried out in various industries and business disciplines. Action research is found in industries such as agriculture, biopharmacy, business and information and construction. In the same way, it is present in education, energy, fashion design, food, defense, health care. Finally, the automotive, telecommunications, fish farming, mining, pharmacy and public service have benefited.

Examples of Business Functions

He is in business roles, including accounting, e-marketing, e-commerce, e-learning, finance and information systems (IS/IT). It also covers the management of lean operations, management, consulting, customer service, marketing and human resources. Research and development (R&D), manufacturing, purchasing, supply chain management, research and development, and sales have improved organizational efficiency. Explore inter-organizational dynamics, such as in supply chain management and mergers. It is expressed through the lenses of action learning, action science, appreciative inquiry, and collaborative management research. In the same way the intervention research and the history of learning within the OD rubric has had a 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 biopharmacy. In the same way, 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, pharmaceutical and electronics.

Action research has also been used in various commercial functions/disciplines. For example, in the sphere of operations management, it has provided theoretical foundations for the enactment of action research in this particular business discipline.

Specialized Journals

Some of the journals of 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 favoured,

Clinical research, collaborative management research, intervention research and the history of learning 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 be 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 technology-driven social platforms (such as Slack, Yammer, and Chatter) facilitate new forms of communication between employees. This is one of the main contextual driving forces of today’s business world and places new demands on the action research process and the quality of relationships.

Socio-technical Systems Theory

Sociotechnical systems theory, a process of design and planned change that is one of the first theoretical frameworks on which the field of system change and development was developed. It provides a fundamental starting point for the theory and practice of DO. Therefore, the design of the action research process and the quality of relationships must be solidly based on a socio-technical mentality.

The new alternative designs of work and organization integrated in the thinking and the agility of the design

Technological, social and environmental changes provoke 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 the principles of design and the 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 innovation approaches worldwide. This orientation enhances 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 pressure to increase innovation increases. Therefore, creating the climate for innovation within organizations presents a unique opportunity for the field of action research. The leadership capacity to foster and direct innovation processes is fundamental.

It is increasingly seen that leaders must bring the value of both innovation and design. Each of them requires processes, methods and tools. However, the most important factor in driving innovation is the participation 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. In the same way, spreading the design of many agile innovation teams across the enterprise can become tricky. Creating an innovative culture by design through collaborative action research processes provides a space for the field to make a major 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 seen as the focus of the concerns of organizations and companies. The renewed global interest in sustainability and sustainable value offers an opportunity for action research to engage and have an impact.

The impact of sustainable value, a key new driver of companies’ competitive advantage, creates an important area for the field to make a difference. Existing models of forms of organization, change and learning are limited. In this way, learning will occur at all levels (individual, collective, organizational, networks, coalitions and systems).

The use of an action research orientation, as has been documented in few recent studies, demonstrates a field of opportunity. The field’s knowledge base in creating and maintaining a tapestry of learning mechanisms and instruments can provide an additional platform and opportunity. This way we will have impactful 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 of those emerging systems was labeled as communities of practice. At the most basic level, communities of practice are groups of people from organizations who share an interest in generating new understanding, knowledge, and action on a specific challenge.

These communities evolved in response to the increasing complexities of systems and appear to be a collaborative effort to engage in action, research and development. While notions of communities as entrepreneurial construction are relatively new, the practice of action research since its inception has presented a philosophy. In the same way it is a new orientation and a professional approach to social action. It is also an orientation to research through rigorous methodologies of inquiry and a wide range of modalities of action research.


As such, at the heart of the evolution of action research over the past 70 years, an emphasis can be found on collaborative research communities in different forms and forums. The complex emerging business context can benefit from the accumulated practice and knowledge base of action research. It represents a further development of our understanding of those communities and their impact, while using action research processes. It also presents great future opportunities and is likely to increase the relevance and impact of action research.

As such, the opportunity and determined choice to design the action research community of practice around a specific project is considered a possible integral part of the action research context. Here begins to develop the quality of relationships that are likely to influence the quality and results of the effort.

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Bibliographic References

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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