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ACTION RESEARCH © LOUIS COHEN, LAWRENCE MANION & KEITH MORRISON
STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER • Defining action research • Principles and characteristics of action research • Participatory action research • Action research as critical praxis • Action research and complexity theory • Procedures for action research • Reporting action research • Reflexivity in action research • Some practical and theoretical matters
ACTION RESEARCH • Action research is a small-scale intervention in the functioning of the real world to address practitioners’ own issues, and a close examination of the effects of such an intervention. • Kemmis and McTaggart (1992: 10): ‘to do action research is to plan, act, observe and reflect more carefully, more systematically, and more rigorously than one usually does in everyday life’. • Action research combines diagnosis, action and reflection.
ACTION RESEARCH COMBINES SIX NOTIONS • A straightforward cycle of: identifying a problem, planning an intervention, implementing the intervention, evaluating the outcome; • Reflective practice; • Political emancipation; • Critical theory; • Professional development; and • Participatory practitioner research.
ELEMENTS OF ACTION RESEARCH • It works on participants’ own problems; • It seeks to improve practice; • It is collaborative and participatory; • It is problem-solving; • It is undertaken in situ; • It is an ongoing cycle of diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation; • It is methodologically eclectic; • It requires reflection; • It builds on professional development.
ACTION RESEARCH IS . . . • Critical (and self-critical) collaborative inquiry by • Reflective practitioners being • Accountable and making results of their enquiry public • Self-evaluating their practice and engaged in • Participatory problem-solving and continuing professional development.
PARTICIPATORY ACTION RESEARCH • It commences with explicit social and political intentions that articulate with the dominated and poor classes and groups in society; • It involves popular participation in the research process; • It regards knowledge as an agent of social transformation as a whole, constituting a critique of those views of knowledge (theory) as separate from practice; • Its epistemological base is rooted in critical theory and its critique of the subject/object relations in research; • It engages issues of power; • It raises the consciousness of individuals and groups; • It is a democratic activity.
ACTION RESEARCH AS CRITICAL PRAXIS • The emancipatory interest of Habermas: to understand and change the world • Ideology critique and action • People taking control of their own lives • A challenge to the illegitimate operation of power • A concern for equality and social justice • Empowerment of individuals and groups
ACTION RESEARCH AS CRITICAL PRAXIS • Constructing a system of meaning; • Understanding dominant research methods and their effects; • Selecting what to study; • Acquiring a variety of research strategies; • Making sense of information collected; • Gaining awareness of the tacit theories and assumptions which guide practice; • Viewing teaching as an emancipatory, praxis-based act. • ‘Praxis’: action informed through reflection, with emancipation as its goal.
CRITICISMS OF ACTION RESEARCH AS CRITICAL PRAXIS • It is utopian and unrealizable; • It is too controlling and prescriptive; • It adopts a narrow and particularistic view of emancipation and action research; • It undermines the significance of the individual teacher-as-researcher in favour of self-critical communities. • It assumes that rational consensus is achievable, that rational debate will empower all participants (i.e. it understates the issue of power); • It overstates the desirability of consensus-oriented research; • Power cannot be dispersed or rearranged simply by rationality;
CRITICISMS OF ACTION RESEARCH AS CRITICAL PRAXIS • It is uncritical and self-contradicting; • It will promote conformity through slavish adherence to its orthodoxies; • It is naïve in its understanding of groups and celebrates groups over individuals; • It privileges its own view of science (rejecting objectivity) and lacks modesty; • It privileges the authority of critical theory; • It is elitist whilst purporting to serve egalitarianism; • It assumes an undifferentiated view of action research; • It attempts to colonize and redirect action research.
ACTION RESEARCH AND COMPLEXITY THEORY • Both accept that systems are unpredictable, open and non-linear; • Both concern issues of adaptation to environment; • Action research can lead to bifurcation (i.e. when a system moves from one point of stability to another); • Both celebrate the interaction of participants; • Both require feedback and feed forward; • Both are reflective; • Both show an interest in ‘exceptions’ or outliers (which can lead to major change); • Both are less concerned with controlling variables; • Both accept that the systems in which action takes place are complex and dynamic.
PROCEDURES FOR ACTION RESEARCH IDENTIFY PROBLEM EVALUATE PLAN ACTION ACT
STEPS IN ACTION RESEARCH (McNiff, 2002) • Review your current practice; • Identify an aspect that you wish to improve; • Imagine a way forward in this; • Try it out; • Monitor and reflect on what happens; • Modify the plan in the light of what has been found, what has happened, and continue; • Evaluate the modified action; • Continue until you are satisfied with that aspect of your work (e.g. repeat the cycle).
AN EIGHT-STAGE MODEL OF ACTION RESEARCH Stage One: Decide and agree one common problem that you are experiencing or need that must be addressed. Stage Two: Identify some causes of the problem (need). Stage Three: Brainstorm a range of possible practical solutions to the problem, to address the real problem and the real cause(s). Stage Four: From the range of possible practical solutions decide one of the solutions to the problems, perhaps what you consider to be the most suitable or best solution to the problem. Plan how to put the solution into practice.
AN EIGHT-STAGE MODEL OF ACTION RESEARCH Stage Five: Identify ‘success criteria’ by which you will be able to judge whether the solution has worked to solve the problem, Stage Six: Put the plan into action; monitor, adjust and evaluate what is taking place; Stage Seven: Evaluate the outcome to see how well it has addressed and solved the problem or need, using the success criteria identified in Stage Five. Stage Eight:Review and plan what needs to be done in light of theevaluation.
STEPS IN EMANCIPATORY ACTION RESEARCH • Strategic planning • Implementing the plan (action) • Observation, evaluation and self-evaluation • Critical and self-critical reflection on the results of (1) – (3) and making decisions for the next cycle of research.
IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM – CAUSES NOT SYMPTOMS Diagnosis: • What actually is the real problem? • What are the causes?
PLAN INTERVENTIONS Divergent Phase: • What actions are possible? • What alternatives are there? • Evaluate alternatives. Convergent Phase: • Which intervention will be adopted? • Decide from amongst the alternatives. Planning: • How will the intervention be implemented?
IMPLEMENTATION Putting the plan into action • Initiation • Development • Sustenance • Follow-up
EVALUATION How successfully has the intervention addressed the issue? • What are the success criteria? • How will you know if the intervention has been successful? • What are the outcomes of the intervention? • What ongoing monitoring will there be? • What will you do if the intervention is not working?
EVALUATION INITIAL PROBLEM PROPOSED INTERVENTION IMPLEMENTATION OUTCOME
IDENTIFY PROBLEM EVALUATE EVALUATE PLAN ACTION EVALUATE EVALUATE ACT EVALUATE
ADVICE FOR NOVICE ACTION RESEARCHERS • Stay small, stay focused; • Identify a clear research question; • Be realistic about what you can do; • Plan carefully; • Set a realistic time scale; • Involve others (as participants, observers, validators – including critical friends – potential researchers); • Ensure ethical practice; • Concentrate on learning, not on the outcomes of action; • The focus of the research is you, in company with others; • Beware of happy endings; • Be aware of political issues.
REPORTING ACTION RESEARCH Report: • The research issue and how it came to become a research issue in the improvement of practice; • The methodology of, and justification for, the intervention, and how it was selected from amongst other possible interventions; • How the intervention derived from an understanding of the situation; • What data were collected, when, and from whom; • How data were collected, processed and analyzed;
REPORTING ACTION RESEARCH Report: • How the ongoing intervention was monitored and reviewed; • How reflexivity was addressed; • What were the standard and criteria for success, and how these criteria were derived; • How conclusions were reached and how these were validated; • What and how the researcher learnt as a consequence of the action research; • How practice was changed as a consequence of the findings.
REFLEXIVITY IN ACTION RESEARCH • A self-conscious awareness of the effects that the participants-as-practitioners-and-researchers are having on the research process, how their values, attitudes, perceptions, opinions, actions, feelings etc. are influencing the situation being studied. • How the researcher/practitioner may be biasing the research.
MAKING ACTION RESEARCH WORK Collegiality must be present, e.g.: • Participatory approaches to decision-making; • Democratic and consensual decision-making; • Shared values, beliefs and goals; • Equal rights of participation in discussion; • Equal rights to determine policy; • Equal voting rights on decisions; • The deployment of sub-groups who are accountable to the whole group; • Shared responsibility and open accountability; • An extended view of expertise; • Judgements and decisions based on the power of the argument rather than the positional power of the advocates; • Shared ownership of decisions and practices.