Action research (AR) refers to the combined generation of theory and social systems change through the participation of a researcher in the social system. The term as used in this definition was first introduced in 1946 by Kurt Lewis (Elden, 1993). The proponents of this approach argue that the relevance of research should be felt by scholars as well as practitioners. Scholars find research relevant in their pursuit for the advancement of current knowledge and practitioners whose duty is to deal with the system’s problems day to day (Hall and Hammond, 2004). It has been also argued that action research’s main objective should be the production of theories towards desirable states in the future (Reason & Bradbury, 2001).
Action researchers should also aim at equipping people faced with certain problems with the competence to help themselves. This means that the output of the research should stem from being involved with an organisation’s members in a matter that genuinely concerns them.
A common misconception is that projects in management consultancy are Action Research (Heron et al., 2001). This is wrong since most of them lack in some basic principles. If these principles were to be included in the planning and implementation of these projects, then they would qualify as Action Research. AR in practice actually solves the challenges of both research and consultancy but not the other way round. AR incorporates input from researchers as well as from the practitioners and it is then an important tool for a research aimed at the understanding of formulation and implementation of strategic plans (Lomax, 2000).
One of the strengths of AR is that it does not pretend to come up with laws which have universal application but gives case specific insights (Ladkin, 2004). It is also advantageous in that it has the characteristics of both a problem solution approach as well as a process in problem solving emerging from its specific sequence of events and its model (Heron et al., 2001).
- The process aspect of AR – AR systematically assembles data aimed at some target or need of a system as a going concern.
- The approach aspect – AR applies scientific methods like experiments and fact-finding to practical problems. It also collaborates with scientists and practitioners in producing action solutions.
Ladkin (2004) says that it is however important to distinguish between Action science and AR. Action science is a version of AR that is evolutionary; this means that it introduces the building of theories into AR. This characteristic of Action science gives it the ability to create knowledge as well as offer practical solutions.
This is a normative form of research design which normally is made up of case studies (Mason, 1996). It employs limited research tools and terminates in innovative solutions that are grounded in theory. The tool is mostly used when a need for theory grounded and innovative solution exists and when one is more concerned with the way things should be carried out towards accomplishment of a certain goal and not where one seeks to find out the status quo. Mason, (1996) explains that it draws its advantage from its ease of application, its practicability in relevance and utility, its link to theory and novelty therein and its adaptability in different environments.
This form of research is more focused on the field and case studies and deals with progressive concerns. Coghlan and Brannick, (2001) recommend this arguing that it helps the researcher get involved personally in the description and interpretation of vivid experiences from his/her observations and those of the informants. It constructs rather than discovers knowledge.
It is mostly applicable where research seeks to get an understanding of a phenomenon and not explain the causal-effect relationships (Somekh, 2006). The research questions for this design have a greater relationship to the phenomena under investigation. Its strong points are the sensitivity it has for the risks inherent in subjectivity by human respondents as well as responsiveness to the design of the study. It also helps in validating the interpretations by the researcher (Friedman, 2006).
Case Study Approach
This is a descriptive approach which employs both the quantitive and qualitative tools. It helps to solve the difficulty which encounters researchers in separating analysis from interpretation during gathering of data by dealing with the procedures considered subjective (Dick, 2002). In this approach, the knowledge is not discovered but is rather construed and generalisations are made from the limited cases studied through a deeper phenomenon understanding. It helps in capturing the gist of the feelings by informants and easily adapts its interviews to emerging situations (Greenwood, and Levin, 2006).
This approach is mostly useful where a phenomenon is to be investigated within its context in real life and where the phenomenon to be studied is complex (Dick, 2002). The approach is also useful where the investigator wants to know the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of an occurrence they do not exercise control over. The tool is also important on the building and testing of theories and to give a thorough description.
Friedman, (2006) states that the tool is advantageous in that it employs triangulation and austerely and precisely represents empirical data collected. It also involves finding opposing explanations to those held by the researcher and grants the researcher an opportunity to independently weigh the reliability and merits of the eventual analysis. The tool also gives valid, realistic and reliable findings and the results from it are significant.
The researcher will use appropriate statistical tools to present the results of the study. The presentation style will depend on the nature of the data to be presented and the method used in collecting it.
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