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Critical Action Research

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❶In many instances, researchers try to involve them as equal partners.

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Jo Hockley, Katherine Froggatt, and Katharina Heimerl
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To put this differently, certain more-or-less similar steps tend to recur, in more-or-less similar order, at different phases of an action research study. At the same time so the action researcher hopes progress is made towards appropriate action and research outcomes. A commonly known cycle is that of the influential model of Kemmis and McTaggart mentioned earlier -- plan, act, observe, reflect; then, in the light of this, plan for the next cycle.

It is also generally held that action research is participative, though writers differ on how participative it is. My own preference is to use participative methods. On the other hand I don't see why action research must be limited to this. So, the extent of participation may vary. In some instances there may be a genuine partnership between researcher and others.

The distinction between researcher and others may disappear. On other occasions the researcher may choose for whatever reason to maintain a separate role. Participation may be limited to being involved as an informant.

The participants, too, may choose something less than full partnership for themselves under some circumstances. Most action research is qualitative. Some is a mix of qualitative and quantitative. All else being equal, numbers do offer advantages. In field settings, though, one often has to make other sacrifices to be able to use them. Most importantly, sometimes numbers are not easily applied to some features of a study. If these include features of particular interest or importance, the choice is between qualitative research or omitting important features.

In addition, developing a suitable quantitative measure is often difficult and time-consuming. It may be more time-efficient to use qualitative data. As I mentioned before, it is also easier to be flexible and responsive to the situation if you are using qualitative methods.

In short, it is my view that action research more often than not exhibits certain features. It tends to be, in some sense of the terms, cyclic, participative, qualitative and reflective. I see all of these features except the last as choices to be made by the researcher and the other participants.

In my view, good action research and good research of any variety is research where, among other features, appropriate choices are made. Perhaps even critical reflection might be abandoned for sufficient reason. Whatever action research is, I suspect it is mostly or always emergent and responsive.

In fact, I think that the choices made about its cyclic and qualitative nature are mostly to be justified in terms of the responsiveness which they allow.

This may be true of decisions about participation too. In many field settings it is not possible to use more traditional quasi-experimental research methods. If you do alter them in midstream you may have to abandon the data collected up to that point. This is because you have probably altered the odds under the null hypothesis. But to achieve both action and research outcomes requires responsiveness -- to the situation, and the people, and the growing understanding on the part of those involved.

Using a cyclic process in most circumstances enhances responsiveness. It makes sense to design the later stages of an action research activity in such a way that you capitalise on the understanding developed in the early stages. It is the cyclic nature of action research which allows responsiveness. It is often difficult to know just where a field intervention will end.

Precise research questions at the beginning of a project may mislead researcher and clients. Imprecise questions and methods can be expected to yield imprecise answers initially. But if those imprecise answers can help to refine questions and methods, then each cycle can be a step in the direction of better action and research. In other words, there are times when the initial use of fuzzy methods to answer fuzzy questions is the only appropriate choice. Action research provides enough flexibility to allow fuzzy beginnings while progressing towards appropriate endings.

To my mind, a cyclic process is important. It gives more chances to learn from experience provided that there is real reflection on the process and on the outcomes, intended and unintended. Qualitative information is less constraining of the process. Participation is a somewhat different issue, more to do with action than research. Action outcomes can usually be achieved only with some commitment from those most affected.

One of the most important ways of securing that commitment is through involving those affected. There may well be other reasons, too. For instance, for some researchers it is more ethical to use participative methods in general, this is my position in the action research I do. On some occasions the eventual interpretation of information is richer if involvement is greater.

So far, I have taken the view that action research can take many forms. There are some conditions, however, that I believe are more important. As a starting assumption I assume that good action research is empirical: I also think it is important that the evidence is used critically rather than uncritically. Again, a cyclic process allows this to happen more easily. If each step is preceded by planning and followed by review, learning by researcher and client is greater.

The quality of evidence can also be increased by the use of multiple sources of evidence within all or most cycles. Differences between data sources, used critically, can then lead the researchers and the participants towards a deeper and more accurate understanding.

Literature can be such an alternative data source. The seminar aimed to present a forum for debating critical issues in the field of action research. Key speakers would present their views on the issues and test their ideas against the living theories of practitioner researchers who were pursuing their doctoral self-studies. Because of the interactive nature of the event, participants from the worlds of professional education, educational research and educational policy would be able to participate in the debates.

The whole seminar would take the form of critical engagement about what were seen as emergent issues in action research, and how these might be developed in practical settings. The seminar took the form of a series of six debates. In each debate, a critical issue was identified, and papers about the issue were presented by key speakers and doctoral students. There were subsequent opportunities in workshops for all participants to discuss the issues and ideas raised, and discuss what implications the ideas have for real-world practices in education settings.

This was the first event of its kind in Ireland that aimed to bring both prominent theorists and doctoral students together, as part of a critical educational community. The event presented the most up-to-date thinking in the field, from which all participants could learn how to take steps to improve the quality of learning in their own organisations. The programme was organised as six critical debates that involved the presentation of papers to show processes of abstract and practical theory generation.

How do we make judgements about the impact of ICT on the quality of learning in schools, colleges and workplaces? Can an action research approach help? What are the potential implications for the professional education of teachers and other professionals? Where should action research be located? What are the relationships between workplaces and higher education?

What kind of pedagogical relationships need to be developed to support sustainable forms of learning? What are the potentials of action research to impact on organisational change? Are there any necessary conditions? What about the politics of practitioner research for organisational change? In whose voice do we speak our research — our own, our participants, others who share our views, others with alternative perspectives? How do we facilitate the voices of others if that is an aim of our research and enable those less privileged than ourselves to speak?

How do we represent our work in ways that startle us into new understandings? What forms of theory are most appropriate for doing action research and for generating action research accounts? How do we show the value of different forms of theory? How do we legitimate them? Who makes decisions about these things?

How do we validate action research accounts? How do we legitimate them in the public domain? What do we need to learn about processes of validating and legitimating? Presenters at the seminar included prominent key speakers whose work is influential in the world of action research, and doctoral students who are pursuing their action enquiries.


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Critical action research is a validation and extension of action research or participatory action research processes that combines critical theory with the action research paradigm. The critical action research process turns the traditional power hierarchy between “professional” researchers.

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This chapter outlines critical social theory in relation to action research and from a Habermasian critique in particular. It emphasises reflection and action, and, theory and practice as important elements of a critical approach when bringing about change in action research. However, bringing about change requires dialogue if there is to be .

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Critical Action Research in Human Resource Development Rod P. Githens University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Critical approaches to HRD do not focus solely on improving organizational performance; instead, they. Beginner's guide to action research, a brief overview of action research as an emergent, responsive, action-oriented, participative and critically reflective research methodology Use multiple cycles, with planning before action and critical analysis after it. Within each cycle --use multiple data sources; and try to.

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Request PDF on ResearchGate | Critical Action Research in Human Resource Development | Critical approaches to HRD do not focus solely on improving organizational performance; instead, they address. Critical Debates in Action Research. University of Limerick. Department of Education and Professional Studies. Look what's new at the University of Limerick!