Sunday, July 8, 2012

Action Research, Action Learning: Research in Organizations

Action research is a research method that was designed to conduct research in the field as opposed to conducting research in the lab. Action research was coined and practiced successfully by Kurt Lewin and has been used extensively in various disciplines and differing field (live) situations since.  

Compared to traditional research, action research is considered more as a quasi-experimental design. Bryman (2008) identified quasi-experiments as: "studies that have certain characteristics of experimental designs but that do not fulfill all of the internal validity requirements" (pp. 40-41). In natural settings, such as those found in educational settings and in organizations, it is nearly impossible to conduct a pure 'traditional' experiment: resulting in action research being one of the primary experimental designs utilized in natural environments (in one form or another).

Bargal (2008) identified action research as being composed of both quantitative and qualitative research methods: "the scientific and systematic accumulation of data as well as the development of the interventions that represent practical solutions to problems experienced by people and their communities" (p. 18). Bargal (2006) highlighted Lewin's 'action research' systematic steps:
  1. Action research combines a systematic study, sometimes experimental, of a social problem as well as the endeavors to solve it.
  2. Action research includes a spiral process of data collection to determine goals, action to implement goals and assessment of the result of the intervention.
  3. Action research demands feedback of the results of intervention to all parties involved in the research.
  4. Action research implies continuous cooperation between researchers and practitioners.
  5. Action research relies on the principles of group dynamics and is anchored in tis change phases. The phases are: unfreezing, moving, and refreezing. Decision-making is mutual and is carried out in a public way.
  6. Action research takes into account issues of values, objectives and power needs of parties involved.
  7. Action research serves to create knowledge, to formulate principles of intervention and also to develop instruments for selection, intervention and training.
  8. Within the framework of action research there is much emphasis on recruitment, training and support of the change agents (p. 4, Figure 1).

A more condensed version of action research can be found in Gall, Gall, and Borgs' (2010) steps:
  1. Selection of a focus for the study.
  2. Data Collection.
  3. Analysis and interpretation of the data.
  4. Taking Action.
  5. Reflection (pp. 491-493).

As a version of action research, action learning has developed to become a unique problem solving activity used in the classrooms, training rooms, and within organizational teams. Action learning is similar to a training exercise; however, the main difference is that a real problem is being considered opposed to some hypothetical simulated scenario. This process is beneficial to the organization by resolving real issues as well as providing a means for training groups to learn together and to solve real-time problems. Gorrell (2012) identified the benefits of action learning as: "Action learning provides an opportunity to combine the real work objectives of an important offsite event with the beneficial outcomes of a reflective team-building experience" (p. 26). Recommended action learning steps provided by Gorrell (2012) were:
  1. Restate the problem statement.
  2. Determine assumptions behind the issue.
  3. Set goals that would solve the issue at hand.
  4. Set specific tasks to realize the goals.
  5. Create an accountability matrix.
  6. Offer post-action learning feedback (p. 29).

Various other versions of action research and action learning can be found. Regardless of the steps or design, it is recommended to take care to: a) identify the problem carefully, b) place the problem in the environment, c) carefully collect any appropriate data, d) properly analyze the data, e) make a decision, and f) reflect on the processes practiced to make the next problem solving exercise that much easier. And above all, and probably most important, g) assure you have management buy-in.


Bargal, D. (2008). Action research: A paradigm for achieving social change. Small Group Research, 39(17), 17-27. doi: 10.1177/1046496407313407

Bargal, D. (2006). Personal and intellectual influences leading to Lewin's paradigm of action research. Action Research, 4(4), 367-388. doi: 10.1177/1476750306070101

Bryman, A. (2008). Social Research Methods (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2010). Applying Educational Research (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Gorrell, P (2012). Action learning for teams. Chief Learning Officer, July, 26-29.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...