Two audiences and five aims of action researchers

Community member post by Hilary Bradbury

hilary-bradbury
Hilary Bradbury (biography)

Do action researchers have something to offer to the contemporary and urgent question of how to respond to complex real-world problems? I think so.

Action researchers, often working in inter-disciplinary settings, hold in mind that technical, practical and emancipatory goals of action research require us to develop facility in communicating with two audiences: the ‘local’ practitioners and the ‘cosmopolitan’ community of scholars.

Let’s start with the latter. The cosmopolitans are motivated by the question of what, if anything, can be contributed to what scholars already know. As a result these academic colleagues usually privilege the written medium exclusively. The local audience, however, is not served when action researchers write a manuscript intended for scholarly peers!

Communicating with practitioners involved in the nitty gritty of real world problems will be shaped by their professional or cultural expectations. As a rule of thumb, I find that practitioners are more readily engaged by story and multimedia reports to which their reaction may then be invited.

Generally speaking, action researchers ought to find ways to communicate with the local community first, using this as an opportunity for validating and disseminating local learning.

In some early public musings on what constitutes quality in action research (Bradbury 2010), I suggested that quality:

  1. develops from action research praxis of participation with practitioners;
  2. is guided by locals’ concerns for practical results;
  3. is inclusive of stakeholders’ ways of knowing, which means letting go the conventional over-emphasis of rational frameworks;
  4. helps to build capacity for ongoing change efforts; and,
  5. results from choosing to engage with those issues people might consider significant; from asking “how do we accomplish more good together?“.

Good action research is very time consuming, so I suggest that we should not waste time on trifling matters.

Furthermore, action researchers do not pretend to be value neutral. This moment in history asks us to authentically respond to the huge need to seed more learning processes.

What has your experience been with action research? What would you recommend to achieve quality action research?

Reference:
Bradbury Huang, H. (2010). What is good action research? Why the resurgent interest?” Action Research, 8, 1: 93-109.

Biography: Hilary Bradbury Ph.D. is Founding Principal of AR+ | Action Research Plus: a network for Action Research worldwide. She has edited or co-edited three editions of the ‘Handbook of Action Research’ and is Editor-in-Chief of the journal ‘Action Research’. She is Jubilee Professor at Chalmers Institute for Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

AR+ has recently released two volumes of Cooking with Action Research One volume covers stories and resources and the other is a resources guide.

Co-producing research: Why we need to say what we mean, mean what we say, and learn as we go

Community member post by Bev J. Holmes

Bev J. Holmes (biography)

The co-production or co-creation of research is not new – action based research traditions can lay claim to a long history, but are those of us involved in co-production doing enough to understand what it means?

In their work on public involvement, Antoine Boivin and colleagues (2014) note there is such widespread support for the rhetoric of co-production that we may dismiss (I would add not even acknowledge) the tensions that arise when professionals and lay people work together. Co-production in health research is similar. We need to work harder to say what we mean, mean what we say, and learn as we go. Continue reading

What can action research and transdisciplinarity learn from each other?

Community member post by Danilo R. Streck

danilo-streck
Danilo R. Streck (biography)

A man raises his hand and brings up the following issue: “Our community is constantly affected by terrible floods that not only destroy our houses, but are the cause of sicknesses of our children.” This statement—in the midst of a participatory budget meeting in South Brazil—raised issues concerning the deforestation of riverbanks, the deficient sewage system, contested land ownership and occupation, among others.

Our research group is primarily interested in citizenship education and in supporting it through studying what makes learning possible (pedagogical mediation) within discussions about the allocation of resources for the public budget. Stories like this one remind us of the limits of a simplistic approach to understanding citizenship. In this case, citizenship and citizenship education was clearly related to health, to ecology, to urban planning, to farming, among other fields of acting and knowing.

Action research, broadly understood as collective (self) reflection in action within situations that one wants to change, is intrinsically an exercise of disciplinary transgressions. Continue reading

Managing deep uncertainty: Exploratory modeling, adaptive plans and joint sense making

Community member post by Jan Kwakkel

jan-kwakkel
Jan Kwakkel (biography)

How can decision making on complex systems come to grips with irreducible, or deep, uncertainty? Such uncertainty has three sources:

  1. Intrinsic limits to predictability in complex systems.
  2. A variety of stakeholders with different perspectives on what the system is and what problem needs to be solved.
  3. Complex systems are generally subject to dynamic change, and can never be completely understood.

Deep uncertainty means that the various parties to a decision do not know or cannot agree on how the system works, how likely various possible future states of the world are, and how important the various outcomes of interest are. Continue reading

Good practices in system dynamics modelling

Community member post by Sondoss Elsawah and Serena Hamilton

sondoss-elsawah
Sondoss Elsawah (biography)

Too often, lessons about modelling practices are left out of papers, including the ad-hoc decisions, serendipities, and failures incurred through the modelling process. The lack of attention to these details can lead to misperceptions about how the modelling process unfolds.

serena-hamilton
Serena Hamilton (biography)

We are part of a small team that examined five case studies where system dynamics was used to model socio-ecological systems. We had direct and intimate knowledge of the modelling process and outcomes in each case. Based on the lessons from the case studies as well as the collective experience of the team, we compiled the following set of good practices for systems dynamics modelling of complex systems. Continue reading

Improving mutual consultation among key stakeholders to optimize the use of research evidence

Community member post by Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

Processes to support the uptake of research evidence call for each of the key stakeholders to consider the challenges faced by other key stakeholders in making good use of research evidence. When stakeholders have the opportunity to consider perspectives other than their own, they will generally have a broader understanding of the problem space, and, in turn a greater commitment to co-creating prototypes for improving research translation.

Let’s consider a real world example in New York City’s public child welfare system. Continue reading