Weaknesses of Action Research

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Weaknesses of Action Research
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands

Despite the many advantages that Action Research (AR) might have, Brydon-Miller et al. (2003) mention that one of the weaknesses of Action Research is: its localism. AR often takes place on the local scale and it cannot be extended to a broader context.
Because AR is done on a “case-by-case” basis, action researches often have problems with intervening in large-scale social change attempts.
Problems as environmental degradation, political conflicts and increasing inequality are difficult to address in AR.
I wonder are there any additonal known weaknesses of AR?
Brydon-Miller, M., Greenwood, D. And P. Maguire (2003) “Why Action Research” Action Research Vol. 1 pp 9-28

Disadvantages of Action Research
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Thanks for sharing this, indeed AR lends itself to smaller-scale issues, such as single case studies
or reflective studies.
Sometimes you also can see 2 other weaknesses of AR being mentioned: methodologically it might be difficult and it is said to be time-consuming.
Of course each method has its disadvantages or perhaps its better to speak of limitations.

Limitations of Action Research
Bob Dick, Consultant, Australia
I suspect such problems as "environmental degradation... and increasing inequality" are difficult to address whatever the approach. We're not progressing much with those challenges.

I also think that, to identify the weaknesses, look at the strengths. A research approach is a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the "strengths" from one perspective become "weaknesses" when looked at differently.

For instance, you mention localism, and the difficulty of extending AR more widely. For me its localism also allows it to engage with local issues and produce local change.

For me its most important strength/weakness is flexibility. Its data-informed trial and error means I don't have to develop a precise solution at the beginning. That also necessarily implies that I wouldn't use for hypothesis testing, for example.

By the way, it has been used at an extended scale -- have a look at what the Norwegian academic and practitioner Bjørn Gustavsen has done across whole industries in Scandinavia.

Large Scale Action Research
Marlis Krichewsky, HR Consultant, France
There are forms of AR that allow to address problems concerning thousands of actors giving all of them opportunities to intervene for finding solutions. An example of this can be found in Porto Alègre. Part of that city is co-administered by the citizens who administer part of the budget and make co-decisions about where to invest and how.
My organization in Paris which runs 25 schools tries to co-elaborate change with them through AR. If it turns out to be difficult and long, it is mainly due to the lack of political culture and participative democracy in France.
The great thing about AR is that actors, practices, knowledge and organizations co-evolve. It is a process and not a production with immediate measurable outcomes.

Action Research is Intentionally Localized - That's the Point
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
The strength of Action Research is exactly its finite nature: even if it can be part of a larger "think globally" strategic framework. It is the "act locally" element of the construct of purpose.

The Results of Action Research can be Published Globally
Radha Raj, Other, India
Sometimes, action research can yield observations and results that can have wide applications. For instance, one can learn from and use findings of research conducted in any part of the world on patients suffering from Alzheimer, the anxieties and stresses the care givers face, how the care givers have to prepare themselves, the need for training, issues like home care and institutionalization etc. Similarly, research in agriculture, like crop selection, care, maintenance etc. can be used anywhere, contributing to crop diversity and sustainable agriculture.
So action research has its place.

All Action Planning is a Form of Action Research
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@Radha Raj: My point remains that all action planning is a form of action research, whether it is plan to go to the store for bread or to explore the possibilities of crop diversity. We plan to do something, we do it. But we measure the results against the expectation and we adjust the next iteration of the plan accordingly.
Action research is the tactical aspect in the narrative arc between the instrumental mission and the vision. That's why they call it a form of "scientific management".

Limited Use of Action Research in Business Research
Keogh, Manager, Australia
@Tom Wilson: After using an applied AR research method at a corporate managerial level, based on Lewin's orginal action research model, I was surprised at how few academic business research studies use AR.
Perhaps it is the required preunderstanding that is not readily available with pure business research, but can be found in education studies or health research or community projects where AR is more common. In these research areas participants may also be more motivated to be involved in AR research.
I am now researching Action Research and the many strands that have evolved over the last 80 years. It's good to have Bob's experience on this forum.

Action Research and Military Tactical Action Planning
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@Clare: It is useful to remember that Lewin was a combat infantry soldier and the action research model the Germans employed is very similar to the 5 Paragraph Field Order format employed by the US Army at all levels. Harvard is using a performance model about 70 years, at least, behind what Lewin demonstrated. Community projects is probably the most fertile area to consider, as Lewin was probably influenced by Saul Alinsky, the community organizer. The Army began a transformation in 1947 that led away from the Harvard Business model to its current configuration based on the squad/team as the basic structure of the military organization, while Harvard clings to the Frederick the Great model of the individual soldier, which is one reason why the corporate community persists in union busting: The Army employs teams from the bottom up while teams are imposed on subordinate structures in a top down way. Action Research is ultimately a small unit exercise.

Action Research Strengths and Weaknesses
clare keogh, Student (MBA), Australia
Interesting you think of Lewin as a combat soldier. Yes he was in the German army for a short time at the start of WW1. Young German men did not have a much of a choice in 1914. He went on to be a world recognised psychologist from the Gestalt school and one of the first to use AR in research. Lewin without doubt built on prior knowledge, as does every leading academic. I haven't found evidence that he was greatly influenced by an army performance model when he first used AR in the 1940's, and where his research participants collaboratively interpreted the results with Lewin. AR is still used today and not just in small scale studies.


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