Stages in Action Research
The origin of action research is a two-stage process and consists of diagnostic stage and therapeutic stage. Each of them is explained below:
Diagnostic Stage: It starts with identifying the research problems and issues related to the current situation and devices the plan to encounter such problems. This stage involves a mutual analysis of the social situation by the researcher and his subjects of the research. Based on the research domain research hypotheses are formulated (Baskerville, 1999; Baskerville & Pries-Heje, 1999; Blum, 1955; Coghlan & Brannick, 2014; Peters & Robinson, 1984).
Therapeutic Stage: It is the second stage of action research, where collaborative planned experiments are carried out, and the effect of such interventions are studied (Baskerville, 1999; Blum, 1955; Baskerville and Pries-Heje, 1999).
However, to obtain more scientific rigor in the research process, further detailed description of expanded structure is usually imposed upon the projects. Such method may vary based on the implementation. In a more elaborative way, action research is considered to be an iterative cyclical process which follows five stage approaches until the solution is achieved (Susman, 1983; Susman & Evered, 1978).
- Stage 1 (Diagnostic Stage): This refers to the primary stage of action research where the real-time problems or issues are identified for an organizational change. These problems are identified through a collaborative investigation of the social situation by both researcher and the individual/subjects of the research. It helps the researcher to frame the research hypotheses about the organization problems (Baskerville, 1999; Blum, 1955).
- Stage 2 (Action Planning Stage): In action planning stage, both researcher and practitioner design specified actionable plans which may be helpful in eradicating the primary problems of the organization. The desired action plans are created based on the theoretical framework which specifies the desired stage of the organization and the specific action plans to activate the desired outcomes (Suman, 1983).
- Stage 3 (Action Taking Stage): This is considered to be the third stage of the action research where planned actions or the interventions are implemented in the organization by the researchers and practitioner together. These interventions are aimed at the desired organizational changes. Several key strategies can be implemented either directly or indirectly to eradicate the existing organization problems.
- Stage 4 (Evaluating Stage): After the execution of the planned action at the organization level, the next step of the action researcher is to evaluate the intervention’s outcomes and see how successful the implemented intervention has been. If the intended organizational change is unsuccessful then some adjustments or improvements are made in the original research hypothesis formation and the same research cycle continues until the desired solution is achieved. Hence, this is considered to be an iterative process of organizational problem-solving mechanism (Davison, Martinsons & Kock, 2004).
- Stage 5 (Specifying Learning Stage): The last stage of the action research deals with the overall learning achieved during the research journey. Knowledge will be created in every evaluation stage of the action research process which is independent of the project outcome (Success/failure). Knowledge created in the evaluation stage of every failure intervention act as an input for the new action plans. The knowledge accrued through such field work interventions will be helpful in providing new directions to the future researchers and the action research community at large (Mathiassen, 2002; Baskerville, 1997).
Unlike conventional social science, its purpose is not primarily or solely to understand social arrangements, but also to effect desired change as a path to generating knowledge and empowering stakeholders.
Types of Action Research
Action Research: Action research is an exemplar of inquiry where the researcher’s primary aim is to enhance the capacity and consequent practices of the researcher instead of producing theoretical knowledge (Elliott, 1991). Enhancing practice refers to the enhancement of the quality of the process and products. An important characteristic of action research is that the researcher institutes change based on an emotion that something needs to change to create a better situation. The aim of the researcher is to provide direction towards realizing the goals. The researcher may act with a team or as an individual. The researcher tries to improve the skills of the client and also enhances his knowledge during the research process. The researcher leads the process of research by problem identification, collects the relevant facts and opinions from the clients, and identifies the research gaps. There is a cohesive conception among all the researchers, and there is no division of specialized roles or tasks. The researcher and the client jointly identify actions to take and analysis of the result are done jointly, reflect on these actions and results, and also recommend new courses of action. The researcher and the clients act together to actualize agreeable results for change. The researcher leads the group by identifying the course of actions for dissemination, but need not inevitably engage in these actions.
Participative Research: Participative research is a method where the primary objective of the researcher is to build an environment and process where context specific knowledge is emerged to develop theory that is logical and actionable. Participative research is proposed by the organization of interest. The researcher and participant’s team up keenly in a group process to study and modify their social reality (Whyte, 1989).
All members of the organization are allowed to participate in case of participative research. Participants must be keen to participate and take on dynamic roles and define the problem, choose the methodology of collecting the data, analyze the data, report the findings, and create action. Participants treat each other as contemporaries. Through the exchange of dialogic process, the participants and researcher learn together. The role of the researcher is not of an expert but as a co-learner. The researcher has less control on the research design and from where the data comes and he also has less control in the research process. A participative researcher has to develop a context specific structure, be flexible to changes in the structure based on the participant’s knowledge. The result of this type of association is very context specific to enhance new shared understandings.
Participatory Action Research: Participatory action research incorporates both the aims of superior capacity and practice of researchers, as in the case of action research, and also attains practical objectives and varying social reality, as in the case of participatory research, through the process of group participation. Planning participants are those who are affected by a problem, they carry out the research process, analyse the data, and report the research findings. The enhancement of knowledge of the participants is an important objective of the desired outcome. This method is proposed by the organization of interest and employs researchers that contribute to control of the social process design with the help of the participants in the organization.
The research design is planned after joint discussion with the researchers and the participants. In case of participatory action research people who are affected by a problem are in a better position to give suitable solution. Specific and empirical information are given importance. Participants carry out the data collection process and analyze the results. The researcher does not have control in terms of the research design but they have to be present where the problem is relevant and give valuable inputs. In particular when there are complex situations with no clear line of examination to follow, participatory action research contributes to the existing body of knowledge and helps in theory building.