What’s so special about action research? A targeted critical review of experiential and prescriptive literature
Paper in proceedings, 2014
A large number of organisation and management disciplines, appear to have obtained a closer relation to practices. Action Research (AR) on the other hand has a long tradition for close encounters with practice and is currently experiencing a remarkable growth in its presence in the scientific literature. The present paper aims at critically reviewing approaches of AR investigating and characterizing them. This is done in the context of an AR project aiming at engaging SMEs to develop business models including new sustainable solutions. The literature review encompasses 27 main contributions. The literature was analyzed with five criteria: scientific position, framing and degree of influence for participants, juxtaposition of domains (i.e. group, organization), democracy and power, methods and results.
Five scientific positions of AR are identified: US pragmatist, critical theory, Participatory Action Research (PAR), The Scandinavian cooperation model and management. A range of methods is found including principles of democratic dialogue, group collaboration, and conferences. The linking of action and analysis is often suggested as being cyclic. The AR positions have much in common with contemporary postmodern organisation theory: Engagement with practice, appreciation of processes of change within and around organizations. Nevertheless AR appears not to have exploited this close kinship, constituting a non-explored terrain of interpretive, social construction oriented AR. Many of the weaknesses in AR, such as unclear scientific positioning, limited political discussion of the framing of research and of the researcher’s role, are shared with other research. The particular strength of AR is its systematic engagement in changing practice. The normalization of AR hopefully means that it will find an even more natural place in organisation and management studies.