Action Science – How researcher gender affects the research design and work approach
Paper in proceeding, 2007
During a 3 year period (2004 to 2006), an extensive action research project was conducted in Latin America and Africa, intent on exploring the local innovation systems. Over 500 persons were interviewed, representing the various stakeholders in the local innovation systems in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Tanzania and South Africa. The goal of the research was to find the key players who are actively working with innovation, and to explore their experience in the innovation process, including the psycho-social perspective. Specifically, we sought to learn about their roles and responsibilities in the innovation, the types and quality of the relationships they had, how they managed their work, and what they believed supported and hindered their work.
For example, researchers were interviewed about their research projects; industry leaders and managers were interviewed to learn about their research, development and improvement work; government officials (national, regional and local) were interviewed to learn about their current policies, laws and programs for supporting and protecting innovation, science and technology; community leaders were interviewed to learn about the local issues, needs and goals for improvement; indigenous leaders were interviewed to learn about their needs and activities of development; bankers and donor agencies were interviewed to learn about their current strategies and programs to invest in or to support innovation activities; and journalists were interviewed to learn about their editorial positions and their understanding of innovation.
Because the goal of this research was to understand the innovation process from the ’experience’ of these various stakeholders, a special research design and philosophy was created and followed which was based upon a qualitative methodology (semi-structured interviews and observations) with a phenomenological orientation. In complying with this tradition and in order to assure that we analysed the interviews with the least amount of interpretation, we invited the interviewees to participate in a series of workshops, where we fed back our initial results, got feedback, and created the possibilities to dig deeper into the meaning of their responses and to observe and make interventions into the relationships (between the various stakeholders) in the room.
The purpose of this paper is to explore and critique the design, philosophy and methodology used in this research project, both from a theoretical and practical perspective. We are interested in exploring and reflecting on how the gender and culture (values) of the researchers affect the research process and choices made as well as the consequences of using this approach – on both the researchers and stakeholders they are working with.
The research approach chosen, the design and the choices made during the course of the research have been analyzed based on research methodology literature, including from a philosophical approach (Buber 1958), feministic approach (Flecher, 2001, Alvesson and Billing, 1997), value approach (Perls 1951, Nevis 1987).
The methodology used was developed out from the humanistic and psychological fields and it was found that a large set of the values and choices made in the design were coincidentally similar (if not identical) to the ’feminist approach’ to conducting research.