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Real Life Research

22/10/2010

Action Research Spiral

As a researcher, I sometimes interview practitioners about the latest best practice guidance, only for them to profess absolute ignorance of its existence even though the relevant document is sat on a shelf in full view behind their heads.

Government circulars, best practice guidance, even legislative summaries are often left on one side until dealing with them becomes unavoidable. It shouldn’t be like that, but reading is simply left till last, even by those whose duty it is to know and share such documents.

Most often, the barrier is workload. The last thing stressed and busy professionals want to do is spend time having to re-think how or why they do things the way they do, whilst they are doing them.

This has been compared to asking someone to hold your coffee,while they’re uni-cycling and juggling three balls at the same time! Such requests are not always met with unbridled enthusiasm.

One way of ensuring that colleagues or practitioners actively take on board best practice findings is to encourage a research friendly workplace – one where colleagues are engaged in and reflect upon their working practices.

This might be done by asking researchers from your local university department to come and talk to your staff meeting. It could be by encouraging colleagues to engage in research-led higher education. Or it could be by working with your staff team to identify and execute an action research improvement project.

This approach is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a “community of practice” to improve the way they address issues and solve problems.

Sadly, it has acquired something of a tainted reputation recently. This was caused by the bright sparks at the Department for Education who decided to save money by giving teachers less professional development – which costs time and money – but more opportunity to do action research – without extra resources.

This idea did spread – that it was research and training on the cheap. I have had clients say “Can’t you just do a bit of quick action research to find out?” When asked what they mean by action research, they usually fudge and fail.

It is a misunderstanding to see action research as a convenient cost-saver. It rarely is in the short-term, if done properly. When done well, however, it yields service improvements that make professionals work together more effectively and with a greater sense of purpose and understanding.

The great thing about action research, in the light of all those unread reports, is that it bridges the gap between researcher and researched. It engages staff and empowers them to take a critical stance to the best practice guidance or service improvements that are suggested by research findings.

So perhaps it is time we resurrected Action Research – it has a remarkable and honourable history as a qualitative research method which delivers real-life research results while reviving practitioner-researchers’ sense of vocation and engagement in their practice.

(Oh, and of course I nearly forgot to mention: it is something that Life Research is always happy to advise about and I would be happy to help you implement!)

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From → Practice, Research

5 Comments
  1. Karen permalink

    As you say, action research is something that already takes place in our classrooms whether because it provides cheap professional development or because it is something some teachers like to be involved in. One difficulty is that teachers who wish to be involved in research have not been eligible for involvement in research with bodies such as NCSL (and numerous other bodies) since only those in senior management positions or in HE are regarding as being ‘suitable’ – even if the teachers concerned have research degrees. This seems such a waste for both the teacher concerned and for the education as a whole.

    • I quite agree. It seems to me that supported research (using TOIL or similar CPD time) should be an essential element in the terms and conditions of those of us whose work relies on being aware of the continuing advances in knowledge in our field.

  2. Karen permalink

    Not just the terms and conditions of employment since this puts the onus on the person employed – there needs to be something in place that shares that responsibility with the employer …

    But a very positive meeting today about some collaborative research – research that will hopefully get to the heart of what learning is about and so promote the joy of knowledge and a passion for learning in all children – something that might have appealed to you with your interest in the disengaged as mentioned in this blog. I just need to persuade the head and governors that this is a good way forward for our school now. Pity I am not a better salesman or politician.

  3. If anyone wants any further reading in this field, this article is always worth a look:
    Altrichter H (1986); Visiting two worlds: an excursion into the methodological jungle including an optional evening’s entertainment at the Rigour Club; Cambridge Journal of Education; Routledge.
    Enjoy!

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