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Action research, also known as participatory research, is learning by doing in the sense that a group of workers identify a problem, develop a resolution, implement the solution and then analyze the final results.

Action Research

Maim & Hurt is a video game company located on the West Coast. Herbert Bittner is the Human Resource Manager in charge of motivating the staff.

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His human resource team would like to conduct a study to see if orchestrating a three-day workweek from 7am to 7pm would improve overall morale and productivity. The team will not only study the plan as they implement it, but they will take part in the new three-day workweek as well. This type of research is known as action research.

Action research, also known as participatory research, is learning by doing in the sense that a group of workers identify a problem, develop a resolution, implement the solution and then analyze the final results. The action research process consists of five steps in the cycle: diagnosing, action planning, taking action, evaluating, and specifying learning. The process is known for on-the-job research and not the scientific method type study created in a lab.

The Process

The first step in the action research process is regarding the diagnosing of the organizational issue. In this step, the actual problem is identified to promote the start of the action research.

The Bittner Team has already diagnosed that there is a motivation issue with the employees.Action planning is the second step that constitutes alternative paths of action. The Bittner Team has spent many weeks trying to create a list of different ways they could improve employee outlook. After many employee interviews, they have found that a shorter or more flexible work week is wanted by the workers.The third step is taking action, where a specific alternative is selected to solve the issue. Bittner has read studies with other technology companies that have had success with employee motivation and productivity through adopting a shorter workweek.

He believes this is worth a try.Evaluating is the next step, where the action results are studied to see the overall impact. The Bittner Team held a company-wide presentation to explain when and how the new workweek would be implemented. Starting in one month, all employees would need to be at work 7am to 7pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The employees would have a four-day weekend! The employees were excited to try this new plan and so was Bittner.The last step in the action research process is specifying learning, where learning and results can be used to help future issues within the organization.

After a three-month trial period of the new shorter workweek, the company deemed the plan a success. Employees were active in formulating any changes, such as working remotely if needed on one other day, and productivity and motivation were at an all-time high. Bittner himself felt relaxed and had a new sense of excitement for his work.

Principles

Bittner’s action research had six key principles that helped provide the key to the success of the plan. There are six key principles of action research, which consists of:

  1. Reflexive Critique
  2. Dialectical Critique
  3. Collaborative Research
  4. Risk
  5. Plural Structure
  6. Theory, Practice and Transformation

Reflexive critique is the need to take consideration of evidence-based information, such as reports and documents, and also reflective comments and observations made in a work setting to determine the actual situation.

The Bittner Team spent an enormous amount of time interviewing the employees before making an alternative consideration. He spent time observing, listening and reporting on the work day.Dialectical critique is when two sides to an issue exist. The individuals are given time to promote their reasoning for the answer they believe is best. Usually, outsiders or group consensus will make the determination of what the answer will be for the company.

The Bittner Team did have some serious opposition to their idea of the shorter workweek. They held open meetings for all managers to give ideas and help overcome any objections to the new schedule.The third key principle of action research is the idea of collaborative research. In this manner, all participants in the research have equally important views. This ensures a collaborative method of conducting research and determining solutions.

The Bittner Team allowed all employees to offer feedback from the initial idea to the final outcome of the schedule. Certain elements of the shorter workweek underwent changes due to the feedback of the personnel.The fourth principle is concerned with risk and how individuals are afraid to give their opinions, thoughts and suggestions to affect any organizational change. The researcher’s job is to ensure that risk is minimized within the organization if an employee gives their most internal thoughts and ideas, no matter how extreme or different. The Bittner Team asked for all levels of employees to email them with their suggestions. They asked for ways to brainstorm to make the transition easier.

One of the newest employees came up with a ride sharing plan to cut down on transportation costs for the employees. Another employee offered a cafeteria lunch delivery plan so that employees could work at their desk during the three days they were in the office.Plural structure is the next principle of action research and deals with understanding that, due to collaborative effort, numerous different views and ideas will develop. The ability to consider each of them and try and validate before accepting as the truth is important. The Bittner Team tried to implement as many suggestions from the employees as possible. Some were not so successful, such as the employee who suggested sleepover parties to make commutes easy during the three-day workweek.

The last principle is theory, practice and transformation and is concerned with how employees’ actions are based on assumptions and theories. Constant observation is needed to help understand actions and let the correct change occur. Bittner realizes that the new three-day workweek will need to be continually studied. The best solution now might not be the best solution for the long term.

Lesson Summary

Action research, also known as participatory research, is learning by doing in the sense that a group of workers identify a problem, develop a resolution, implement the solution and then analyze the final results. The action research process consists of five steps in the cycle: diagnosing, action planning, taking action, evaluating, and specifying learning. There are six key principles of action research, which consist of:

  1. Reflexive Critique
  2. Dialectical Critique
  3. Collaborative Research
  4. Risk
  5. Plural Structure
  6. Theory, Practice and Transformation

Reflexive critique is the need to take consideration of evidence-based information, such as reports and documents, and also reflective comments and observations made in a work setting to determine the actual situation.

Dialectical critique is when two sides to an issue exist. The individuals are given time to promote their reasoning for the answer they believe is best. Collaborative research is where all participants in the research have equally important views.Risk is how individuals are afraid to give their opinions, thoughts and suggestions to affect any organizational change.

Plural structure is the next principle of action research and deals with understanding that due to collaborative effort, numerous different views and ideas will develop. The last principle is theory, practice and transformation and is concerned with how employees’ actions are based on assumptions and theories. Constant observation is needed to help understand actions and let the correct change occur.

Learning Outcomes

You’ll have the ability to do the following after this lesson:

  • Define action research
  • List the five steps involved in action research
  • Describe the six key principles of action research

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