10 Emergent methodologies
Speaking only for myself ...
Sometimes I think about the reasons why action research takes the forms that it does. I presume that much of its typical shape arises because of its joint objectives of action and research. Action research is action and research.
Consider the first of these dual aims, action or change. Action research must be responsive. It has to be able to adjust to the demands of the situation. It has to be able to engage with the world as it is, in all its complexity.
The preference for very participative forms arises partly from the same requirement.
To achieve the second of these dual aims it has to be rigorous. You cannot otherwise trust the information you collect. As you would expect, it shares that feature with other varieties of research.
Put these two aims together. The desired result is twofold. On the one hand, understanding (the research) allows more effective change. In return a pursuit of change enhances the understanding.
It is especially the "cycles within cycles" we've been talking about which allow both to be achieved.
Consider further the notion of flexibility and responsiveness. The consequence is that action research is an emergent methodology. Its methodological form is fine-tuned on the run to take account of the increasing understanding of the researchers. It takes shape gradually.
Cycles allow emergence. Cycles within cycles allow that emergence to apply both to broad-brush design and fine-grain detail.
In my experience, this is important for people who wish to facilitate change. As I've said before, I often find in complex change situations that wherever I start is the wrong place.
In short, if I don't know where to begin in some change situation, action research nevertheless allows me to get started. I can make up your mind as I go.
This feature allows action research to be used for other purposes. In fact, it seems to me that it might be useful whenever I find myself in an ambiguous research situation.
In particular, consider very exploratory research. Suppose I have a hunch that some situation, or some observation, is worth researching. But I don't know enough to choose a research approach. I might find action research useful for taking those early steps.
The idea I'm playing with here is that action research (or action-research-like processes) might constitute a meta-methodology. I don't know what methodology to use? Then I begin with action research until I have enough understanding to make an informed choice of methodology.
Copyright Bob Dick 1998-2000. May be copied if it is not included in any
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This may be cited as: Bob Dick (1998) Emergent methodologies.
Occasional pieces in action research methodology, # 10. Available
online at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arm/op010.html
Version 1.2; last modified 20000101
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