9    Cyclic critical reflection


Speaking only for myself ...


As I've said, to my mind the cyclic nature of action research is part of its special strengths.  The use of cycles allows action research to be both flexible and rigorous.  Each cycle includes critical reflection, which contributes to both.

To continue the "cycles within cycles" theme ...  Embedded cycles constitute a form of process.  Even more importantly, I think, they can support a particular mindset.  This is what I wish to explore in this occasional piece.

I think of each cycle as consisting of planning, action and critical reflection.  This is true whether a cycle occupies seconds or years.

For instance, consider a major action research project.

One may begin by anticipating what will happen, and developing a broad plan.  At the end of the project there is typically a period of reflection and review.  The result is that, over the course of the project, new light has been cast on the assumptions underlying the plan.

Or move to the opposite end of the continuum: to cycles which occupy only seconds or less.  It is here that the nature of action research as a performing art is most evident.

For instance, imagine an action researcher about to query a colleague.  She might first be clear about the outcomes she is pursuing with her question.  Then she asks it.  Then she checks if it achieved the intended outcomes.

It is also in the briefer cycles, I think, that the relationship between tacit and explicit knowledge is more apparent.

I think my natural talents as a theorist exceed my natural talents as a facilitator.  Yet, when it matters most, I find that there isn't time to theorise.

There is too much happening, on too many channels.  My actions are then driven by my tacit theories.  Becoming aware of them is difficult enough in later reflection, and even more difficult during action.

So in planning I draw on my explicit theories.  In action, tacit theories often guide me.  In later critical reflection I have time to ask if my explicit theories corresponded to the theories implied by my actions.

To return to the theme ...  It is when I adopt a particular mindset that this seems to happen most effectively.  There are times when I am able to adopt this mindset.  It consists in being conscious of my intentions, willing to follow my intuitions, and willing to be open to evidence that my tacit or explicit theories don't work.

And this is when I seem to be alive.  And most open to learning.




Copyright Bob Dick 1998-2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
material sold at a profit, and this and the following notice are shown

This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (1998) Cyclic critical reflection.
Occasional pieces in action research methodology, # 9.  Available
online at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arm/op009.html

Version 1.2;  last modified 20000101


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