17     Grounded theory (2)



Speaking only for myself ...


This is one of a sequence of occasional pieces on the form of "grounded theory" that action research might produce.  In the previous piece I suggested that action research processes were good at developing understanding from experience.  Theory grounded in experience.  One might reasonably label this "grounded theory".

Within each action research cycle practice informs theory which in turn informs practice.  It seems to me that this cyclic building block is able to offer many advantages.

If you look specifically at the way it develops theory, you may well decide that it isn't all that different from experimental research.  Experiments take place in the context of the theoretical literature, which they add to or challenge.  You might say that there, too, theory informs the practice of experimentation which modifies the theory.

In effect, each experiment is a cycle.  One of the differences in action research is that the cycles are smaller.  A given action research study contains many cycles.  And they in turn may include still smaller cycles.  One of the earlier occasional pieces addressed this: there are cycles within cycles.

There is another difference which also appeals to me as important.  It is that the theories tend to be different in at least two respects.

First, and most obviously, the theories in action research tend to be about practice.  They inform practice, thus producing the "action".  They are immediately tested in practice, thus confirming the "research".

Second, the theories tend to be more general.  They tend to deal with complex situations.  They are expected to guide action.  I think, therefore, that one appropriate form for them is:

In situation S, to produce outcomes O1, O2, ..., try actions A1, A2, ...

This form of theory clearly and directly attempts to inform action.  It is immediately tested in action.  In specifying the important features of the situation it also allows its generalisability to be tested in other similar settings.




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) Grounded theory (2).  Occasional
pieces in action research methodology, # 17.  Available online at

Version 1.2;  last modified 20000101


These "occasional pieces" form part of a substantial action research site at
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