21     Generalisation (1)



Speaking only for myself ...


I touched on the issue of generalisation in the occasional pieces on grounded theory.  There I made the point that there are advantages in expressing theories in terms of situation, desired outcomes, and intended actions.  Very briefly:

     in situation S ( actions A --> outcomes O )

I said that one reason for doing so was that participants might then experiment with using the same actions to produce similar outcomes in similar situations.  When this has been done several times then participants may develop some confidence that their theory is generalisable, at least tentatively.  This may occur several times within a single study, or across several studies.

The resulting generalisation may be peculiar to a particular person or group, of course.  I don't do facilitation or consulting or action research in quite the same way as my colleagues.  If I did I would be ignoring my own skills and strengths and experience.

Each person is different.  Each situation is different.  For that matter we seldom produce precisely the same sequence of actions on different occasions.  I expect this is why it is commonly held that you can't generalise from action research.

But I think that is unnecessarily defeatist.

Suppose other people try similar actions in similar settings.  And suppose they achieve similar outcomes.  Then it may be argued that generalisability has been demonstrated.

Beyond that, I may also test my personal generalisations against the literature.  I may note there where others have carried out similar actions, with similar results.

For these reasons I often avoid the relevant literature when I am experimenting with a new skill or a new process.  I decide by trial and error what works for me.

I can then use the literature for several purposes.  I can note the similarities and differences to my generalisations.  I can refine my own actions.  I can note which generalisations do tend to apply more generally.



Copyright Bob Dick 1999-2000.  May be copied if it is not included in any
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This may be cited as:   Bob Dick (1999) Generalisation (1).  Occasional
pieces in action research methodology, # 21.  Available online at

Version 1.2;  last modified 20000101


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