Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Action Research in Practice: Issues and Challenges in a Financial Services Case Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Action Research in Practice: Issues and Challenges in a Financial Services Case Study

Article excerpt


In action research (AR), researchers and practitioners collaborate to improve a problem situation of concern. The practitioners' objective in this collaboration is to learn about the situation of concern, and to achieve a resolution, or at least an improvement in that situation, whereas the researchers are interested in utilising the context to learn and to develop new knowledge. AR methods, as Baskerville and Myers (2004) argue, "provide one avenue to improve the practical relevance of IS [information systems] research" (p. 329). This is because, in contrast to research that employs experiments and simulation, action researchers, in seeking to improve actual problem situations, tend to avoid the problems associated with the separation of research and practice (Avison & Wood- Harper, 1991; Baskerville & Wood-Harper, 1996; Susman & Evered, 1978). Thus, in a sense the laboratory of an AR study is the real world (McKay & Marshall, 2001b; Susman & Evered). In the case of AR projects pertaining to business IS problems or tasks such as information requirements determination, IS strategy formulation, and the like, the laboratory is the organisation. The organisational actors in these cases, again in contrast to the participants in experiments or simulated activities, face actual situations with real consequences flowing from their actions or decisions. They tend to be committed to finding a solution or resolution as they must live with that solution on a daily basis.

Although one can achieve high validity and relevance in AR, the management challenges in AR projects are considerable (Avison, Baskerville, & Myers, 2001). Successful AR projects require the management of two independent sets of activities--a problem-solving activity (a in Figure 1) and a research activity (b in Figure 1).


AR in IS involves, on the part of the researcher, a commitment to social or organisational problem-solving, and, simultaneously, a commitment to generating new knowledge through the engagement in the problem-solving activity (Baskerville & Wood-Harper, 1996; Eden & Huxham, 1996; McKay & Marshall, 2006). Achieving an appropriate balance between the problem-solving interest and the research interest is a major challenge for action researchers (McKay & Marshall, 2006). Too strong and exclusive a focus on the problem-solving activity can marginalize and weaken the research considerations and activities, causing the action research project to resemble a consulting activity which is reflected upon after the solution to the problem to produce research results that lack adequate grounding and depth. Thus the AR project comes to represent reflective practice rather than rigorous research. On the other hand, an overly strong and exclusive focus on the research can neglect a real and lasting solution to the practical problem at hand. Such a solution is an ethical obligation of the researchers, and so ethical concerns arise from such neglect. Furthermore, a shallow and temporary solution to the problem can mean shallow and possibly misleading research conclusions. Thus there needs to be a balance between the dual imperatives of solving a problem of real social and organizational interest and importance, and generating new and valid knowledge via acceptably rigorous research activities.

In this paper we will reflectively consider the challenges and issues in an AR project in the financial services sector as the research team struggled to deal with the dual imperatives of successful organisation problem-solving and positive research outcomes. We contribute to the AR literature by giving a personal and direct account of the issues and challenges in an AR study. First-hand and personal accounts of the difficulties, problems, and issues experienced in AR practice are rarely given, although there are some examples such as Cunha and de Figueiredo (2006). …

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