Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Action Research to Improve the Human Condition: An Insider-Outsider and a Multi-Methodology Design for Actionable Knowledge Outcomes*

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Action Research to Improve the Human Condition: An Insider-Outsider and a Multi-Methodology Design for Actionable Knowledge Outcomes*

Article excerpt

The purpose of this manuscript is to share the development of an action research project that utilized different methodological perspectives for different stages of the project. I begin with a brief overview of the substantive orientations of the project, before concentrating on the particulars of the research process. I focus on, to start, my status as a researcher "insider-outsider" to both the research process and investigated phenomenon. A detailed explication of the action research design follows, drawing attention to the three distinct evolving stages of the project, and my use of both Heideggerian phenomenology and naturalistic inquiry to elicit the rich data required for this action research project. Data is presented from each of the three stages of the study to demonstrate how the generation of actionable knowledge took place. The journey from learning and the creation of local theory, to an action plan and practical, actionable knowledge outcomes is carefully explored. The paper concludes by sharing how actionable knowledge outcomes at the local, individual level can also be used as input to actionable knowledge on a much wider scale with a national study, currently underway in Australia being described - all in the interests of improving the human condition.

Keywords: Action research, qualitative research, narratives, careers, chronic illness

A research project to improve the human condition

It has been suggested that social scientists carry a special burden of responsibility. It is necessary but not enough that the profession engage in disinterested pursuit of knowledge. It must encourage and support within itself scientific work that has as its aim the mutual enrichment of social sciences and the practical affairs of man [sic]. (Emery 1977, 206).

The purpose of this manuscript is to report on an action research project and show how the evolving nature of the project contributed significantly to what action research ultimately seeks to do - to improve the human condition. Action research exists to promote liberating social change (Greenwood 2002, 128). Like the study conducted by Emery and Thorsrud (1975, 1), the first stage of this project concentrated on the experiences of participants, while the latter stages focused more on opportunities for human development and social change. Like Emery (1977, 1), I was seeking to identify ways in which examining and changing the conditions for participants could assist in making their future. I have included data in this manuscript, not to demonstrate particular substantive themes or outcomes from the research per se, as is usually the case with qualitative research reports. Instead, I report the development of one theme to depict the development of the various stages of the research process, and how each succeeded in capturing relevant and meaningful data, how the data gathered was influenced by the researcher's choices, how the process positively influenced respondent's lives and, ultimately, how the project has mapped the path to wider social change for the future.

The action research project reported here focused on the lives of people who work full time while also caring for a child with a significant chronic illness.1 Children with chronic illness are a significant group of the population (Martin/Nisa 1996, 1). For example, in Australia where this study was instigated, of the 3.9 million children aged between 0 to 14 years in 1998, almost one in seven had a long-term health condition (594,600 or 15%), with boys more likely (18%) to be affected than girls (13%). Examples include: cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, asthma; cystic fibrosis; diabetes; myelodyplasia; hydrocephalus; cleft palate; burns; cancer; or other physical disability as a result of trauma or congenital anomalies (Burke et al. 1999). However, in this study, concern lay with the parents who worked full time. Several things impinged on their work lives regularly: An obvious one was the need to take children to the doctor and the existence of a chronic illness would infer an increased regularity of such visits. …

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