Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Reflections from an Action Researcher: Why We Do What We Do

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Reflections from an Action Researcher: Why We Do What We Do

Article excerpt

My reflections from the field are shared in an effort to assist others. I commence by describing a social problem that was the focus of an action research project. I then articulate the paradigmatic, methodological and method choices made. I share extracts of data collected during different stages of the project to illustrate cycles of learning, reflection, and the development of actionable knowledge. What is important for researchers who are contemplating choosing action research is to understand the philosophy behind their decisions; that they think carefully about "why we do what we do" in order to fully realise the outcomes of co-learning, developing actionable knowledge and, ultimately, making change.

Key words: Action research, methodology, philosophy, disability, careers

Why we do what we do

Philosophy: ... a system or school of thought: the philosophy of Descartes; the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a discipline: the philosophy of law; any system of belief, values or tenets (Wilkes 1979: 1101).

Many of the precepts of action research are not new, but neither are they well understood. I share here my thoughts about using action research from a philosophical perspective. Not that I am a philosopher, far from it. However, it would seem that if researchers wishing to use action research better under- stood the thinking and philosophical perspective that underpins it as a research methodology and as a discipline, there might be far fewer failures.

I am not alone in concerning myself with the philosophical orientations of action research. Cassell and Johnson (2006) also recognised that the diversity in action research processes and outcomes might be inspired by the different philosophical stances taken by researchers. And, like me, they were concerned that these philosophical orientations usually remained tacit, unspoken and unreported in the published accounts of action research (Cassell/Johnson 2006: 783). I reflect on a small exploratory research project by considering the choices made at all stages.

I will not discuss the history of the development of action research, nor will I discuss the many and varied "types" or "styles" of action research that have emerged and continue to develop, nor will I make yet another defensive argument about the need for rigour in action research, especially when it is conducted outside the positivist paradigm. What I will do is highlight action research as a methodology, different from other methodologies, because of the thinking and ways of knowing that underpin it as a means of doing research. I will also point out the merits and deficiencies of what I did to encourage action researchers to think carefully about why they do what they do. Quality in the research process comes from awareness of and transparency about the choices available and those made at each stage of the journey (Reason/MacKernan 2006). I commence by introducing the social problem identified for exploration. From there, I will articulate the paradigmatic, methodology and method choices made before concluding with a discussion of what was achieved, as a researcher and in terms of improving the human condition, as well as noting any limitations requiring attention in the future.

A social problem identified

The social problem identified here was that of the difficulties faced by working parents who care for a child with a significant, ongoing chronic illness or disability. Flawed assumptions prevail in our communities. First, it is believed that children are predominantly healthy and unburdened by issues of illness and disability traditionally associated with age and infirmity. The vast majority stili continue to believe that, should a health problem arise for a child, they will recover quickly as a result of the huge armamentarium of remedies available that have long since halted the intrusion of chronic childhood disease and disability into our modern existence (Vickers 2006). …

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