Action Research and Collaborative Management Research: More Than Meets the Eye?

Article excerpt

Action research and collaborative management research emerge from different traditions and each begins from a different foundational position in regard to action and to collaboration. Both are different from the traditional research, evaluative research or practitioner research orientations. From a grounding in a philosophy of practical knowing as social science, this article engages in a comparative theoretical exploration of action research and collaborative management research through a focus on the operations of human knowing which yield a general empirical method. It reviews the origins of each approach and how they differ significantly from each other in the context in which they operate, with consequent differences in how the research is implemented and how the relationship between the parties is structured. The general empirical method provides a critical perspective on assessing the quality of action research and collaborative management research in terms of dimensions of real-life action, the quality of collaboration, the quality of inquiry in action and sustainability. The aim is to develop understanding of how these two approaches relate to one another so as to advance knowledge of the different modalities or expressions that comprise the broad field of action- and collaborativeoriented research as a social science of practical knowing.

Key words: action research, collaborative management research, general empirical method


As the field of management research matures, so are the different streams of thoughts and practice that emerged during the past century. "Management" and "research" are the targets for growing criticism. Management and its practitioners are criticised in the public debate and in scholarly writings for acting irrationally based on unfounded beliefs and imitation (Pfeffer, 2009). Management science and the researchers it engages are criticised for producing knowledge of little relevance for management practice (Starkey, et al., 2009). Action research and collaborative management research approaches, embedded in a synergistic engagements of managers and researchers, enhances the relevance of both for management practice (Shani, et al., 2008; Coghlan, 2011a). In this article, we locate practical knowing as social science, describing its characteristics so as to ground the foundation of how action research and collaborative management research have the potential to yield both robust theory for scholars and actionable knowledge for practitioners. We examine and distinguish between action research and collaborative management research, in order to demonstrate the unique added value of each and possible limitations. The general empirical method advanced by Coghlan (2010a) will provide the standard template for the comparative investigation.

The evolution of management inquiry is characterised by methods that are based on varied degrees of action and collaboration that were advanced during the last (and the current) century, each of which seems to emphasise distinct scientific or collaborative or action features. Such methodologies include action research, participatory action research, action learning, action science, developmental action inquiry, co-operative inquiry, clinical inquiry/research, appreciative inquiry, learning history, intervention research, and collaborative management research, to mention a few (Shani, Adler, & Styhre, 2004; Coghlan, 2010a). The collaborative and action research orientations are based on a specific world view (ontology), epistemology that expresses how we seek to know (the theory of knowledge) and methodologies that articulate the approach that is being adopted for inquiry (Cassell & Johnson, 2006).

This article utilises the structure of human knowing framework to contrast action research and collaborative management research. The structure of human knowing involves the experiencing and the questioning of the experience in order to arrive at some judgment that helps verifies the answer to the question (Dewey, 1933; KoIb 1984; Lonergan, 1992). …


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