The aim of this chapter is to provide some insight into ways in which action research can contribute to the development of theory about the implementation of the NPM ideals. There are many forms of action research, so it is important to begin by saying what is meant by the term here. For readers who have encountered action research before, I emphasize that I am not concerned here with varieties of action research that are forms of self-development or organizational development such as those propounded by Eldon and Chisholm (1993), Reason and Bradbury (2000), Stringer (1996) and Whyte (1991). The promotion of ideological positions about participation and empowerment that is intrinsic to many of the latter approaches is also not pertinent to this chapter.
The focus here is on a variety of action research that has been explicated in some detail by Eden and Huxham (1996). It is a methodology for carrying out research into management and organizations. While some such forms of action research stress explicit setting and testing of hypotheses (Alderfer 1993), the Eden and Huxham approach is firmly set within the phenomenological paradigm. As, for example, with ethnographic research, this form of action research derives theoretical insights from naturally occurring data rather than through interviews or questionnaires (Marshall and Rossman 1989). Its distinctive feature as a research methodology is its requirement that the researcher actually intervenes in the organizations studied, working with organizational members on matters of genuine concern to them. In these circumstances, rich data can be collected about what people do and say - and what theories are used and are usable - when they are faced with a genuine need to take action. The data are 'timely' in the sense that they are collected at the point of happening, rather than through post hoc recollection and rationalization. Such data have the potential to provide both new and unexpected insights so theory development processes are inductive - leading to 'emergent theory' - in order to encourage this.
Action research can complement other approaches to understanding NPM. It is particularly appropriate for investigating issues in the implementation of policy because it can lead to deep conceptualizations about what can happen in practice and the reasons for this. It is well placed in its potential for developing theory that will be of relevance to practice because each intervention provides