Action Research and Organizational Development

By J. Barton Cunningham | Go to book overview

3
The Early History of Action Research

The early history of action research can be attributed to contributions of experimental researchers, psychoanalysts, educators, operational researchers, medical researchers, and practitioners. 1 This chapter reviews the early history of action research and the key events and individuals associated with it.

Two traditions are associated with the early history of action research. The work of Kurt Lewin and his associates at the Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology became know for its group dynamics work. Another tradition grew from the work of a group of war-time researchers who later formed the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, Great Britain. The group dynamics stream sought to carry out experimental research and theory building, while the Tavistock stream used psychoanalytical skills in developing a social science. Both streams placed an emphasis on laboratory training and developing knowledge of group life in field settings. An off-shoot of these efforts were researchers who sought to develop approaches to action training and learning.

This chapter describes the early history of action research with the goal of illustrating the cases and research experiences that might be used to guide us.


ACTION RESEARCH IN THE UNITED STATES

Kurt Lewin is associated with an action research emphasis which began in the United States. The underlying theme was to work collaboratively with managers and workers to understand and study the problems affecting them. Lewin felt that psychology needed to do more than just explain behavior. "We must be equally concerned," he said, "with discovering how people change so that they learn to behave better."2 He had the conviction that any psychological problem could be examined in an experiment, and he was intrigued with the

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