Mandated action research

I have written often that I am a great believer in the power of action research, i.e., small-scale, practically-oriented studies that is carried out by professionals in their settings in response to specific challenges. I strongly believe in its potential to positively affect change, and to supplement top-down production of knowledge.

An action research cycle
An action research cycle (click to enlarge)

What I have perhaps not stated as emphatically, is that I am very doubtful about policies that mandate action research. Whether out of genuine belief in its potential, or out of a perceived need to align to current narratives of best practice, school policies increasingly endorse action research, and sometimes do so even in the face of scepticism by the people who are supposed to implement such projects.

An article that recently appeared online in Action Research provides some interesting empirical insights into what effects mandated action research policies might have, with particular reference to intra-group politics. You can access it by clicking the link below:

Politics and action research: An examination of one school’s mandated action research program

The article reports on a case study of a project that took place in an elementary school in the US. The school, which was perceived to be failing, received funding to empower teachers through action research. The authors note that, because the action research projects were somewhat inflexibly imposed, and there was not always a clear sense of ownership from all participants, they ran into a number of problems, including disconnect between team members and the role of ‘resistors’ to change. They also point out that:

Simply having time [to implement a programme] does not ensure the success of an action research program. While the data from this study confirm that time is, indeed, a key factor in managing the work of action research, how time was allocated and utilized was highly controversial.

This article stands out in the literature, which often reports on the success of action research programmes, while masking potential challenges. It also highlights the real danger that what was meant to be an empowering development experience, can –if implemented without democratic sensitivity– devolve into an exercise in power.

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The full reference for the article is: Flessner, R., & Stuckey, S. (2013). Politics and action research: An examination of one school’s mandated action research program. Action Research. doi: 10.1177/1476750313515281

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