Action Research in Organizational Development

Action research is another view of the organizational change process. It is an organizational change process that is based on a research model specifically one that contributes towards the betterment of the sponsoring organization and contributes to the advancement of knowledge of organizations in general. In Action Research, the change agent is usually an outside person, who is involved in the total change process, from diagnosis to evaluation. This person usually contracts with the sponsoring organization to engage in organizational research, whereas the typical change agent is called in to make a specific change. Action Research in organizational development provides a scientific methodology for managing planned change.

  • Kurt Lewin described action research as “a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action” that uses “a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action”.
  • In The Handbook of Action Research, Reason and Bradbury (2006) defined action research as “a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, grounded in a participatory worldview which we believe is emerging at this historical moment. It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions of pressing concern to people and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities”.
  • French and Bell (1995) describe Action Research as a “process of systematically collecting research data about an ongoing system relative to some objective, goal, or need of that system; feeding these data back into the system; taking actions by altering selected variables within the system based both on the data and on hypotheses; and evaluating the results of actions by collecting more data”.
  • Shani and Pasmore described “Action research may be defined as an emergent inquiry process in which applied behavioral science knowledge is integrated with existing organizational knowledge and applied to solve real organizational problems. It is simultaneously concerned with bringing about change in organizations, in developing self-help competencies in organizational members and adding to scientific knowledge. Finally, it is an evolving process that is undertaken in a spirit of collaboration and co-inquiry”.

The process of Action Research consists of five steps as explained below:

  1. Diagnosis: In the first step, the change agent gathers information about problems, anxieties and required changes from members of the organization. The information is gathered by asking questions, interviews, review of records and listening to employees. The diagnosis will help the agent in finding out what is actually ailing the organization.
  2. Analysis: The information gathered in the first step is analyzed in this step. The type consistency and patterns of problems are studied. This information is analyzed into primary concerns, problem areas and possible actions.
  3. Feedback: In this step, the change agent will share will the employees what has been found in steps one and two. Thus, the employees will be actively involved in any change programme. In determining what the problem is and how to create the solution. The change agent, in participation with the employees, develop action plans for bringing about any needed change.
  4. Action: Action plans decided in the previous step are set in motion in this step. The employees and the change agent carry out the specific actions to correct the problems that have been identified.
  5. Evaluation: As action research provides a scientific methodology for managing the planned change, in the final step, the change agent evaluates the effectiveness of the action plans. Using the initial data as the benchmark, any subsequent changes can be compared and evaluated.

Action research is a very important change process. It is a problem focused method. The change agent looks for problems and on the basis of the problems he decides the change action. Since employees are actively involved in the change process, the resistance to change is reduced. The evaluation of the organization and any changes taken to improve it over a period of change can provide valuable information to both the organization and the researcher.

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