Action Research LO7446
Thu, 16 May 1996 10:29:46 +1200

Replying to LO7407 --

Here is a definition of Participatory Action Research we offered in a
pepaer to a conference in Wellington, New Zealand concerning a project of

" Based on research experience to this point, the Economic Restructuring
and skills formation (ERSF) Project is also seeking to synthesise the
conventional use of case studies with a process of participatory action
research (PAR) within each case study site. As well as using the case
studies to illuminate the wider patterns of organisational change and
associated skills formation, the process of the research itself can be
developed as a tool which might be profitably applied by any organisation
seeking to clarify and develop its own skills needs and learning

Thus, the conventional research procedures of data gathering and analysis
are given meaning through an iterative dialogue between the researchers
and the subjects, to which the researchers bring prior theory, the tools
of data collection and analysis, and the skills of grounded theory
building, whilst the subjects bring the insights of their practical day to
day experience of the environment in which the data is being gathered.
Together, researchers and subjects create a broader and deeper
understanding of what is being studied that enriches the theoretical
models of the researchers and the quality of the policies and management
practices of the subjects. Both are described and disseminated as outputs
of the project.

In this way the project attempts to transcend the two conventionally
opposed epistemological positions of logical positivism and emancipated
meaning construction. These two positions have been demonstrated in Table
1 by Levin (1994).

Table 1: Theory, people and practice

Theory People Practice

Theory Theory is constructed based on "facts" derived from the
social system and is the task for scientists. Theory guides practice;
theory first, then practice.

People People participate in creating new knowledge. People
act on logic and models developed by others developed under different
social and material contexts.

Practice Theory is developed through solving practical problems.
Microemancipation is an integral part of the meaning construction

[Host's Note: the table arrived here looking pretty jumbled. ...Rick]

In our study we do not reject techniques of logical positivism, but we
note that modern conceptions of complexity in the biological and physical
sciences compels us to the view that, as Levin (1994) puts it:

Theory, understood as meaning constructed within the scientific community,
cannot be separated from the social world in which it is developed."

The Lewin (1994) citation is:

Lewin, M (1994) "Action Research and Critical systems Thinking: Two Icons
Carved out of the Same Log." In 'Systems Practice' 7 (1): pp 25-41..
Where you will also find Table 1 in an ungarbled form.


Phillip Capper
Centre for Research on Work, Education and Business
PO Box 2855
New Zealand


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