IS6602 - Seminar 3

IS6602 - Seminar 3

IS6602 Seminar 3 Methods I: Action Research 1 Introduction Action Research (AR) is a method of research and organisational change that is sometimes adopted by consultants AR is useful for IS6602 because it facilitates a very structured approach to the activities that consultants undertake I have used AR in several consulting projects in different industry sectors AR is very similar in general principles/structure to the

proprietary consulting methods used by McKinsey, PWC etc.2 Origins AR was developed in the mid-1940s by Kurt Lewin and focused on a three-stage process: 1) Unfreezing, 2) Changing and 3) Refreezing 1. The existing mind-set has to be dismantled 2. The old is replaced with something new 3. The new mind-set is frozen into place and an equilibrium is restored Lewin also argued that only through experience can people really change 3 Lewin, AR and Consulting

Lewins contributions to knowledge are important for consultants, who must: Work with clients to help them understand the nature of a problem This involves rationalization making sense Provide a change process that addresses the problem Help clients to accept the new mind-set that is created This involves institutionalization ensuring that everyone buys in to the solutions The client experience is central to consulting practice Happy Clients = Success 4 Later Developments

In 1978, Roger Susman and Gerard Evered proposed a new model for AR They expanded the three stage model to five, which operates in a cyclical fashion 1) Diagnosis, 2) Action Planning, 3) Action Taking, 4) Evaluation, 5) Reflection In addition to this formal structure, there is a need for a formal agreement between the consultant and the client 5 Modified 1978 Model Exit Entrance

Diagnosis Reflection (Learning) Researcher-Client Consultant-Client Agreement Action Planning Agreement Evaluation

(Assessment) Intervention (Action taking) 6 AR Definition Action Research involves solving organisational problems improving organisational circumstances for all stakeholders (employees, managers, customers) by means of consultant intervention, thus contributing to knowledge about method, theory &

organisational practice 7 AR Characteristics Iterative One or more cycles of interventions is normal Rigorous Carefully planned iterations to develop detailed problem context knowledge and to identify relevant solutions Continuous problem (re)diagnosis Flexible application of the method

Collaborative Consultants and Clients must work together Clients must actively participate in the project 8 AR and Clients As a method, AR has seen application by both researchers (academics) and consultants AR requires the application of theory Clients may not care about theory; all they want is a solution to an organisational problem Consultants and clients need to work together collaboratively, which can be a huge challenge for both parties

They need to listen, to discuss, to reflect 9 AR and Theory A theory is a plausible body of principles offered to explain phenomena The Theory of Planned Behaviour Punctuated Equilibrium theory Shifting Baseline Theory Work Systems Theory

The purpose of a theory is to describe and explain how things actually work (Lyneham, 2002) 10 AR and Theory Application We use theories to organise and make sense of phenomena explain and predict human behaviour focus on the most fundamental ideas, showing the relationships between these ideas provide a consistent set of concepts and principles that we can compare with reality Theories are useful if they guide and structure the design of a

project Theories may need to be adapted to a specific context 11 Which Theories Do You Know? They dont have to be academic theories But they do need to help you make sense of something They might describe your successful behaviour in a particular domain You might not think that they are theories at all; perhaps you call them models, techniques, heuristics? But whatever you call them, they should be things that you can consistently apply to a situation so as to achieve predictable outcomes 12

AR, the Organisation and Change An AR project can be expected to investigate the evolution of an organisational change process in detail Each organisational context will have a unique set of constraints and idiosyncrasies Organisations are not static objects: You cant plan everything in advance There is an infinite variety of circumstances to which you must adapt! A plan is useful, but must also be flexible as the situation changes 13 The Need for Guidelines

Any method needs guidelines if it is to be used consistently and correctly Consultants need to know what they are doing and how to do it well, so as to ensure: Consistency when applying the method Plans and interventions are rigorous (methodologically correct) and relevant (useful, consumable, readable, meaningful and value adding to the client) 14 Improving AR as a Method AR has been applied quite extensively in the last 35 years, but before 2000 there were no detailed how to do AR guidelines Based on our experience, we wrote up such a set of guidelines in two papers; a 3rd paper is in progress.

These guidelines were designed to be helpful, but not deterministic. These guidelines were originally written for researchers, but I adapt them here for consultants 15 Principles of AR (2004) In our first paper, we developed a set of five principles and 31 criteria that were designed to: apply to most AR situations be interdependent yet flexible facilitate

clear/systematic presentation of findings, justification of courses of action, explicit contributions to knowledge an assessment of how well the AR was done 16 Modified 1978/2004 Model Exit Entrance Diagnosis Reflection

(Learning) Researcher-Client Consultant-Client Agreement Action Planning Agreement Evaluation (Assessment) Intervention

(Action taking) 17 Theory & AR (2012) In our second paper, we revised some criteria, added others and focused in particular on the role of theory We identified two different types of theory instrumental focal and documented how each contributes to making AR better. 18

New Cyclical Process Model (2012) Project End Project Start Diagnosis Action Planning Reflection Instrumental Theory Focal Theories

Consultant-Client Agreement Evaluation Intervention 19 Principles & Criteria 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Consultant-Client Agreement Cyclical Process Model Role of Theory Change through Action Specification of Learning 20 1. Consultant-Client Agreement Guiding foundation for the project Client must understand what CAR involves Mutual guarantees for behaviour, including an NDA and consultant rights Basis for building trust in the organisational context Promote a spirit of shared inquiry, such that the client

accepts the principle of collaboration and the consultant gains access to resources 21 CCA Criteria a. Did both the consultant and the client agree that AR was the appropriate method for the organisational situation? b. Was the focus of the project specified clearly and explicitly? c. Did the client make an explicit commitment to the project? d. Were the roles and responsibilities of the consultant and client stakeholders specified explicitly? e. Were project objectives and evaluation measures specified explicitly? f. Were the data collection and analysis methods specified explicitly?

22 2. Cyclical Process Model Sequential progress through the Cyclical Process Model helps to ensure rigour Some between-stage iteration may occur, but it needs to be justified Usually several cycles are necessary It is rare that a problem can be fixed quickly Considerable time and energy, from many people, are required 23 CPM Criteria a. Did the project follow the cyclical process model or justify any deviation from it?

b. Did the consultant conduct an independent diagnosis of the organisational situation? c. Were the planned actions based explicitly on the results of the diagnosis? d. Were the planned actions implemented and evaluated? e. Did the consultant reflect on the outcomes of the intervention? f. Was this reflection followed by an explicit decision on whether or not to proceed through an additional process cycle? 24 CPM Criteria g. Were both the exit of the consultant and the conclusion of the

project due to either the project objectives being met or some other clearly articulated justification? h. How was the independent diagnosis of the organisational situation conducted? i. Which instrumental theories did the consultant use? j. How were these theories selected? k. How did these theories support the identification of the focal theory used to guide the changes? l. Post-intervention, did the consultant reflect on the instrumental theories used and their suitability? 25 3. Theory Theory is a central component of Action Research Theory can help the consultant to analyse a situation,

to ask the right questions and then to plan the changes However, it is highly unlikely that a consultant will know definitely and in advance the exact theory that will be used So the consultant may need to engage in theory-free problem diagnosis at the start of a project 26 Theory Lewin (1945): There is nothing so practical as a good theory Ghoshal (2005): Nothing is as dangerous as a bad theory Both of these two statements apply equally to AR

Selection of an appropriate theory must be handled with great care given the potential for negative consequences in the organisational setting. 27 Instrumental Theory Instrumental theories Help us to organize our thoughts, generate coherent explanations [and so] achieve understanding (Hambrick, 2007). Will be practical (Lewin 1945) and closely match reality (cf. Weick 1995). Instrumental theories are particularly valuable for diagnosis and planning

They play a mediating role between client and researcher They are used to explain and analyse organisational activities related to the project/problem They include any tools, models or processes that help us to make sense of how work is done or how outcomes are achieved. 28 Examples of Instrumental Theories

Balanced Scorecard Value Shop, Value Chain, Business Process Models Porters Five Forces Analysis SWOT and PEST Work Systems Theory Any model or theory that can be applied to an organisational situation so as to make sense of what people do 29 Focal Theory Provides the intellectual basis for action-oriented change in a CAR project.

Is unlikely to remedy an organisational problem alone; must be in combination with one or more instrumental theories Must be aligned to the precise organisational circumstances Good examples of general purpose focal theories are: Theory of Planned Behaviour Technology Adoption Model Punctuated Equilibrium Theory Transactive Memory Theory 30 PET: Punctuated Equilibrium Theory Unlike theories of steady but slow incremental change, PET suggests that change takes place in revolutionary bursts, triggered by significant environmental changes that break apart a systems deep structures

Technological innovation can be one such environmental change Killer IT innovations can be seen as examples of these punctuations 31 TMT: Transactive Memory Theory Individual people can serve as external memory aids to each other (Wegner, 1986) Members of a Transactive Memory (TM) System (TMS) can benefit from each others knowledge and expertise if they develop a good, shared understanding (meta-memory) of who knows what. TMS enable better use of knowledge held by members and so higher performance

32 Indigenous Theory Sometimes it may be that you cannot find any theory that adequately maps onto a specific organisational situation and gives you guidance about what kinds of action to follow You may need to develop your own theory, perhaps after the intervention is completed, in order to explain better what happened Do Western theories make sense in China? Are there local constructs, concepts, ways of thinking that are not represented in the Western theories, yet which are critical to local behaviour? 33

Theory & Consequences What might go wrong if we pick an inappropriate theory? We could push the organisation to change in a direction that does not fit its organisational culture, leading to internal conflicts, or worse. We need to choose a theory that fits the organisational circumstances, the IT, the people, the culture. The client needs to approve the theory. 34 Theory Criteria a. Were the project activities guided by a theory or set of theories?

b. Was the domain of investigation, and the specific problem setting, relevant and significant to the interests of the consultant as well as the client? c. Was an instrumental theory used to derive the causes of the observed problem? d. Did the planned intervention follow from this instrumental theory? e. Was the focal theory used to evaluate the outcomes of the intervention? 35 f. g. h.

i. j. k. l. Theory Criteria Did a focal theory emerge from the situation or during the problem diagnosis? Was this focal theory acceptable to both client and consultant? What role did instrumental and focal theories play with respect to the diagnosis and the action planning? Were these theories evaluated for their applicability to the organisational context, considering current organisational practices? Did both the consultant and the client undertake this evaluation?

Were theoretical explanations for the current organisational problem situation evaluated and reflected upon? Did the consultant reflect on the focal theory used and its ability to predict the change outcomes? 36 4. Change through Action Action and change are indivisible If there is no change No problem, intervention failed, or obstacles prevent successful intervention Both consultant and client must be motivated to design and implement change The change needs to be contextually and culturally

appropriate 37 Change through Action Criteria a. Were both the consultant and the client motivated to improve the situation? b. Were the problem and its hypothesized cause(s) specified as a result of the diagnosis? c. Were the planned actions designed to address the hypothesized cause(s)? d. Did the client approve the planned actions before they were implemented? e. Was the organisation situation assessed comprehensively both before and after the intervention? f. Were the timing and nature of the actions taken clearly and

completely documented? 38 5. Learning through Reflection After the intervention is complete, the consultant and the client need to reflect on progress Did the practical solutions work? If not, why not? What else could be done? Were the theory and the method appropriate? What else was learned that can inform either future interventions in the current project or future projects? 39

Learning through Reflection Criteria a. Did the consultant provide progress reports to the client? b. Did both the consultant and the client reflect upon the outcomes of the project? c. Were the research activities and outcomes reported clearly and completely? d. Were the results considered in terms of implications for further action in this situation? e. Were the results considered in terms of implications for action to be taken in related research domains? f. Were the results considered in terms of implications for the consulting community? g. Were the results considered in terms of the general applicability of AR as a method? 40

Conclusions AR is a very practical and flexible method It provides a framework for consultants to apply to different situations and explains how theory can help It provides many criteria (questions) that push the consultant to engage in different activities It does not go into the precise details of how the clients needs can be diagnosed: we will look at this next week. 41

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