- Pages: 18
- Word count: 4325
- Category: Education
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Part I: Action Research
Action research uses reflective techniques to solve the persisting problems. The main difference between action research and other methodologies is that objectives are hereby accomplished in teams as opposed to individual researchers. Cooke and Kothari (2001, p. 154) refers to the group of individuals achieving research objectives together as a “team of practice”. The group of individuals working together aim at addressing concerns affecting respective community. Members are therefore tasked to make contribution in the understanding of helping respective community overcome challenges. This methodology is thus more useful when dealing with more complex issues that require different viewpoints that are represented by the participating researchers.
Action research finds its roots in 1944 when Kurt Lewin, MIT professor, described it as system of studying the effects various conditions on social actions (Wendell & Cecil, 2003, p. 36). Action research is undertaken in three steps that are discussed later. The three stages go through three cycles: planning, action, and understanding result of action. The planning cycle regards how researchers will carry out the process, with each team member being allocated the respective duties and responsibilities in accordance to abilities. The second part of the cycle involves taking actions in accordance to the plans made previously. Each team member takes necessary measures, which are combined to reach group goals. The third part of the cycle involves finding out the results of the actions undertaken in the previous stage. The three stages of action research (unfreezing, changing refreezing) are discussed below in detail.
This stage involves creating awareness of the persisting research problem. The collaborating researchers embark on familiarizing themselves with the problem individually and collectively. At the individual level, researchers embark on understanding the possible connections between respective perceptions on the problem and reality on the ground. These matters are then discussed at the group level. The unfreezing stage thus helps researchers to get in touch with matters on the ground before starting to study the affecting factors and effects on societal actions. Failing to undertake the process could end up affecting later stages and therefore complicate the possibility of delivering fruitful results.
This second stage involves diagnosing the situation and consequently coming-up with models of behavior. Individual researchers embark on exploring and testing various behavior models that could be affecting actions in society. Individual researchers thus make observations regarding behaviors in allocated areas. It is upon presenting findings to the entire group that the entire picture comes out. After testing various behaviors, leaders embark on understanding the ones that best represent what is going on in the society. Each of the participating researchers thus embarks on presenting the chosen model to colleagues and consequently express reasons for dropping other models.
This last stage of action research involves evaluating, reinforcing and adopting the new behavioral model. Undertaking these measures helps in weighing the possibility of applying the new behavioral model in the society. The evaluation process is undertaken by the entire group, which discusses benefits and costs of the chosen behavioral model. Models that were dropped could also get a mention, especially on the reasons for not choosing them. The reinforcing process involves controlling for the weaknesses that could be observed in the behavioral models being adopted, and follows intense discussions between the collaborating researchers. The last stage of adopting the behavior model is only undertaken when the previous two processes are completely accomplished to researchers satisfaction.
The three stages of action research are applicable in many situations, including communities and organizations. Professional researchers use action research to help organizations of all sizes with processes of improving operational strategies and practices. This is done through evaluation of organizational behavior and their effects on actions. Participating researchers then recommend the adoption of new behaviors that have a positive impact on stakeholders’ actions that increase individuals and organizational productivity. Further, the findings of action research lead to organizations and individuals understanding more about their work environment. This is especially illustrated in the behavior depicted in respective organizations. The continued application of the system in organizations thus provides stakeholders, especially management, with more information on how to keep labor force morale high.
According to Cooke and Kothari(2001, p. 176) action research provides stakeholders with information regard possible future change in organizations and respective societies. This view develops from fact that the observed behaviors lead to practiced actions, which affect respective organizations and societies. Positive behavior models illustrate good future in respective entities, whereas negative models illustrate tough time ahead. In this regard, the professional researchers embark on adopting positive behavior models that would provide opportunities to have actions with positive impacts in respective organizations and societies. The success of action research in illustrating behavior change at the individual level leads to its application in lower levels of organizations and societies. For instance, individual departments in organizations can embark using researchers to recommend on ways of establishing and employing behavioral models with positive impact on labor force actions, and thus improve individual and departmental productivity.
Action research further goes beyond the traditional approach of reflective creation of knowledge. Instead, notes Burns (2007, p. 96) relies mostly on internal experts to provide the much needed research contribution. Action research can therefore be said to be on the forefront of creating knowledge through wider participation of most knowledgeable in respective fields. The use of knowledgeable professionals makes it possible for action research to attain goals in three important fronts. First, researchers are better positioned to theorize on various aspects of the study being undertaken, which helps in forming strong foundation in providing solution to the pressing social issue(s). Secondly, the diversity of researchers with diverse knowledge leads to the collection of the most useful data. The already held knowledge reduces the possibility of wasting time investigating which data should be collected and analyzed for respective studies. Third, discussions amongst participating researchers lead to the emergence of constant inquiry on best practices that could lead to more practical solutions to pressing social problems. The participation of various knowledgeable professionals is therefore action research’s competitive advantage over the competing methodologies, two of which would be discussed later in the paper.
Action research is not without criticism despite the strengths illustrated above. The participation of various knowledgeable researchers is especially seen as a double-edged sword, considering that individuals could be buried in their own project segments and therefore neglects group goals. Coordinating activities within the participating researchers could prove an uphill task for action research leaders. Individual researchers could in some instances have own agendas that conflict with those of colleagues and the collective. In this regard, the affected individuals could embark on following their respective agendas and thus complicate chances of achieving group goals. Action research leaders therefore have uphill tasks of ensuring that goals and aspirations are well share among participating individuals.
Action Research Theories
Action research is undertaken theories that attempt to explain how the methodology works. First is Action Science Theory by Chris Argyris (Burns, 2007, p. 104). The theory explains how humans act when faced with some difficult situation. Argyris theory further clarifies that individuals’ actions are directed at achieving some intended consequences, and they do not stop acting until goals are attained. Second is the Participatory Action Research by Paulo Freire. This (PAR) theory calls on education to be seen as collaboration between educators, students, and other stakeholders (Wendell & Cecil, 2003, p. 68). This is a drastic shift from the traditional approach of having pupils as just recipients and teachers as knowledge providers. The theory further tries to prove that pupils learn more when they take part in the process as confidence builds in their educational careers.
The third theory is Cooperative Inquiry by Peter reason and John Heron (Wendell & Cecil, 2003, p. 180). The theory states that action research focuses on including people in the research rather than researching on them. Taking people as important stakeholders leads to improved cooperation, as they feel obliged to provide the most helpful information during research, because they understand benefits that would accrue to respective society. Fourth is the Development Action Inquiry theory by William Torbert; it relies on gradual learning process that improves understanding social problems and thus perform research that end up providing proper solutions. This theory also includes wider stakeholders during research processes. Fifth is the Living Theory by Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead (Burns, 2007, p. 18). This theory emphasizes in the influence of personal experiences in action research. Practicing researchers thus borrow respective approach from experience they have gained throughout their career.
Part II: Systems Thinking
Systems thinking seek to solve social problems by subdividing them into smaller sections that are consequently dealt with accordingly. This generates from understanding that social issues are built of smaller sub-problems. Developing solutions for these smaller problems is seen as an easy affair compared to dealing with mega issues. Participants in systems thinking can focus on the small problems and thus come up with best solutions. Dealing with these issues individually helps improve understand the underlying causes and thus develop preventative measures—this also improves participating professionals skills of dealing with such problems in the future.
Researchers incorporating systems thinking embark on investigating the link between the smaller social issues, that is, the contributions each problem segment was making on the overall social problem. According to Checkland and Poulter (2006, p. 27) little isolation between issues are made during the research process. However, connection between the various issues is done towards the end of research. Individual researchers with experience in various sub-sections lead investigation therein. This provides opportunity for the contributing issues to be combed conclusively before being incorporated in solution finding processes. However, it is the connection between the various issues that help understand the real social problems, and therefore lead to development and implementation of best solutions.
Systems thinking further show possible societal consequences that could arise when small issues go undressed. Researchers using systems thinking thus embark on developing solutions for each and every small issue before escalating into a system-wide problem, especially considering the link between the issues. This approach thus lacks a comprehensive solution to societal issues. Instead, solutions lie in small solutions addressed in respective micro-problems. Addressing one micro system tends to reduce effects of other systems in the overall. Indeed, failing to address societal problems until they form a complex issue makes solution development more hard given various solutions that need to be incorporated. However, notes Roethlisberger and Dickson (2003, p. 50) that developing and implementing solution for one aspect of complex system could have a negative impact on the others. This calls for all the participating parties to develop and implement solutions on respective sections concurrently. The parties have to further coordinate implementation stages and thus avoid affecting each other’s processes. Most importantly, the collaborating researchers embark on evaluating possible conflict between respective solutions. Undertaking these measures from the beginning stages helps participating researchers to oversee possible conflicts and therefore implements only the less conflicting solutions. The participating researchers need to keep close communication between themselves and outside stakeholders.
Systems’ thinking is achieved through various models that participating researchers choose in the initial stages. First, the hard systems are used in complex problems that require complex solutions. Such systems are usually used in the operations research and computer techniques. Researchers using hard systems are tasked with the responsibility of investigating whether certain social issues can adequately be addressed using this approach before embarking on its application. This calls for incorporating stakeholder interests in various stages of applying hard systems. This approach is however critiqued as taking people as being passive in their undertakings instead of working through complex motivation approach. There also exist soft systems used in studies that lack quantifiable measures (Checkland & Poulter, 2006, p. 81). The soft systems are further used in situations where research subjects processes both qualitative and quantitative aspects. According to Lewin (2001, p. 118) are exceptionally strong when addressing issues pertaining to qualitative matters as they deal more with observation other than measuring. To get qualified results, soft systems embark on motivating individuals to participate in research processes. The subjects thus provide various viewpoints that enrich respective findings. The soft systems’ strength in motivating subjects to take part in respective research helps in dealing with the aforementioned situation of projects with both qualitative and quantitative components.
Principles of Systems Thinking
Systems’ thinking is undertaken through a set of principles, some of which are discussed in this section. Among the principles include independence of various attributes constituting the system. The interdependence takes place in two stages. First, individual attributes are approached and dealt with independently. This allows for total concentration on one measure and attain accurate within the appropriate time. The second stage is that of integrating concepts and addressing them as a collective. Addressing the attributes collectively leads reduces chances of developing solutions to one aspect and affecting the rest. A common approach to various attributes provides participating researchers to collaborate on various fronts. The principle of holism is applied in the systems thinking, especially when emerging properties are not capable of define the attributes. According to Roethlisberger Dickson (2003, p. 103) the holistic approach becomes useful when dealing with qualitative attributes are involved. Participating researchers have to therefore consider research subjects as rational and motivate them to take part in the research being undertaken. This holistic approach therefore forms the foundation for successful research when systems thinking methodology is applied.
The system further depends on the goal seeking principle. Participating researchers have to therefore set the goals they want to achieve individually and collectively. Each attribute of the research has to have goals coinciding with those of respective research project. Collective research goals are first developed, and researchers consequently encouraged to develop individual goals accordingly. In other words, collective research goals serve as guide for the researchers. This makes it possible for individual researchers’ to embark on developing short-term goals; these short-term goals are the ones combined to long-term research project objectives. The participating researchers further collaborate in discussing effectiveness of each other’s goals before implementing respective strategies. The system further relies on the principle on inputs and outputs to achieve the intended aims. The inputs are administered differently in open and closed systems. In the former, inputs are applied only once, usually at the beginning of research project. Open systems, however, allow for inputs to be applied in various stages of research project. Though some inputs are determined at the beginning, open systems allow for more inputs to be injected from the environment as the projects proceeds. The changing environment can therefore influence research findings in open systems, whereas closed systems are free form such influence.
Systems thinking is subject to the principle of regulation, that is, feed back mechanisms that enables researchers to measure effectiveness of their policies. The principle thus provides the participating researchers with ways of understanding areas that need improvement and the ones in dire need of total overhaul. The changing on ineffective strategies provide ways of predicting possible outcomes and therefore take necessary measures before matters get out of hand. The participating researchers are tasked with the responsibility of constantly improving strategies in accordance to feedbacks received from respective tasks. Discussing the feedbacks further help in improving research processes and thus attaining fruitful results.
Hierachy of microsystems is another systems that governs systems thinking research methodology. As discussed earlier, systems thinking is devided into several subsystems that are dealt with individually and collectively. These subsystems are arranged in hierachical order depending on their importance or urgency. Such arrangement enables participating researchers to address most important issues first and later deal with lesser issues. However, hierachical order is not rigid, as researchers can repositions microsystems when such need arises. This especially happens in open systems, which are regularly affected by the changing research environment. Reseachers can therefopre respond to the changing demand in their work in a timely and efficient manner.
The various microsystems are distinguised through differentiation principle, which states that each subsystem has to play specific role in respective research project. The differentiation in systems thinking is addressed through participation in research projects. The reserachers embark on forming working teams depending on their interersts and professional capabilities in specific areas. The diversity of talent enhances respective research group’s ability to deal with complex issues, as they can reach more accurate conclusions. Research project leaders are therefore tasked with the responsibility of ensuring diversity in the professionals taking part in the process. The differentiation of system thinking components and subsequent participation of professionals helps improve investigative process, and thus lead to more conclusive solutions to societal problems. Using the system constantly on respective projects improves overall team’s ability to tackle more complex problems.
Part III: Leadership and Change
This methodology is mostly used when organizations or society undergoing change process. The methodology is also important in day-to-day running of educational activities, as change happens at times. Instructors are therefore tasked with the responsibility of developing skills pertaining to providing ample leadership in times of change. The process calls on instructors and administrators to have proper understanding of the key components of proper leadership in times of change. Some of the most important aspects that leaders need to understand are discussed below in detail.
Understanding Organization: Leadership need to have proper understanding of the organization that is undergoing change. This includes understanding organizational vision and missions, both which serve as foundation of change. Leaders and instructors are therefore called on ensuring that strategies to be applied are inline with vision and mission, that is, they will help achieve respective organization’s long-term goals. In addition, the applied strategies need to be applied in accordance with organizational values. Poor understanding of subject organization could lead to implementation of strategies conflicting with respective vision, mission and values. Such a situation can only lead to failure in leading followers in attaining intended goals.
Stakeholder Involvement: This aspect calls on educational instructors and administrators to consider contribution of others in the process. This is a major shift from the traditional approach of having a differentiation between instruction providers and recipients. According to Cuban (2004, p. 47) letting recipients play central role in respective education attainment and more effort among participants. The close working relationship between instruction providers and recipients helps the latter to easily identify weaknesses. This improves collaboration in the process of developing coping measures. Working together in this manner results to win-win situation, with instructors improving respective skills whereas recipients grasp academic concepts better.
Exploration: Leadership is hereby required to be open to new ways of achieving the set goals. Most importantly, instructors need to experiment on different strategies of providing educational instructions. This is in understanding that only through such experimentation that best practices get developed. Collaboration between various instructors is especially encouraged; this would shorten the experimental time and therefore achieve the intended goals quicker than expected. In addition, the collaboration helps in critiquing each other’s strategies and therefore provides best opportunity to change ineffective strategies before their implementation. Continued exploration and collaboration, notes Blokker (1999, p. 39) helps organizations to be on the edge of best practices that improve individual and collective productivity.
Written Commitment: The agreement reached between the collaborating individuals in respective organization should be written and, when possible, signed. The written vision should be distributed to the participating individuals to become a reminder on what that needed to be achieved in both short and long run. Individuals that get constant reminder of the commitments made to the organization and fellow collaborators. The written shared visions should be subjected to regular updates—this helps in maintaining the use of best practices in educational programs. Though these commitments are made at the organizational level, individuals at team and departmental levels can also develop own commitment measures.
Organizational change can take place drastically or on gradual basis, but respective leadership should be prepared to help overcome both challenges. A proper preparation for organizational change takes place when organizational leadership develops coping measures in various stages of organizational change that are discussed herein.
The beginning stage of organizational stage is the formative period, which takes place at the beginning of respective organization’s existence. This period mostly involves creativity and formation of strong foundation for future growth. This is also the stage that respective leadership on academic setting embark on experimenting on various practices with hope of coming with strong ones, which get long-term adoption. This period further provides instructors with opportunities to develop long-term vision, mission and goals that would guide instructions. Instructors need to be entirely comfortable with various aspects of the vision, which they have to abide with in the long run. Creativity and innovation form the vital foundation of achieving success on this front.
The second period of organizational change is characterized by rapid growth, depending on the efficiency of strategies applied. This stage calls on educators to embark coordinating direction of organization in accordance to the laid vision and mission. In addition, instructors and administrators need to align respective organization along the set vision and mission. Rapid growth could lead to individuals focusing too much on private goals and less organizational ones, and thus increase chances of loosing direction. Administrators and individual participants are therefore tasked with the responsibility of seeing to it that measures are done according to plan. Bottom line at this stage is to keep matters under control in ensuring that right strategies are applied.
Organizational maturity is the third stage of change—also serves as the pinnacle of success. In educational setting, administration and instructors need to maintain the success being achieved at this stage, considering downward spiral is more likely if appropriate measures are not taken. Educational administrators and instructors thus embark on revitalizing respective educational system so as to maintain the success achieved in the past. Failing to employ new strategies could lead to gradual degradation of success that could have characterized the facility. Instructors should individually countercheck on educational strategies with the goal of improving them to the point of keeping up with best practices in the field.
Leaderships should be aware of fear of change that could be so prevalent in respective organizations. Many are stakeholders who feel that change could destroy the old way of doing things and thus reduce efficiency. This mentality could either delay change or postpone change indefinitely. Effective leaders help followers overcome such fear by explaining the importance thereof. Participation of all stakeholders, as illustrated earlier, is also vital in helping followers overcome fear of change. Most importantly, leaders are supposed to explain the long run benefits of change in respective organizations and individual followers. Taking further steps of asking for individual contribution during change increases chances of cooperation (Cuban, 2004, p. 88). This results to stakeholders owning the process in understanding that they, too, stand to benefit. Overall leaders should also embark on reminding followers on the importance of continuing to apply best practices in their daily educational activities.
The key to attracting others to embrace the change process, notes Wagner (2005, p. 17) is by developing strategies that colleagues and followers can associate with and incorporate in their organizational activities. Among best ways of achieving this goal is by calling on leaders to involve the others at all stages, from development to post implementation. Leaders usually make the mistake of developing change strategies for those in lower levels to practice or implement, which leads to the latter feeling less important in respective organizations. This kills motivation that is vital in helping achieve long run goals. Leaders thus need to adopt the tradition of incorporating stakeholders in process of instituting change. Granting total independence in the way goals are set and achieved should follow the inclusion of stakeholders in change process.
Indeed, followers should be granted the flexibility of attaining the much-needed flexibility in ways of applying strategies developed jointly. Senior management should, however, embark on overseeing the implementation of best practices throughout respective organization. On the other hand, individual collaborators should feel free to express opinion and share experiences during implementation stages—this could aid in improving strategies. The responsibility to implement strategies should be granted together with powers to improve on efficient measures and dropping the less efficient ones all together. Individuals in lower organizational ranks should further become more responsible in handling the powers granted to them, whereas senior leaders should not fee as if their powers are being snatched away. These measures lead to stakeholders feeling more enthusiastic in participating in change processes, and thus keep improving productivity and ability to achieve long-term vision through the commonly agreed mission statements. Incorporating various individuals views in the change process further serve as morale booster and as incentives of continued reliance on best practices.
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