Action Research and Strategic Analysis: Learning From Each Other

I have a foot in both camps: business strategic analysis/organisational development and academic organisational research.  I’m always interested when one can add something to the other – and this is the purpose of this posting.

Action Research is a field of organisational research that aims to be rigorous source of academic knowledge in the ‘tricky’ area of people in organisations.  By ‘tricky’ I mean that people are unpredictable – they have their own minds.  Therefore research does not lend itself to the ‘certainty’ that can be found in maths, physics and other hard sciences.  However, a rigorous approach to researching people in organisations can provide valuable insights that can be of benefit to organisations themselves and academia.

In order to achieve this research must be rigorously set up, conducted and assessed.  This is vital in order to follow the inevitable twists and turns that occur in researching people and organisations.  In my experience the world of strategic analysis has much to learn from academia, even the big management consulting firms could pick up more than a few tips.

Several years ago the NHS Research Health Technology Assessment team came up with a number questions that help to assess the quality of research, analysis and projects in Action Research.  To me these are relevant today as they were then.  Here are a few:

  • Is there a clear statement of the aims and objectives
  • Is the approach to be used (in this case Action Research) the most appropriate method
  • Will the research be project managed in an appropriate way (proportionate to size and complexity)
  • What are the ethical issues that are envisaged and how might they be handled
  • Is there sufficient funding and time
  • Will the actual data and insights that might be gained along the way address the question
  • How will the rigour of the findings be tested and checked along the way
  • If and when things change or take a different turn will the approach be able to cope – is there sufficient flexibility
  • If the project is split into phases are the objectives of these clear and will the envisaged approach address these
  • Is there a clear link between the proposal and an existing body of knowledge (for example within an organisation) in order to give it context
  • At each step along the way will there be an opportunity to reflect on progress to date and how this addresses the original objective.  It might well be that the objective needs to change in light of one’s research
  • Is it clear how the research will be read and judged

I am not suggesting that these questions should be set, answered at the beginning of a project and fixed; but they do offer a useful agenda for both the client and the consultant to develop a shared understanding and to hold each other to account.

Source: Waterman, H, Tillen, D, Dickson, R and de Koning, K (2001) Action research: a systematic review and guidance for assessment, Health Technology Assessment, Vol 5, No 23, p48-51


2 thoughts on “Action Research and Strategic Analysis: Learning From Each Other

  1. Thank you Robert for your helpful post. The NHS Research Health Technology Assessment team questions are as helpful in their own right, as they are relevant to scoping the success of most consulting assignments.

    • Thanks Patrick, In my experience these are important issues that can make for a successful piece of work that adds real value to the client, but often they are implicit leading to mixed expectations when the going gets tough. I have added the link to the paper.

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