Action Research Reloaded

Been reading a fascinating 2015 paper co-authored by @DrSarahEaton and shared recently on Twitter.


Fascinating for me on two levels.

Firstly in seeing that the Argyris “double-loop” learning process (aka Action Research), which I explored in my late-1980’s Master’s, has been taken up and evolved in many creative learning contexts since then, and forms part of collected textbooks like Keith Sawyer’s “The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences”. Even back then, “double-loop” was recognised as short-hand for the many meta-loops and considerations beyond learning from the explicit “procedural” process. Learning more by learning about learning, etc. Seems second nature now. Sure, there’s always the question of balance, avoiding analysis-paralysis whilst getting on with the planned task, but the process, not just the outcomes, is always a source of learning to improve the process and its outcomes.

Secondly, in this specifically educational context, as opposed to organisational learning generally, the need to recommend or even seek permission for the practitioners to engage collaboratively in the double / meta-loop processes of continuous quality improvement. In education the primary procedure (the single-loop) is the pedagogy. Fashions come and go in management practice, and “public service” practices like education suffer particularly from exposure to external management consulting fads, but stripped back to the underlying principles (*), quality will out.

“Findings reveal responsive pedagogy through reflection and collaboration that provided professional learning, especially in the areas identified as challenges [in Action Research]”

Almost by definition, once considerations apply to the many meta-loops, collaboration is the name of the game. Everyone’s loop is someone else’s meta-loop, the points of management contact between the different operational (pedagogical) procedures. Operational processes are about minimising deviation from those pedagogical procedures, with deviations seen as errors to be corrected. Once the meta-gloves are off, problems really do become opportunities to think out of the box, to step outside the daily operational loop into the meta-loops that bump up against fellow practitioners each operating in their own loops. It’s no longer about fixing and defending, questioning as the Socratic means of undermining the other guy, but about creative collaboration on better answers.

[Post Note: The key learning from my own research was to be careful not to turn these double and meta-loop processes into just another procedure – a box ticking exercise – they must be genuinely collaborative and freely creative between the people with skin in the game. Quite a few other lessons in Chapter 4 and as I noted back in 2002 shortly after I started this blog, this research project carries on where Chapter 4 left off.

(*) Ha! Even back then I referred to MOC / TQM / CQI as “A rose by any other name”Nothing new under the sun.]

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