The Leapfrog Action Research Summer School got off to a great start on Tuesday 5th July 2016 at Horizon Scotland, current home to the Glasgow School of Art Institute of Design. The following highlights set the tone for the days ahead.
Director of Research at Research for Real, Dr. Cathy Sharpe’s keynote highlighted the nature of continuous inquiry, knowledge co-construction and risk at the heart of action research. She presented an understanding of Action research as a values-based exploration of what could be in conceptualising improved public services. In practical terms, she gave examples of how people participating in the research are drawn together in conversation, to share and analyse stories together. Drawing on key theorists including Whitehead, Reason & Herron and Wadsworth, Sharpe focussed in particular on how appreciative enquiry, part of the family of approaches in Action Research, offers up a generative method to help people to see old issues with new eyes.
A lightening talk followed by Senior Lecturer of Philosophy at Lancaster University, Dr Garrath Williams. Taking a practical approach to ethics in action research, he talked about how, far from being a system of limits and restrictions imposed by academic institutions, ethics within action research can be viewed as a shared framework for co-operation, sharing standards, dividing responsibilities, creating cohesion and enabling people to generate new possibilities for change together. Where action research is inherently risky and open-ended, trust in each other is built through negotiating consent on an on-going basis. Within this we need to acknowledge our own position of power, that we are not neutral, and the limits to which we can protect others from risk.
The day ended with an evening session with Dr Kristina Lindström and Dr Åsa Ståhl, about their project, “Becoming Respons-able Stakeholders in times of uncertainty- patchworking publics in the making.” Part of the Hybrid Matters programme in Finland, their project considered the impact of plastics on our environment, how it is found interlaced in our seas and coastlines, causing the need for change in our behaviour. The project drew on scientific research finding that meal worms can digest polystyrene, converting it to biological matter. Given that meal worms are edible, they created speculative work by hosting meals including meal worms as ingredients. To help bring that work to life, we got to sample some mealworms too!
The first day also saw the first 10 participants give talks on their understanding of action research and its relevance to their work. These case studies and examples of research, brought huge depth to the summer school experience, through discussion, helping us to draw out new themes, debates, differences, issues and examples of application of Action Research.