Guest post

by Dr Cathy Sharp, Research for Real

I was delighted to be asked to give a keynote to the Leapfrog Summer School in Forres. Since my first tentative steps into action research in 2001, my experience has largely been as a social scientist within the spheres of health, social care and community development.  Recent encounters with design-​thinking, have led me to the view that there is much fruitful and shared terrain between the mindsets and approaches that, for simplicity, I’ll call ‘design’, or ‘action research’ or ‘participatory practice’.   But this was my first chance to really engage with people immersed in action research from a ‘design’ perspective. Arriving at the venue, with its turf roof on a beautiful morning gave me hope that this was going to be an enjoyable conference.

As we got to know each other through a dialogue exercise, I felt a real shared sense of excitement about the offer of action research to contribute to practical problem solving and new possibilities in all kinds of settings.  I have a sense that it is important that in our criticism of traditional research practices and palpable enthusiasm, we don’t fall in to a trap of ‘embracing a new Methodism, viewing the practice of a specialised set of methods as an end in itself’; rather that we view action research as an approach to inquiry, rather than a methodology.[1]

In response to my offerings of a blend of epistemology, theory and practice, people seemed happy with the idea of an ‘extended family of approaches’ and the idea of action research as a ‘values based exploration of what could be’, a way of ‘testing out what we think we know’. The idea of drawing people together in conversation through story seemed to resonate. And I hoped I enthused people to explore or revisit the offer of appreciative inquiry, where recent literature takes us beyond a simplistic focus on positivity and offers fresh ways to challenge the status quo.

It’s important that wherever we locate ourselves amongst the extended family, we continue to talk to each other in ways that can extend our practice and impact. One way to do this may be through the growing ‘social movement’ of action researchers in Scotland. Do check out Practice and Inquiry, as place to explore transformative practice and inquiry in Scotland (and beyond, of course).

[1] Gergen, K Action research and orders of democracy, Action Research, Vol 1, Issue 1, 2003, p41.