The following contribution is from Aoife Prendergast:
The Pride or Selfishness of Action Research? – A Reflection
My first introduction to action research arose from a conversation with a fellow colleague whilst in the depths of my first year doctoral studies. I was investigating practice education for social care professionals in Ireland. Currently, an urgent need exists for practitioners and educationalists to communicate together, and for practitioners to be aware of developments in educational theory. For placement educators, they must continue to ensure that practice placement education is relevant to constantly changing and diverse professional work practices (Lloyd et al 2002). Although there is an extensive body of literature on clinical education and the traditional practice placement models in nursing and social work, there has been limited research on social care practice placement education and supervision. Little is known about the experiences, practices and perceptions of social care practice educators in the context of third-level professional education and training programmes.
My doctoral research project aims to discover and explore the “experience” and “process” of supervision in social care practice education in Ireland. This research will contribute to the underdeveloped research area of supervision in social care practice education and encourage a potential dialogue for recommendations in future professional practice. The rationale for this research is to encourage reflective practice and assist in an improved experience for supervisors and students. Mellor’s (2001) investigation of the ‘untidy realities of research’ affirmed my research experience. The tricky landscape of navigating methodologies which would ensure successful achievement of research questions proved to be a fraught journey with many false starts and ambitious theoretical assumptions and benefits. Seeking a suitable methodology that would incorporate meaningful participation from participants was crucial in my doctoral journey as well as establishing participant’s core values and identity throughout the overall research process. Fundamentally, improving professional practice and thinking in practice education confirmed the decision to employ an action research approach.
The action research approach prompts and encourages me, as a researcher to question and test current claims allowing me to examine, actively assess and reflect on my own position as a researcher. This fair approach ensured that for me, the researcher, there was a constant, real and deep connection between current theory and practice. Utilising this type of approach has moulded my personal view that pride and selfishness for one’s own professional practice is central to every aspect of the action research approach. For dissemination and impact, it is up to each individual researcher to deliberately improve our own professional practice based on our own research findings and outcomes.
Action research does not or will not happen without the power of individuals to spread this knowledge and advocate in our professional communities for the use of action research as a legitimate and practical methodology. On a completely selfish or even proud level, I was interested in developing my own reflective capacity and using my research as a catalyst for change in practice education in Ireland. It has encouraged me to confront challenges in professional practice in a pragmatic and social fashion by understanding the participant’s story and voice firstly. This has altered my appreciation of bridging the complex theory to practice gap and expanded my understanding of power and bias in a researcher position. Perhaps selfishness can be confused with pride – the proud Action Researcher? The pride that emanates from changes to practice is transforming. Even, the attempt to ensure whole contribution from participants has a lasting impact for the researcher and participant’s alike. The dual functions of power from both parties are a mutually beneficial process in action research. It provides practitioners with ways to contribute to theory as well as practice. In doing so it enables them to make proud judgements about their expertise and amendments for better, more improved practices. Therefore, can we consider the benefits of action research to be either selfish from the researcher point of view or selfish from the practitioner pony of view?