Guest Post: The Pride or Selfishness of Action Research? – A Reflection

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?




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2 comments on “Guest Post: The Pride or Selfishness of Action Research? – A Reflection
  1. Hi Aoife. This is an interesting blogpost, and as I read it, I was reminded of work I have supervised back in New Zealand.mone was a nurse educator who was concerned that student reflections during and on return from placements were superficial and mechanistic. She chose to replace them (or it may have been to strengthen them) by the use of what she termed “critical conversations” where students were invited to respond to provocative questions about situations they encountered while on placement and what they had learned from these. She said the quality of reflection was substantially deepened as a result.
    The other was a social work educator, who had instigated a very effective “mock court” process where she gained buy-in from police, lawyers and qualified social workers to act in a role play where her social work students had to represent a client (hypothetical, working from case notes for ethical reasons) in a “court appearance”. It was very effective and had been praised by those professionals involved, in helping her students, when they graduated, to hit the ground running.
    I would contend that both these women were doing action research – looking at a situation, reflecting on how to improve it, and working with students and others to enhance the learning of all. Definitely, the practitioner point of view was paramount.
    But what else is obvious is what you term “selfishness” but what I would call “self-awareness”. For New Zealanders, selfishness has overtones of doing the best for oneself and never mind anyone else, whereas what I am reading in your blog is more the kind of “holding oneself to account” that Whitehead and McNiff have advocated for many years.
    An interesting conversation, and thanks for starting it. I hope my response, in turn, makes sense to you.
    Kind regards

  2. Many thanks Pip for your reflections and insights.

    What strikes me about both our experiences is the critical importance of “I” in the action research journey and how the position and perceived role of the action researcher is essential in influencing others. Perhaps, the reason why my feelings and thoughts are focused on selfishness and pride is my concern with my own confidence as an action researcher in the action research paradigm. The type of full circle, 360’ reflection that I was exposed to transformed my overall research and doctoral experience so far. Action research has provided me with scope to expose myself to vulnerabilities in the research process, question the quality assurance aspect of the process and hold myself to account when it comes to ensuring meaningful participation and genuineness of the somewhat uncertain and doubtful research landscape. The quality of my own reflections has made me challenge my own assumptions of the truth of my expectations in action research. Secondly, action research has encouraged me to question my own motivations for aligning myself to this paradigm as a means of organising experiences for participants. With this, unfortunately comes worry and anxiety and of course the underlying question of selfishness of my own research ambitions in my doctoral studies. To reflect on a deeper level, as you mentioned, holding oneself to account is an important feature in every aspect of action research. This type of responsibility has afforded me the opportunity to improve my own self-understanding and self-analysis. In addition, it has encouraged self -doubt– perhaps this is where my feelings of selfishness have come to the fore while I live and breathe action research. The overall responsibility for enhancing and improving practice is both daunting and validating for a doctoral researcher – truly the essence of action research! I would argue that action research is about responding to challenges, we need to be inquisitive in this approach, challenge the current norms and enhance our own reflections and practice as a result.


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