THE RESEARCHER-PARTICIPANT RELATIONSHIP IN ACTION RESEARCH: A CASE STUDY INVOLVING AUSTRALIAN PROJECT MANAGERS
University of Technology, Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Conference name: 6th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 18-20 November, 2013
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:The relationship between an action researcher and their research participant(s) or informants is integral to the quality of the research output. Identification of appropriate informants and securing their agreement to be part of the research project is one of the first steps in establishing a working relationship. To sustain this relationship a deep level of trust needs to be established and carefully nurtured so it is retained throughout the life of the research project to enable quality results. Trust is core to action research as it describes the “… honesty, and respect [which] are pre-conditions of the search for truth/truths” (Zuber-Skerritt 2005, p. 54). The establishment of trust can be formalised using documented consent forms and codes of conduct and through informal behaviours and reassurances of the confidentiality and anonymity of the informant’s involvement in the action research project.
To be effective, the action researcher needs to identify the “… issues and problems in action research which require an ethical code of practice to be negotiated between the researcher and the participants”(Meyer 2000, p. 9). Through negotiation, the action researcher and the Informant(s) will have a clearer understanding of what they have agreed to deliver within the constraints of the environment in which the research is to be conducted. These constraints may include the requirement for the research project to be reviewed by an independent ethics committee and possibly meet codes of ethics stipulated by professional associations. At the same time, when the research is being conducted, the action researcher needs to maintain a trusting relationship with the informants to ensure that the changes that may occur in their practice, as a result of action researcher interventions, are not threatening to themselves or their employer.
The leading question which will be explored in this paper is how does an action researcher determine what is required from their informants to meet the research brief, and once identified and engaged, how to develop appropriate relationships to ensure the quality of the research outcomes. This question will be explored through examining a recent action research project which was aimed at identifying how project managers in Australia share knowledge while managing projects.
The way in which knowledge is acquired and exchanged when managing projects was undertaken using a four-staged action research cycle that involved regular interventions in the project manager’s workplace. The interventions involved the researcher conducting one-on-one convergent interviews followed by individual observation days. During these interventions the role of the research informant evolved from being an informant to taking on the role of a research partner. This evolution is evident as the research informants were invited to participate in a final intervention. This intervention was framed as a Focus Group meeting where a review was undertaken into how a tool developed by the researcher to facilitate knowledge exchange was implemented by the research partners. Throughout the action research cycles the research informant was required to complete a reflective journal to capture lessons that were learnt during the research.
One of the outcomes of this paper will be an increased awareness of the relationship between a researcher and their informants, and how this role may evolve as demonstrated through an action research project.
Keywords: Project management, action research, informants, research partner, trust.