How has/can Action Research be used in our daily lives in service providing organizations?

Hello! My name is Lauren and I recently started working at a non-profit that has had lots of work to do, little money, and even less time. As a result, there has not been many conversations about how the organization is, or how the individuals who make up the organization are, doing. The strategic plan has come and gone a year or two ago. I am not sure how to go about paving the way for an “emergent” process that allows the 15 dedicated and super busy employees to reflect, be really honest about their work and the work of the organization, and voice their hopes for the future without seeming like I am being vague or wasting their time. I would love to bounce some ideas around – any and all suggestions are welcome and appreciated!

Hi Lauren, This is a great question! I think this is standard for a lot of nonprofits that want to be learning organizations but lack resources, culture, and time to be able to actually put it into practice. Would your colleagues be willing to take a short survey? Would a social network analysis be helpful in better understanding how your colleagues engage with each other? I’m not sure it’s the best start but perhaps a visualization of how the different groups, departments, or stakeholders work together would spark an interest in reflection. – daniellejsteer

Hi Lauren! When I was doing my graduate work I was also employed at a non-profit childcare facility. We had limited funds and I was always wondering the same thing, how is my staff doing. I knew that there were concerns that the teachers and other employees had and I needed to find a way to determine what they were and then to create an action research project to begin to illicit change within the organization. I began with a short survey to the staff “taking their temperature” about a number of topics, but also leaving a section for them to voice concerns that were not addressed by the survey. I then put together a small group of teachers and we worked out an action plan to begin to make changes that would increase the way that the organization ran. There were many obstacles as the church that owned the childcare were not always ready to make change, but gradually we were able to make changes.

You would also be surprised by the reaction of those who you are surveying, they will feel valued as you ask their opinion about how things are going and where they see the organization moving. – sweyer

Hi Lauren! I feel you are describing my life and the life of most action researchers I know! I really liked the ideas above especially about asking your colleagues…”they will feel valued as you ask their opinion about how things are going and where they see the organization moving.” I also advise you that it can be a slow process – so gather a few friends and do it together. In time I’d advise reaching beyond your group to peers in other organizations – just now and then – and see if you can learn together. Indeed that is what AR+ is about – doing together what we can’t do alone…so many of us are on shoe-string budgets (i.e., low budgets) because we are actually creating a new way of organizing and solving problems. But most of our organizations are designed as top down. The good work with get done, because we never doubt the power of a small group to create change. Best of luck! – Hilary Bradbury