Personal Finance

Action research: Stop guesswork, go deep into useful data


One of the latest business trends involves the incorporation of action research into solving corporate and stakeholder problems. Long a bastion of academia for the past two decades, the tools are now widely employed in the corporate world.

A disconnect often exists between what academic research knows and what organisations do. The two sides often do not adequately share ideas, findings, and methods.

Action research involves a method of systematic enquiry that researchers carry out that can involve their own practice. In essence, the researcher can be part of the solution and make changes within the target as they proceed.

Action research requires researchers to delineate their nature, objectives, theories, methodologies, methods, techniques, and so on.

What does that academic jargon actually mean and entail? Essentially, the organisation would not dictate these action research components to finding solutions, but instead work alongside affected employees, customers, community members, and other stakeholders to identify potential issues.

Never assume that you understand problems affecting your organisational constituents without hearing directly from them to identify pain points and then plan the research that can uncover solutions.

Organisations must train their human resources personnel on design thinking approaches to visualise problem causes and possible effects that result from the company problems. Thereafter, human resources officers can then onward train other functional departments on action research.

Require departments to not only come to management with problems but also with data-driven solutions generated from the action research. Human resources then become a quality control function and conduct crucial support for the accuracy of data regarding employee concerns and issues.

But other pinnacle departments can train and run their own action research programmes from finance to operations to marketing and so on.

Entities use the bottom-up process of design thinking to underpin action research. Design thinking represents a way of thinking developed in entrepreneurial research and later expanded more broadly to other areas that put the people and communities being targeted and served alongside other crucial stakeholders at the centre of research design from a bottom-up perspective.

Design thinking when used in business research is iterative, measurable, and results-driven and particularly potent at finding solutions and using those results to catalyze change and boost impact.

Design thinking begins with empathy and deep understanding of target populations’ needs as the foundation for action research. However, when action research is not conducted bottom-up with empathy, then organisations can miss departmental and local contexts.

Despite noble ambitions and strong pro-employee and pro-impact goals, companies can give quantitative surveys to workers with only simple yes or no questions that do not even capture what they feel and cannot provide appropriate upward feedback.

Another key component of action research involves post-research changes. Action research must be a living breathing tool that involves change improvements, then evaluating the effectiveness of change, then turning around and improving all over again. Many iterations of action research and improvement are usually needed in order to reach desired results.

So, stop making assumptions and start approaching your business as a matter of research rigour.

You can make the best decisions for your business when you get deep ground-up data.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor