Saturday, November 27, 2010

From the Editors Desk: Feeling Exposed and Rudderless. Colleagues from Teachers College reflect on struggles of action research

Next in my short series of introductions to upcoming publications in ARJ ... in which I also add some reflections on what I see as implications for the work described coming to scale:

Laura Smith and colleagues from Teachers College, Columbia University, USA, Lucinda Bratini, Debbie-Ann Chambers, Russell Vance Jensen and LeLaina Romero bring a window to the awkward difficulty that university-based researchers experience when doing action research – they/ we often feel exposed and rudderless. By examining episodes from three different PAR projects they illustrate challenges as well as what can be learned from them, especially by university based researchers.
From the point of view of growing to scale, Laura’s and her colleagues’ work is in the category of “how to do action research.” On the editorial board we have been very attentive to making such articles available. We recognize that it is not obvious how to do participatory work, especially given the conventional training that graduate students receive. And to be honest the work is not easy, it is multidimensional. Novice action researchers ideally have apprenticeship and practice opportunities. For those who can’t immediately locate a mentor, we hope that such articles help fill the gap. Please find their work:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Scientific - Spiritual Cosmology - Alan Wight

For my AR class, I have been asked to describe the values that inform my research.  I am firmly rooted in a scientific-spiritual understanding of the universe.  Bradbury and Reason (2001) provide an excellent introduction to this point of view in their "On the nature of the given cosmos" (p. 8).  Please a take a moment to view the linked video below, and the read the accompanying words.

Biopolitan Poetry for creating an Earth-Centered Consciousness.

Cat's Eye Nebula
And the universe asks---what are you compared to me?
Dude, I am you!  Our human consciousness formed from you.  We are one version of your awareness, privileged to reflect back upon this great mystery.

I am humbled by the awesomeness, the grandeur, the scale, the age, the beauty, the violence, and the astonishing---mind blowing distance of our every expanding reality.  The cosmic elements collected and as our star gathered enough mass fusion burst forth, and photons of light energy exploded in all directions.

Eventually the Earth gave birth, and now we can see,
and taste, and touch, and feel and breath. 

It is from this spiritual and scientific understanding that I approach the world. This humility transforms into the highest respect for Gaia, our planetary emissary.  We are one of many forms of Gaia’s awareness.  We exist here because we coexist with everything else on Earth.

Sun's Radiation and the Earth's Magnetic Field (artists interpretation)

A step back reveals the potential precariousness of our current endeavors.  The mad ambitions for money, parceled out-private property, power, domination, and control.  These are the cultural values repeatedly whispered and extolled.

Our economic practices and actions do not reflect the reality of our biosphere, of this larger living entity.  
The expansionist, Promethean, Frontierist, planet – plundering mentality is insane.

Therefore, I actively embrace alternative Earth-Centered paradigms.  From the cosmopolitan, and declaration of ‘citizen of the world’ I advance the key value that informs my thoughts and research. 

This is the concept of biopolitansim: the identification of humans as one life form, one culture, one group of earthlings among many; we are a human community that only exists because of all the other Earth’s communities.  We need to respect and protect all other species and ecosystems and foster an appreciation for other ways of knowing.

It is the values of this Earth-Life-Community Ethic that I heed, and from here, from this moral point that I proceed.

Peter Reason and Hililary Bradbury-Huang (Eds).  2006.  "On the nature of the given cosmos."  Handbook of Action Research.   p. 8  Los Angles: Sage Publishing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

From the desk of the editor: Ngwerume & Themessl-Huber on Healthcare/CBPR

Over the course of a few weeks I am introducing new papers being published by the journal. By way of bringing alive the concept of designing action research for scale, I will also reflect on how to “grow” the projects reported or what the implications to a wider audience may be if the work were continued.

Karebor Tuhaise Ngwerume from Brocklehurst Chemist, Hull, UK and Markus Themessl-Huber of Central Queensland University, Australia share their action research work which developed among a community pharmacy team. The pharmacy team started by reflecting on their own practice and in doing so examined the reliability of the evidence base they used to give advice to customers regarding the sale of medicines. This process resulted in the development of portfolios of evidence-based counter recommendations and a more knowledgeable, self-aware, confident as well as research-aware pharmacy team.

From the point of view of growing to scale, Karebor’s and Markus’ work also helps build the rapidly increasing repository of CBPR studies. The call to be “evidence based” is not so simple to implement – turns out that only half of all medicines and procedures prescribed are in fact evidence based. The intervention that the pharmacy team successfully undertook was, in fact, a microcosm of the type of culture shift happening in healthcare delivery institutions. There will be more and intense interest on such CPBR studies, in aggregate. Calling all graduate students: clearly metastudies of many CPBR studies are needed. Please find their work:

Warm regards,

Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Editor in Chief

Monday, November 15, 2010

Working out Inside: First Person Action Research - Alan Wight

I have been thinking about the consequences of working out (exercising) indoors ever since our campus opened up a state-of-the-art recreation center almost 5 years ago.  Two indoor pools, a hot tub, at least 6 basketball courts, an elevated track, a climbing wall, rooms upon rooms of lifting equipment, free weights, exercise machines, step-aerobic class rooms, spinning bikes, treadmills, stationary bikes, and a variety of elliptical machines.  It is wonderful to have all of these resources dedicated to helping our community members stay physically fit.  Personally, I use the Olympic swimming pool, the free weights, and the elliptical machines the most.  I can workout when the weather is cold, icy, and uninviting.  I can bring a book and watch TV while using the cardio machines.  Working out has never been so comfortable.  There is however, an incredible irony with this set up. 

By using first person Action Research, self-reflective inquiry practices, and critical autoethnography I am able to examine my everyday actions in light of the values I espouse (i.e. environmentalist, Earth centered ethics, social justice, etc). Judi Marshall (2001) talks about “inquiry as life process,” where thoughts and actions become research, with inquiry is at the core of our being (p. 341).  Simply put, it is important to be aware and reflective about how our daily actions affect the earth.

When I use the recreation facility, I consume energy (especially on the exercise machines) by working out inside when an outdoor run or bike could have served the same purpose without using electricity.  Here I am, trying to maintain a healthy body, achieve a good balance between the other important aspects of my life (intellectually, spiritually, dietary, interpersonal relationships, etc), when I am actually harming the planet.  This is contradictory.  I should not use fossil fuel energy in the quest for personal health.  When we ride bikes, run, walk, or engage in cardiovascular exercise outside, we do not generate negative externalities in that specific process.  We should strive to better our health, but not at the expense of the biosphere.

Marshall, Judi.  2001.  “Self-reflective Inquiry Practices.”  Handbook of Action Research.  Peter Reason and Hillary Bradbury-Huang (Eds). 2008. pp 335 – 342.  Los Angles: Sage Publishing. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

From the desk of the editor: Introducing Gaby Jacobs on healthcare community-based participatory action research (CBPR) project

Last week I wrote about politics of influence and designing for scale with our action research.  Over the next few weeks I will introduce new papers being published by the journal. By way of application of this concept of scale I will also reflect on how to “grow” the projects or reflect on what the project might imply at a "higher" level of influence.

Gaby Jacobs of Fontys University for Applied Sciences, The Netherlands writes from a context of a community-based participatory action research (CBPR) project entitled ‘Aspiring to Healthy Living in The Netherlands.’ The goal of the action research is to empower older people and generally to encourage healthy aging. The research, to be shared with audiences beyond the local stakeholders, draws from analyzing narratives from the participants. The focus of the article was on how academic and practical aims goals collide in CBPR. The contribution, using the ladder of Pretty, highlights different levels of participation in different project stages. Using theory of organizational learning, the paper offers insights for other teams to support consciously attending to keeping reflection and learning going within a context of external pressure.

From the point of view of growing to scale, Gaby’s work helps build the rapidly increasing repository of Healthcare/CBPR studies. This is important given that all over the Northern Hemisphere we grapple with how to transform a healthcare system for an aging population without bankrupting our economies. We expect more and intense interest in CPBR studies. Calling all graduate students: clearly metastudies of many studies, similar to Gaby’s are needed. Please find her work:

And next week ... CBPR with pharmacists.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

From the desk of the editor: Politics, seeking scale and influence in AR.

Perhaps because it was election campaign season recently, I found myself at dinner with our state legislator, along with a dozen or so university colleagues. We talked about how to better influence state policy with research. The senator, an economist by training, emphasized the importance of researchers attending senate sessions and presenting our work on a topic the senate is taking up. The efficient scenario, according to the known model, is for researchers to be invited to address legislators. This assumes that their work is known to the senators. This being a democracy (or at least an ongoing attempt in that direction), public sessions also allow for self introductions. The core of the legislator’s invitation was that we prepare to offer testimony backed up by rigorous statistics. In turn legislators vote and in time (with the many intervening and politicized details to be determined!), laws would be passed to improve life for citizens. The action research model of influencing policy is worth reflecting on explicitly. It is also scientific (we investigate empirically) even if we treat issues of validity differently and with transparency. I won’t recap the thinking on this topic, but suffice it to say action researchers don’t conflate quality with conventional measures of generalizability. We measure quality as ‘actionability” which grows from partnership, practicality, rigorous methods and attention to infrastructure that sustains work over time.

So then, how does an action researcher influence government policy? Certainly the element of designing infrastructure that sustains work over time might potentially also embrace inquiry into creating enduring impact through policy. Simply stated, action researchers should consider when to plan for representation from a community of stakeholders who might have policy implications. Such policy implications would be articulated from the reflections on having implemented an experimental, successful intervention. The policy guru will naturally ask “how is this not advocacy?” And while much has also been written about the ways un which al “objective science’ is also partial in a postmodern world, the better response, may be to describe the ways in which the policy implications are grounded in empirical investigation that has cycled through inquiry and action, validated with stakeholders throughout the process. The quality of the implications resides the quality of the partnership and having meet practical objectives throughout the intervention process. Needless to say, but worth repeating anyway, qualitative and quantitative methodological rigors are adhered to in action research as appropriate to the research design. Scale therefore is not reached by reporting on statistics. Scale is reached by representatives of a community who experimented together sharing their insights. Clearly not all reports are worthy of legislators’ time. But some, especially those action research implications that were developed over time and in different contexts, are indeed worthwhile. I hypothesize that action research reports –when made by community representatives directly-- are more digestible, useful – actionable! – for the typical politician than are reams of rigorous numbers. Having been involved with local politics myself, when chairing meetings I was so often astonished how substance takes a back seat to impactful presentations made by concerned citizens at the right time. Because politics and dynamics of power are core to the work of action research, I invite more accounts that follow community interventions to the level of scale, this is a call then for accounts of how scale was reached, or designed to be reached, via formal political channels.

Next week I will introduce our soon to be published papers. I will reflect on them from the pespective taken in this blog post, namely what they suggest for moving toward scale. 
Best wishes,
Hilary Bradbury Huang
Editor in Chief