Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 1–17 | Cite as

Pragmatic Dilemmas in Action Research: Doing Action Research With or Without the Approval of Top Management?

  • Stefan HolgerssonEmail author
  • Ulf Melin
Original Paper


This article problematizes a basic assumption that action research should be conducted in terms of acceptance by management. The importance of approval from the responsible stakeholders at the work practice, which is the subject of action research, has traditionally been emphasized in action research literature. External pressure can constrain an organisation to initiate and fulfil different types of needs for change. In this article we address the question of whether it is appropriate to accomplish action research in a way that creates pressure on an organisation to act. If the public risks suffering as a result of an organisation′s inability or unwillingness to identify and rectify serious problems, there are strong arguments to answer “yes” to this question. This answer is particularly relevant when it comes to governmental organisations. The public has a legitimate requirement that tax-financed organisations should be well-functioning. This article illustrates how action research can put pressure on a work practice, and discusses the problems and challenges of this type of research design. An important contribution to action research literature based on this article is that it shows that the dilemma in action research of balancing practice interests and those of science is not just about dealing with a dual agenda. The interest of the practice interests is multi-faceted. This article points at the relationship between action research and principles for conducting critical research in information systems. Practical implications that can be drawn based on this article are for example that it clarifies the challenge of different considerations that may be eligible in action research.


Action research Ethics and politics Work practice Organisational change Information systems Pragmatism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management and Engineering, Information SystemsLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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