Action Research and Information Systems Research
Action Research (AR) has, for some time, been advocated as a useful way of conducting work in the field of Information Systems (Checkland and Scholes, 1990) since it offers an alternative to the traditional positivist approach in inquiry. In practice this has led to AR being used as a framework for designing, developing and implementing information systems (IS) (Avison and Wood-Harper, 1990) as well as a means of conducting IS research. Those choosing to work within this framework soon become aware of the difficulties that the approach brings to bear upon the development and/or research processes involved. A popular criticism of AR, which is particularly problematic for those interested in using it as a research method, is that it leads to studies that are ‘all action and no research’. A further criticism is that AR studies are ‘unscientific’ and lack rigour. It may be true that AR has received some ‘bad press’ due to sloppy or uninformed use but, used thoughtfully and rigorously, the approach can provide a practical means of conducting inquiry in social situations that has a strong theoretical underpinning. The literature on AR tends to focus upon describing and arguing the theoretical basis of the approach (e.g. Susman and Evered, 1978), discussing some concept relevant to the approach such as ‘dialogue’ or ‘calibration’ (e.g. Bartunek, 1993), or upon giving case study type reports to illustrate the effects and results of an AR study (e.g. Ledford and Mohrman, 1993). Unfortunately, there appears to be little in the literature to describe how an AR study can be conducted and to advise how the inherent problems may be overcome. In an attempt to go some way towards providing such a discussion, in the rest of this paper two AR study ‘models’ for conducting IS research are described and the difficulties and issues associated with each are discussed.
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