10.1.1.471.306 - Action Research and Organization...

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Action Research and Organization Development Peter Reason and Kate Louise McArdle Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice University of Bath For T.C. Cummings, ed, Handbook of Organization Development, Sage Publications We approach this writing from opposite ends of our careers in action research and organization development. Peter’s first engagement with organization development was in the late 1960s, when he moved into an internal consulting position to help implement a formal change management strategy within the UK-based multinational ICI, which was at that time a leader in the field. In contrast Kate’s early forays into organization change through action research have been explicitly formed by the literature and practice of a range of action research approaches during her doctoral studies with young women in management a multinational company. From these contrasting points in our careers we have two kinds of purpose in our writing. Firstly, we want to contribute an action research perspective on organizational development – one that encourages continual inquiry, development, and curiosity in our selves and in those we work with – rather than seeing OD as ‘a set of techniques’. Secondly, we want to assert that at their best - through creating processes and structures for collaborative inquiry - action research and organization development can be profoundly emancipatory. We both bring to our work a strong bias that action research and organization development are both pragmatic and rooted in democratic values: they aim to change things ‘for the better’, through engagement of all those concerned (including, of course, deciding what needs to be changed and what ‘better’ might mean). They are, at their best, ways of reaching toward a world ‘worthy of human aspiration’, encouraging values of inquiry and learning, mutual respect for other people and for the wider ecology of which we are all a part (Reason & Bradbury, 2001a). We start with a brief sketch of the history of organization development and action research,
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Action Research and Organization Development 2 and of their relationship. We then move to some examples of Action Research practice and some suggestion of how we might frame these as organisational development interventions. In some ways, early organization development was quite sober and business- oriented, as with the Blake and Mouton (Blake & Mouton, 1964) argument that organization success could be reached through ‘9.9 management’ -- integrating a concern for people with a concern for production. But it also reflected some of the liberationist and utopian spirit of the 1960s, holding the possibility that individual could flourish while contributing to organizational purposes. Further, it was often argued organisations would only be effective if they fully engaged the skills and motivations of their members; and that as people became better educated and expected more from employment, organizations would only recruit and retain the
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