Action research as living theory has mainly been undertaken by teachers. A useful source about the theory and the practice is Jack Whitehead’s own website: . We have introduced this methodology to business people because we believe the approach is at the very heart of leadership in an increasingly complex world. It requires practitioners to be upfront about ‘the standards by which we make judgements on our own practice so that we can say “we know what we are doing and we can explain why we are doing it”’ And most important of all, the concept of living theory provides a platform for articulating what is ‘new’ in our knowing:
‘The theories are located within and generated from within the practice and influence the development of new practices which in turn act as the grounds for the development of new theory and new practices. While the narratives you read are narratives of practice they are also narratives of theorizing, that is, what the person has come to know and how they are thinking differently about their work and themselves’ (Whitehead and McNiff 2006:119-120
The stories our students have told in their final projects cover a range of operational issues: eg making transparent the process by which banks make financial decisions, what makes for an effective sales team, how to create more innovative rewards schemes . Their claims to knowledge (theory) have emerged out of action research carried out within an organisation . But when they submit their final project/dissertation to the University their claim to knowledge will be accredited by award of MA or DProf and their theory is available for all to see in the University library. But my point is that this should not be the end of the story. The ‘theory’ emerging from their practice has to impact on the organization world they are inhabiting. This extract from one of the MA students well describes the change brought on themselves by this approach:
‘I see myself as part of the community in which this research is set as opposed to an outsider looking in. I have as much to gain from delivering a solution as any other stakeholder and see our interaction as mutual relationships of influence’
‘..as I conducted my research over a period of months it became evident that what I thought would be a straightforward sequence of events was not so neat and my research approach changed as I evaluated each cycle of action and reflected on the outcomes and the emergent learning that was evident – I kept asking myself – ‘what does this tell me?’ I was creating my own living education theory’
This account compares well with the story Traylen described earlier.
The intention is that all 14 of the Managers completing the MA will also collectively feedback their findings thus demonstrating their collective ‘living education theory’. Before that, having read all 14 projects I will also feedback to the organization what I consider are common themes, thus starting