When are you ever not piloting?
How action research can help to deliver better public services
Current debates about redefining the relationship between public services and communities can feel uneasy at a time when it feels more important to focus on saving costs and retain essential services. At the heart of current debates is the call for public services to be more responsive by involving individuals and communities in shaping the way services are designed and delivered.
We’re at a critical time. Actions are needed to equip public sector staff and key agencies with the skills and capacity to work with disadvantaged communities to help them respond effectively to current economic conditions. There are calls for a radical, new and collaborative culture within public services. At the same time, almost daily some commentator says we don’t need evaluation. Certainly our many strategies, plans, good practice guides, procedures and targets have not led to expected improvements in outcomes and that, in some cases, inequalities have become worse.
Is it research we need? Given that questions about how we should act and what difference we are making will always be with us, perhaps it is time to build-in a different type of ‘research-in-action’ into the fabric of our everyday practice?
This short article When are you ever not piloting? is written in the hope of generating debate about these issues. It is hoped to interest people from many kinds of organisations and communities.
See also the new creative storyboard here
I think it is very important to hold to the idea that action research is one way to break down this barrier between living an inquiring life and research in a formal sense, and to see inquiry as part of a well-lived life, and of a healthy organisation and society.
So I love this quote from the great American playwright, Arthur Miller:
“There is hardly a week that passes when I don’t ask the unanswerable question: what am I now convinced of that will turn out to be ridiculous? And yet one can’t forever stand on the shore; at some point, filled with indecision, scepticism, reservation and doubt, you either jump in or concede that life is forever elsewhere”.
This means that action research is an attitude toward inquiry, not just a methodology.
Taken from Peter Reason, Choice and Quality in Action Research Practice, Keynote address, ALARPM 6th World Congress, PAR 10th World Congress, Pretoria, September 2003