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Five Core Theories – Action Research Theory – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Action Research Theory in Brief

Lewin developed a unified change theory based on four distinct elements; Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the Three step model of Change.  All have been criticised and all are necessary to bring about planned change.

Lewin is one of the founding fathers of Organisation Development, especially the pursuit of the commitment to humanistic values in developing society, facilitating change through learning and the pursuit of changing an individuals mental models and perceptions of the world that they inhabit in order to move forward.

Action Research is the foundation stone of Organsation Development practice, it is what underpins the theory and practice of the discipline in the organisation.  The theory is based on what Lewin advised, “no action without research, no research without action.”

The theory provides the very heart of the purpose of the OD diagnostic phase in the OD cycle.  It provides the opportunity to build the knowledge of the causes and dynamics of organisational issues, the understanding of organisational change and the basis of the need for collaboration and joint inquiry between the OD practitioner and the organisational players experiencing the change.

Ultimately though it is a theory based on pragmatism, data itself is no the answer to change, but data regarding the issues that the organisation is experiencing provides the catalyst for change and provides the basis for practical solutions owned by all members affected by the change.  Action Research provides both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical application of organisational change.

Key Points

  1. Action Research is a four step continuous process; Diagnosis, Planning, Action and Evaluation
  2. Action Research Theory provides the bridge between knowledge building and data gathering with effective action
  3. It empowers employees and enables the organisation to sustain the change by providing data not only of how to make the changes required today but also on the change process itself
  4. Action refers to the OD interventions that are implemented to develop the organisation
  5. All organisational stakeholders are involved in the collaborative process of creating and executing the planned changes.

Applying Action Research Theory in an OD intervention

  1. Involve the people affected by the change so that they become co-investigators into the reasons for change, and participate in analysing the current reality
  2. Let individuals discuss the future they need to move toward
  3. Work to increase the amount and quality of inquiry between people so that they can learn from each other and gather a rich mix of data
  4. Secure a commitment to give some decision making power to the people involved in collecting the data so that real change can be achieved
  5. Set up a temporary diagnostic team by using those key individuals who have to support the implementation of change.
  6. Provide space for individuals to reflect on the insights they have gained
  7. Plan the direction of change/OD intervention in collaboration with all stakeholders
  8. Implement decisions that employees and leaders make democratically
  9. Provide a learning zone where individuals and groups can self organise for change.