Action Research in Human Services

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9780130974235: Action Research in Human Services

For Research courses in Counseling, Social Work, and Human Services. This practical, clearly-written text helps readers understand the purposes of action research and guides them through the process of conducting their own action research studies. The book is appropriate for counselors, social workers, and other helping professionals, as examples and applications are all drawn from human services settings. Not only does the text help readers understand how to conduct research on their own practice, but it also helps them apply the results of their research to improve their effectiveness as helpers.

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About the Author:

Ernest T. Stringer is author of numerous influential books on action research, including Action Research in Education (2008), Action Research in Health (with Bill Genat, 2004), and Action Research in Human Services (with Rosalie Dwyer, 2005). After an early career as primary teacher and school principal, Stringer served as lecturer in education at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia. From the mid-eighties, based at Curtin s Centre for Aboriginal Studies, he worked collaboratively with Aboriginal staff and community people to develop a wide variety of innovative and highly successful education and community development programs and services. As visiting professor at the University of New Mexico and Texas A&M, he has taught research methods courses and engaged in projects with African American and Latino community and neighborhood groups. As a UNICEF consultant, he recently engaged in a major project to increase parent participation in the schools in East Timor. Stringer has served (until prior to publication of this book) as a member of the editorial board of the Action Research Journal and is past president of the Action Learning and Action Research Association (ALARA).

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Introduction

Action Research in Human Services presents an approach to action research that assists human service professionals to improving their practice. Though the action research processes articulated in this book may be used effectively with individuals, they are particularly relevant to work with groups, families, and communities. Action research is suited to a wide range of human services work—child protection, family support, domestic violence, juvenile justice, corrections, youth work, aged care, rehabilitation, community work, community development, services to the disabled, and others. Ultimately, action research enables human service professionals to work in partnership with clients, community groups, colleagues, and others to explore significant issues and to take therapeutic action to resolve problems.

The general orientation of this book is toward a participatory approach to research. It is a style of investigation grounded in the belief that effective solutions to significant problems are more likely to emerge where all "stakeholders"—those who are affected or have an effect on an issue—are involved in the processes of inquiry. Further, it enhances possibilities for connecting people to multiple networks of support within local organizations, neighborhood clubs, sports groups, schools, churches, and friendship groups. Though individual counseling and therapy continue to have an important place in this process, action research provides the basis for long-term, effective, and efficient measures to remedy problematic situations. Procedures described in this book not only build people's capacity to resolve issues effectively, but also provide long-term outcomes that strengthen families and communities, reduce dependency, and create healthier family and community environments.

Approaches to Research

Action Research in Human Services does not pretend to provide a comprehensive rendering of all the forms of action research, but rather presents a distinctive approach that has currency in many academic, professional, and community settings. The text offers an essentially qualitative approach to research that can be modified to accommodate researchers oriented toward other modes of inquiry. Qualitative research now encompasses a broad array of orientations and approaches, many of which are described in Denzin and Lincoln's Handbook of Qualitative Research (2000). They are complemented by a range of approaches to action research presented by Reason and Bradbury in the Handbook of Action Research (2001) and by Susan Noffke (1997).

The approach presented in this book derives from the need to be sensitive to the 1 diverse perspectives and experiences now evident in most modern communities—to give voice to those perspectives and empower people to develop more effective ways of dealing with their professional, personal, family, or community lives. This orientation emerges from recent developments within postmodern, feminist, and critical scholarship, so that issues of positioning, knowledge, and power are embedded in the research practices presented herein.

Action Research on the Run

One reviewer of a draft version of this book commented, "My students would never have time to do all this." The text is necessarily detailed, providing specific guidance for many of the skills that may be required for the different contexts and problems to which action research can be applied. The Look-Think-Act routine included in Chapter 1, however, has been used in planning or problem-solving sessions covering a period of only two hours. Though complex and endemic problems may require more extensive and detailed work, a simpler research process may be applied "on the run" for daily work issues. Professional practice is enhanced by the development of a culture of inquiry that helps people gain greater clarity in thinking about their work.

Structure of the Book

The purpose of this book is to provide human service practitioners with an understanding of the nature of action research (Chapters 1 and 2) and the procedures and applications of action research (Chapters 3 through 7). In addition, it provides practical resources that add to the fund of knowledge available to action researchers (Chapters 8 through 10).

Chapter 1 presents an overview of action research, describing its characteristics and accentuating the research relationships that are integral to this methodology.

Chapter 2 provides readers with a deeper understanding of the epistemology (system of meaning) that drives action research. It describes theoretical positions that inform the practice of action research, focusing on the interpretive processes now central to much professional and social scientific research.

Chapters 3 through 7 describe in detail the stages of one cycle of an action research process—research design, data gathering, data analysis, reporting, and taking action. Each chapter features both processes and skills, providing readers with clear guidance for enacting action research routines.

Chapter 8 provides a set of tools that are useful adjuncts to research. As research participants engage complex contexts, issues, and interactions, they will enhance their capacity to work effectively if they can manage conflict productively, conduct meetings efficiently, use their time effectively, facilitate the work of diverse individuals and groups, and manage the complexity and stress that come from work in complex organizational settings.

Chapter 9 presents a number of case studies that are indicative of the broad range of ways in which action research can be applied to professional and community life. Stories and reports drawn from diverse settings describe ways that human service practitioners and community groups have enhanced their work by the use of action research.

Finally, Chapter 10 offers a small sample of the proliferating resources now available on websites throughout the world, providing a rich resource for human service professionals, community groups, agencies, programs, and services.

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