Personal and business changes require that people or business staff learn new skills to support those changes. Therefore, people reinventing their lives or businesses, in the middle of the change process, need to have an eye on how they access and make use of professional development or training. In a sister article I discussed strategic planning as the outer wheel of a wheel within a wheel process. The outer wheel helps turns the middle wheel of our daily activities, which then in turn creates the fodder for the inner wheel. In this world that requires us to be lifelong learners, we all need training to stay on the top of our game. Professional development then becomes the fourth wheel, one that interacts with all the others. This article describes that connection and how it plays out in terms of the three steps of action research: discovery, measurable action, and reflection.
First an Overview of Action Research and a Wheel within a Wheel Metaphor
For those that may be new to my articles on action research, there are three steps which are always involved and which allow the transformational potential of the process: discovery, measurable action, reflection. Action researchers apply these three steps to any process of change, always striving to make improvements in their personal and professional world as they find it. The first step is discovery and in it they seek out information from the web, as well as other people, to discover how others are successful in situations similar to theirs. The second step is measurable action and it requires that people measure the outcome of each step they take towards improvement. The third step is reflection, and this is the step which brings magic with it. I never fail but to be amazed by how much people learn, and how fast they move to change when driven by regular reflective process.
A business can pull together teams of people who strategically plan using the same model. As a group they discover what questions they all have and they research the answers to those questions. They plan what activities will help get them towards the future of their vision and how they will measure those outcomes. Finally, as a group and as individuals they reflect. When an outer wheel of strategic planning comes together with daily activity which while all are speaking the same process language of discovery, measurable action, and reflection, then a corporate culture of change/data-driven decision-making/and reflective ideals is born. Because of reflective practice this pattern can be seen as wheels within wheels. We go through those same steps in the big wheel of our actions in life and then again when we write about them, the little wheel of our thoughts. Then the little wheel of our thoughts drives the next turn of the middle wheel of actions in our life, which in turn feeds back into the strategic plan.
Action Research as Professional Development
I was principal investigator on a study using action research as professional development in a five-year project in the United States. The US Department of Education wanted to implement a portion of their law focused on educating children temporarily experiencing homelessness. The task of the project that I worked on was to encourage new educational processes by administrators and teachers in regards to this population. In a nutshell, the US DOE wanted schools to be accountable to their education of homeless children.
Our findings were threefold: first, people need to have external incentives if we really want all of them to take on a new way of thinking or being in their professional or work lives. The second thing learned was that through action research people will become engaged, even transformed, in ways that they would not have previously thought possible or in which they had no previous interest. The third lesson was that action research creates a holding environment in which participants can tackle particularly complex problems without the fear that usually accompanies this kind of change.
Knowing therefore that action research is a solid base for professional development, how would you implement it in your life or business environment?