Research has revealed numerous ethical issues that surround action research process in organizations. Coghlan and Brannick (2014) point out that ethics is a cornerstone for effective action research. Hilsen (2006) confirms that a meaningful action research in every organization requires scrutinized ethical procedures. In other words, there are conceptual, pragmatic and philosophical orientations that a researcher need to go through before conducting an action research in an organization (Moore, 2007). Upon a critical review of literature, every researcher must be held accountable of any unethical practice that negatively affects public perception on research.
Knowledge on ethical research practices guides a researcher in making appropriate moral judgments (Williander & Styhre, 2006). Research studies have shown that certain expeditious behavior during research may be discouraged on the basis of political, cultural, legal or ethical considerations (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014). It is on this ground that this paper aims to expound the underlying assumptions, key scholarly and practitioner-oriented views about the ethical issues that may surround an action research process in an organization.
Key scholarly and practitioner-oriented point of view/arguments
From a scholarly perspective, action research helps to broaden ones knowledge on a particular concept or scenario in an organization. Research provides a leeway for organizations and individuals to grow. Coghlan and Brannick (2014) assert that in as much as an action research is important, there are political factors and ethical issues to be considered since they at times act as hindrances for the endeavor. It is apparent that there are organizational politics that influence personal relationships at workplace. Therefore, as an action researcher, one needs to understand the political affiliations that exist in an organization.
It is important to note that political issues in an organization influence four essential components of action research. These processes include diagnosing, planning, action taking and evaluation. It is important to note that action research is not just a reflective issue but also an interactive matter. Therefore, a researcher must understand his role as an employee in order to make conclusions that match with organizational considerations (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014).
At this juncture, Coghlan and Brannick (2014) explain that managing organization politics is crucial. As a matter of fact, organizational politics determine the choice and framing of research project. Moreover, they influence the implementation of any type of research action. As an action researcher, politics in organization can act as hindrance to a desired action. Coghlan and Brannick (2014) suggest that due to political influences, it is advisable for an action researcher to include actions that will sensitize the organization to improve its performance. Following a critical review of literature, one can discern that Coghlan and Brannick (2014) discourage an action plan that is directly addressed to individuals as this might bring conflicts and unhealthy competition.
Björkman and Sundgren (2005) also confirm that political issues affect action research especially in cases whereby there are red-hot issues to be addressed in an organization. A researcher has to make effort to diffuse the research outcomes and work his way out to create a rational platform for implementation of the suggested plans.
Hilsen (2006) discuses the human relational nature as another ethical issue that affects action research in an organization. Upon a critical review of literature, one can discern that any action research needs to be grounded on ethical foundations whereby the researcher must be aware of acceptable and non-acceptable practices.
Moore (2007) in his article compares the sins of Adam and Eve with those of inside researchers. In his perspective, lack of focusing on the main agenda raises ethical issues. For instance, Eve and Adam shifted their focus from their core purpose and ate the forbidden fruit. Similarly, an action researcher deviates from original research questions into other questions thereby making personal conclusions. Subjective observation and conclusions often lead into conflicts.
Roth, Shani and Leary (2007) in their article acknowledge that there are opposing forces against insider action research (IAR). To a greater extent, the article discusses political factors as the most common ethical issue affecting IAR. This has to do with power balance, managerial roles and development mechanism.
In addition, Williander and Styhre (2006) subscribe to the insight that insider action research requires support through insider activities. This helps in overcoming prevailing ethical issues. Williander and Styhre (2006) admit that there are epistemological, practical and political challenges that deter the progress of action research. Using a case study of Volvo Company, Williander and Styhre (2006) exemplify that political and other practical ingenuity dominate and control action research.
Critiques of underlying assumptions and new insights for practice and scholarship
Coghlan and Brannick (2014) assumption that action researcher should not include individualized action plans creates a light sense of anomie. Instead, a solution should be given following the assumption in order to establish the issues and consider models to use. As a matter of fact, even though the arguments from Coghlan and Brannick (2014) are compelling, they lack the basic understanding what an action pan in an organization entails.
Besides, Björkman and Sundgren (2005) also provide a shallow explanation on how insider action researchers should handle sensitive political issues whereas the research outcomes remain significant to the growth of an organization.
Hilsen (2006) in his discussion on human relational nature does not adequately outline the acceptable and non-acceptable practices. Moreover, the author fails to acknowledge that due to individual differences, a practice may be acceptable in one organization and completely out of place in another. Moreover, he does not consider the fact that organizational cultures vary.
Moore (2007) gives a detailed insight of the common mistakes that action researchers make in organizations. However, he does not explicitly explain why there are high chances of researchers deviating from original questions and how they end up making biased conclusions. Moreover, the comparison between the original sin of mankind with that of action researcher does not come out clearly and therefore brings confusion to some extent.
Though Roth, Shani and Leary (2007) identify and explain ethical issues affecting IAR even though they do not adequately illustrate how the impending ethical issues can be handled. Therefore, the article does not effectively justify IAR as a means of facilitating growth and development in organizations.
Williander and Styhre (2006) regard action research in organizations as “impure” since political and other types of ingenuity violate the virtues of neutrality, objectivity and detachment. Nevertheless, the authors do not outline the affirmative actions to be taken by its proponents to improve the “impure” nature. Moreover, though Williander and Styhre (2006) outline challenges encountered by action researchers such as shortage time and limited management attention, they do not reveal how existing ethical issues in the company affect action research.
To recap it all, evidence from literature has shown that political factors and human relations in organizations are the major ethical issues that surround the endeavor of action research. As a matter of fact, political issues such as power relations and employee interpersonal affairs influence the process and the outcome of action research. It is therefore beyond reasonable doubt that such ethical issues are indispensable and have to be given a lot of consideration during action research.
Political and ethical factors
Political and ethical factors that exist in my organizational setting that may potentially affect action research are numerous. Apparently, there are various political and ethical factors existing in the oil Company. It is important to note that the company deals with crude oil, refined oil and natural gas. Recently, numerous changes have been injected to enable the company to cope with the impending setbacks. For instance, the company has constantly lain off employees in the last few years following the rise of global operational costs. Previously, the company had provided job opportunities to over 12,000 employees. Nevertheless, there has been a global reduction of employees of 5% every year. The Company has also reduced employee income by 20%.
Nevertheless, this appears to be controversial since the same firm that is laying off employees is expanding through acquisition all over the world. The impending scenario is resulting into emergence of political and ethical factors that may obscure carrying out of action research in the company. One of the ethical issues in this case is confidentiality. Most employees are unwilling to cooperate with insider researchers for fear that they may disclose information which is likely to lead to their layoff. It is important to note that the criterion for layoffs is still unknown to employees. This instills fear and discouraging them from participating in action research.
There has been an issue of status quo crisis as employees struggle to prove that they are worth remaining in their current positions at their place of work. The political issues in the company are strongly inclined to power relations. The management and those in leadership always try to block or not give adequate attention to action research because they fear that the outcomes may not favor them.
There are a number of strategies for approaching action research that consider these possible issues identified in the above section. In other words, it is possible to assess each of these strategies in relation to their level of difficulty, how realistic they are and their likelihood of success. In order to make thorough inquiries and impact the desired changes, a few strategies must be used. For instance, one can conduct strategic planning to analyze the current and past situation. This will help the researcher to identify, cope and overcome the ethical and political issues in the organization.
The other strategy entails coming up with a strategic plan of action. These will include relevant actions to be taken depending on the research outcome. A plan of action can be reviewed when need arises. The other strategies entail observation and reflection of the action plan. It is important to mention that the plan of action should not be individually directed as it may result into conflict and deterioration of human relations in the organization.
Björkman, H., & Sundgren, M. (2005). Political entrepreneurship in action research: learning from two cases. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 18 (5), 399-415.
Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014) Doing action research in your own organization. London: Sage, Inc.
Hilsen, A.I. (2006). And they shall be known by their deeds: ethics and politics in action research. Action Research, 4 (1), 23-36.
Moore, B. (2007). Original sin and insider research. Action Research, 5 (1), 27-39.
Roth, J., Shani, A., & Leary, M. (2007). Insider action research: facing the challenge of new capability development within a biopharma company. Action Research, 5 (1), 41-60.
Williander, M., & Styhre, A. (2006) Going green from the inside: insider action research at the Volvo Car Corporation. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 19 (3), 239-252.