The white mice in action research

24 11 2008

As I chat over this project with various friends and colleagues I frequently have to explain them what Action Research actually is.

As part of our course we developed a wiki explaining this and I make no apologies having borrowed significantly from that source.

Action research describes a method of social research upon a specific issue of practice or behaviour from an active, subjective and descriptive perspective (Dick, 1999). This is in stark contrast to the paradigm of logical positivism (what i used to think of as my scientific background) thus rather than being seen as a test or experiment in empirical research with quantifiable and finite results, action research outlines by subjective involvement an improved understanding of both self and the issue in a qualitative and descriptive manner.

Make any sense to you? didn’t to me either until i stumbled upon this analogy I developed from the book “The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” (Adams 1979)

Rather than the experimenter looking down on the maze and experimenting on the white mice within it (logical positivism) we should understand that the action researcher is one of the white mice, working over time with his colleague mice to better understand how they might work together within the maze and the humans experimenting upon them.

action researcher

action researcher

I’d strongly recommend you read The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but if not, and you have the time, go here, use your browser “find” and go to the section that starts, “Slartibartfast coughed politely.“

So does that ring true as an effective analogy or do i need to try again?

This week, I shall mostly be being a white mouse.

Adams, Douglas (1979) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Dick, Bob (1999) What is action research?




5 responses

25 11 2008
Stuart Johnson

I hope you enjoy being a mouse for a week. Dosen’t it mean you get lost more?

25 11 2008
Stuart Johnson

Or even ‘doesn’t’ (what no edit function?)

25 11 2008


Thanks for the comment. Can’t help on the edit function I’m afraid- Word Press. but will have a look.

Answer: as an Action Researcher, I WANT to be the mouse.

Ultimately, the mouse may or may not learn the way but, as we all know, the maze keeps changing. The value of the ARP is not of end result, altho’ getting to the cheese would be good, but actually of the journey in negotiating the mazes of life.

(sheesh, I’ actually starting to worry that I have “turned”!

How do you see your journey thru’ the maze? Is it goal or travel orientated?

28 11 2008
Ken Long

i’d almost say the AR researcher “has” to be one of the mice. and i think projects can be about “being” as well as “knowing” and “doing”. we can reflect on our mouse nature and see what happens to our view of the maze as we change our view of the world and our place in it. and the nature of cheese and our desire for it. i am trying to sort out all of this AR too, coming from an engineering and military orientation

28 11 2008

Thanks for the comment Ken.

I have found the shift from a scientific to social science approach quite tricky. It is so alien in method of thinking but the value I can see is huge.

This week, I am mostly being, a white mouse

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: