If I were to say to the average person on the street, or maybe my neighbor, "I really recommend that you use action research to help you with that problem" they would look at me as though I were crazed. First off, what is action research? It sounds very technical. And second, it's outside of the realm of normal experience to consider research as an everyday task.
In this series of three articles, I want to introduce the "common woman" to why she might consider thinking of her plans and activities in this framework. It has been my experience that action research makes the world of difference in how far or how fast I am able to move forward on my dreams and I hope it is the same for you.
The first stage in action research is discovery, and for this article I will give examples of three women who want to move forward in their lives. The first, (Woman A. ), has no idea what she wants to do but she knows she wants to make a change. The second, (Woman B. ) has things pretty well in hand, her life is working for her, but she has some mild dissatisfaction she wants to address or improvements she wants to make. The third woman, (Woman C. ) is going through a major life transition. This could be the death of a spouse or a tragedy, but for our purposes, we will just say she's retiring soon. Let's see what the action research discovery phase looks like for these three women.
What is the discovery phase? It's based on the idea that in order not to 'reinvent the wheel' it makes sense for us to go out and 'discover' what others have done in similar circumstances, or to better understand what is going on now. In some regards it's pretty common for us to discuss our ideas with our friends. The discovery phase just takes this one step further and forces us to discover in as many ways as possible: do web research, interview those who've gone before us, see if books had been written on the subject, etc. The following paragraphs will discuss what each of our women might do for discovery yet they all could take on any of these actions because these examples are common in this phase of action research.
Woman A. feels lost, and part of the challenge she faces is getting over that feeling. The Discovery phase of action research will help her do this. She starts by driving herself to the library or a bookstore. Since she has no idea what she wants to do, she physically involves herself with an environment that will spark ideas. My recommendation is that she should walk slowly keeping an open mind through the non-fiction sections. They are full of ideas. Perhaps the travel section will interest her. As with brainstorming, or other activities geared to help our lives or ideas expand, the point here is not to say 'no' to something before it has been considered. So if Woman A. has an interest in travel, she doesn't get into the self-doubt thought, "oh I have no money", which would shut down her feelings, but rather she sits down with the book and muses on all the things she could do related to travel. I hope you see my point. Woman A., if she followed this idea, could: become a travel agent, become a tour guide, decide to write travel articles, work for an airline, etc. For Woman A., the point is to follow her heart and dream in the discovery phase, until she comes to an idea she wants to pursue. Then she'll move into measurable action, which is the topic for the next article.
Woman B. has a problem or dissatisfaction that she wants to address. Her task is more refined in the discovery phase. She goes to the Internet, or perhaps the library, and looks for resources written by people who have faced a similar challenge. She also talks to people within her professional network and asks for leads to others who may have information to help. She does not hesitate to call or e-mail, asking for a few moments of their time for an interview. Woman B. knows that other people enjoy sharing their wisdom, as long as she doesn't take up too much of their time, leaving them feeling good about their ability to help. Similar to Woman A., she works at not shutting down any idea, but listing and considering all the possibilities. Woman B. knows that the discovery phase takes a bit of time, but at the end of it her self consciousness, her feelings, and her mind will have agreed on her next course of action. Then she will move to the measurable action phase, in the next article.
Woman C., like Woman A., is unsure of herself as it is appropriate in a major life transition. Here we know that things are happening around us that will propel us to change in ways we cannot yet imagine. We feel as though the ground has been pulled out from under us and we are walking on new territory, and indeed we are. Yet there are techniques that can help in the transition phase, and with action research that starts us with discovery. Woman C. takes on the strategies of A. She looks up what people do in retirement, searching on keywords like active retirement, what to do when work ends, hobbies, travel, volunteer work, etc. Her task is not to say 'yes' or 'no', but rather to notice what catches her interest and to pursue those a little further. When she has a few things that are somewhat interesting to her, she takes on the strategies of Woman B. and asks her network of friends or contacts who she might interview. There is nothing like person-to-person conversation to cement our discovery phase and help us know what we should do when we move in measurable action.
Three women, three strategies that included: maneuvering through libraries and bookstores, searching on the Internet, interviewing people, and otherwise grounding themselves in an understanding of what is already known by others in a similar circumstance. There is no reason we should reinvent the wheel just because we are making changes in our lives. It is much more efficient to step out into taking measurable action from a firm basis of understanding about what is possible.
Two positive outcomes are usual at the end of the discovery phase: the person feels as though they have more energy, and they are hope filled rather than discouraged. As you are discovering new possibilities in your life let your emotions be your guide as to whether or not you're on the right track. And when you are, you will feel compelled to start doing something differently. That is when you pick up the next article on measurable action.