This is the second in a three-part series of articles on using personal action research to help you make changes in your lives so that you will be more successful. Action research? What is that? While it sounds technical it is a simple process made of three steps: discovery (which was covered in the first article), measurable action and reflection.
In the first article we met three women: Woman A. who didn't know what she wanted to with her life but after the discovery phase had a few ideas, Woman B. who had a problem she was solving, about which she was going to take action next, but had ideas at the end of the discovery phase. Woman C was transitioning to a new phase in life.
If discovery takes us outside of the constraints of the way we think about things by forcing us to look at how other people have handled situations similar to the ones we are in, then the measurable action phase helps us get where we want to go fast. Why is that? Because it forces us to notice and take what researchers call baseline data before we start, thereby allowing us to measure how far we go, or how successful we are. This helps us plot our course in an efficient manner. As on a physical journey, we can't measure how far we have gone, if we won't know how far we still have to go. The discovery phase helped us learn a potential destination, now we begin to move out to get there.
When we left woman A. she had investigated jobs in the travel industry, and decided that she needed to know more before she could make a decision as to what job might work for her. Her baseline would be with a narrow field of interest (the travel industry) but she would need to take actions to help her define where she would want to apply for work.
Fortunately, she sees that there is a travel show coming up in a nearby metropolitan area in a few weeks. She buys tickets. She goes further than that; she goes through the list of vendors who will be at the show, and looks them up on the web. Once again she is guided by her emotions, when something feels enlightening or interesting she makes a note of it, sure she will see those people at the show. The date arrives, she goes to the show, she sees the people she had marked and also notices other vendors whose work seems interesting. Following through on her notes, she has a couple of very interesting conversations, and in one case, asks the people in the booth how a person would get into "doing their job". She leaves with: an increased focus about the industry, a few people's cards who she may call later, having seen or heard about a couple of jobs she could imagine herself doing. She celebrates all of these as measurable increases towards her finding a job she likes. She is ready to move into the reflection phase which will be in the next article.
Woman B. came out of the discovery phase of having two or three ideas about how she is going to solve her problem. She looked at each strategically, and plotted the order of which she would do when. Prior to taking her first step in measurable action she consciously look at and makes note of her baseline dissatisfaction. She measures or assesses her situation in measurable terms. Then she implements her first idea, lets it run over a period of time, and measures its result. Likely, the outcome is that she has learned more, but not completely solved her problem. Nevertheless she celebrates her learning and her positive motion forward. She also is ready for the reflection phase of action research.
Woman C. has not yet retired, but she's planning what she will do. In her discovery phase she went to a bookstore noticed that the hobby section was particularly interesting, and has spent some time remembering how much she enjoyed craft projects when she was younger and her children were small. She has discovered that there are several women's groups in her area focused on doing crafts, and she is spending some evening visiting these groups and meeting their members. Like the other two women examples, she celebrates the fact that she went from discouragement and not knowing what she was going to to have a positive ideas, making new connections, and discovering alternatives. The outcome of her actions are new friends, new ideas, and a much more positive outlook about retirement than when she had started. As with the other two women she is ready for some formal reflection.
It's not a bad idea in the measurable action phase to make writing things down part of your measurement. Much like the chalk marks on the door when children are growing up, we take pleasure in noticing where we have come and what actions we are taking. Woman C. for instance might write every organization she sees in her diary, and make a few notes afterwards catching the names of people she wants to remember or giving her impressions. The act of writing down our measurements makes us feel good about our actions, helping us continue to have the motivation to move forward. These notes are considered in researched terms “data”, and it is reflection upon the data that brings the capstone to action research and therefore will be the topic of the next article.