Today’s pressing crises urgently ask for effective policy responses and fundamental transitions towards sustainability supported by a sound knowledge base and developed in collaboration between all stakeholders. The new book ‘Action Research in Policy Analysis’ explores how action research forms a valuable methodology for producing such collaborative knowledge and action, develops a distinct and novel approach that is both critical and relational, and provides crucial guidance and encouragement for future action research in policy analysis and transition research.
Action research, despite its 75 years of history, is still operating at the relative margins of mainstream academia; this is also true for the fields of policy analysis and sustainability transitions. DRIFT-er Julia Wittmayer and Koen Bartels of Bangor University met during the Interpretive Policy Analysis conference in 2012 and knew they wanted to change this. The latest result of their collaboration is a new book, which explores how action research forms a valuable methodology for producing collaborative knowledge and action necessary for addressing today’s pressing societal, political, economic and environmental crises.
As of 2013, Julia and Koen started organizing panels at research conferences exploring principles, practices and dilemmas of action research. A first tangible product was a symposium in Critical Policy Studies about the remarkably similar double-edged dynamics and outcomes across different action research projects of producing usable knowledge versus facing pressures of instrumentalisation. Throughout the years, the panels have met growing interest and have contributed to building an informal community collaboratively reflecting on their action research practice.
The new book ‘Action Research in Policy Analysis. Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions.’ is a product of the stimulating discussions over the years. The book outlines the recent uptake of action research in policy analysis and transition research. It explains what action research has to offer and demonstrates how it can be engaged in productively by explicating the specific ambitions, challenges, and practices involved with doing action research to foster sustainability transitions through changes in the policy domain.
The core argument is that action research is both critical and relational and that, to productively address the current crises, we need to improve our engagement with these dynamics. Action research is critical in that it is founded on a critical stance towards injustices, exclusion, and inequalities, or, framed more positively, a commitment to fostering democratic social change. Action research is also founded on a relational worldview, which means that action researchers are interconnected with other people and real-world situations and share responsibility for fostering change. In combination, criticality and relationality are challenging for researchers. Since being critical also includes questioning the hegemonic order and pushing for transformations of habits, narratives and power inequalities, while being relational means maintaining a respectful and trustful relationship and pragmatically accepting things for what they are what is practically possible.
The ten academic contributions to this volume all address this dynamic by reflecting on the starting points of the research process, the enactment of multiple roles and relationship, hegemonic structures, cultures and practices and/or the evaluation of reflexivity, impact and change. Each academic contribution is accompanied by a reflection of a co-inquirer, who has been involved in the action research effort.
Contributions to this edited volume include the following:
- K.P.R. Bartels and Wittmayer, J.M., Introduction: action research in policy analysis and transition research
- Westling, E.L. and L. Sharp, Both critical and applied? Action research and transformative change in the UK water sector; and co-inquirer reflection by Chris Digman
- Balázs, B. and G. Pataki, Cooperative research for bottom-up food sovereignty and policy
- Jhagroe, S.; Transition scientivism: on activist gardening and co-producing transition knowledge ‘from below’; and co-inquirer reflection by R. Henneman
- Henderson, J. and C. Bynner, Cultivating ‘sanction and sanctuary’ in Scottish collaborative governance: doing relational work to support communicative spaces; and co-inquirer reflection by A. McPherson
- Paredis, E. and T. Block, Negotiating space for mild interventions: action research on the brink between social movements and government policy in Flanders; and co-inquirer reflection by D. Barrez
- Arrona, A. and M. Larrea; Soft resistance: balancing relationality and criticality to institutionalise action research for territorial development; and co-inquirer reflection by A. Arzelus
- Gardner, A., Lipstick on a pig? Appreciative inquiry in a context of austerity; and co-inquirer reflection by L. Jones
- Kuitenbrouwer, M., Getting unstuck: the reconstruction clinic as pragmatic intervention in controversial policy disputes; and co-inquirer reflection by K. Arichi
- Clement, F., Exploring the use of audiovisual media for deliberation: reframing discourses on vulnerabilities to climate change in Nepal; and co-inquirer reflection by D. Jayshi
- Van der Arend, S., Really imagined: policy novels as a mode of action research; and co-inquirer reflection by M. de Vaan
- Wittmayer, J.M. and K.P.R. Bartels, Conclusion: critical and relational action research for policy change and sustainability transitions
By sharing action research experiences in a variety of settings, the book seeks to explicate ambitions, challenges, and practices involved with fostering policy changes and sustainability transitions. As such, it provides crucial guidance and encouragement for future action research in policy analysis and transition research.
Koen P.R. Bartels is Lecturer in Management Studies at Bangor University, UK, where he teaches courses in public administration and qualitative research. He has published in leading journals, including Urban Studies, Environment and Planning C, Public Administration, Public Administration Review, and International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, as well as a book Communicative Capacity (2015).
Julia M. Wittmayer works at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. With a background in anthropology, she is interested in roles of and social relations and interactions between actors in sustainability transitions (governance).
Bartels, K. and J.M. Wittmayer (eds.) (2018) Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions. Routledge: Oxfordshire
Order your copy here.
July 10, 2018