Negotiating Tensions between Theory and Practice
Edited by Julie Wolfram Cox, Tony G. LeTrent-Jones, Maxim Voronov and David Weir
Chapter 10: Supervising Action Research: A Space for Critical Influence on Organizational Practice
Marion Macalpine and Sheila Marsh INTRODUCTION This chapter presents our sustained reflection on our supervision of Masters students on leadership programmes and offers a framework for rigorous and critical supervision. The students, who are health and social care managers, undertake a work-based action inquiry that forms their dissertation.1 We spend much time and energy in supervision. Students present their perceptions of a leadership dilemma facing them and the related morass of personalities and issues. They seek a meaningful path along which to travel to influence progressive change in their organization. We supervise their process of constructing cycles of inquiry that take stories and themes from one cycle to the next. They are encouraged to choose issues within swampy ground, ‘where messy, confusing problems defy technical solution’, where lie ‘the problems of greatest human concern’ (Schon 1987 in Rosenhead 1989, p. 11): the change process is therefore emergent. We were intrigued by our own role within this process. Are we meeting our own aims? We focus on a critical approach to management that aims to foster social change, including a shift in relations of power/identity.2 Are we helping? With what? How? Do the emerging paths through the swamp lead anywhere? Our aspirations are huge but possibilities seem small. As academic practitioners we want to do more than simply comment. We wondered if our supervision role, in close work with a manager over a year, helped her/him to take up both critical action within their organization and research rigour. Achieving both requires...
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