orgtheory bleg – seeking excerpts or articles on how to do participatory action research (par) in organizations

Orgheads, a student in my first ever Ph.D.-level orgtheory course has asked us to include a reading how to do participatory action research (PAR) in organizations.  Alternatively, the reading could be in the area of public scholarship (I will assign Diane Vaughan’s AJS article) or community-based participatory research (CBPR).   Anyone willing to share recommendations for readings relevant to organizational research?  Thanks!


Written by katherinechen

February 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm

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  1. It’s self promotion and only possibly useful, but Graham Dover and I published an essay on PAR and institutional theory in JMI: Dover, G., & Lawrence, T. B. (2010) A gap year for institutional theory: Integrating the study of institutional work and participatory action research. Journal of Management Inquiry, 19(4): 305-316.



    March 1, 2014 at 7:09 am

  2. Liking and commenting to follow the comments. PAR is something I am very interested in learning more about and implementing as a teacher in non traditional venues. I am looking forward to learning more about this.



    March 2, 2014 at 12:19 am

  3. This recent paper could give a good overview:

    Coghlan, D. 2011. Action Research: Exploring Perspectives on a Philosophy of Practical Knowing. Academy of Management Annals, 5(1): 53-87.



    March 3, 2014 at 9:59 am

  4. The bad news is that PAR cannot be learned by reading about it as it is a complex practice. My suggestion is that the student contacts someone who has done it in the past – possibly well, and learn from the position of an appentice.
    The good news is that a lot of literature is available on the topic. A good place to start is the clear and succinct Coghlan, D. & Brannick, T. (2005) Doing action research in your own organization. London: Sage. Although the book is technically for “internal” facilitators, most of the content will apply to your student. Another very useful (historical) reference both because of the authoritative source and wealth of details is William Foote Whyte’s (1991). Participatory action research. Sage Publications, Inc. In case you wondered YES, this is THE William Foote Whyte of Street Corner Society. One important reading for management scholars/students who approach PAR is Eden, C., Huxman, C. (1996). “Action research for management research”, British Journal of Management, 7: 75-86. The paper discusses the difference between PAR and consultancy – a critical grey area in our field. The best all-inclusive reference source is still probably Reason, P. & Bradbury, H., Eds (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. London: Sage. You do not learn how to in handbooks, but at least you you who is who and you get a good review of the field. Finally, there are several specialist journals worth consulting, e.g., Action research; Action research and Systemic Practice; Intl Journal of Action Research; Action Learning: Research and Practice. Given that PAR is a practical activity, due to the current hierarchy of evidence in management studies, you will hardly find any relevant literature in the top tier journals. so do limit your search there

    These are only initial pointers but using them skilfully in Google scholars will help the student to get an idea of what we are talking about. Good luck


    Davide Nicolini

    March 3, 2014 at 10:23 am

  5. sory for the typo. I meant “you will hardly find any relevant literature in the top tier journals. so do NOT limit your search there”.


    Davide Nicolini

    March 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

  6. Van de Ven’s “Engaged Scholarship” might fit the bill:



    March 3, 2014 at 11:15 am

  7. I second Professor Nicolini’s caution against limiting one’s introduction to PAR to readings. Alice MacIntyre’s 2008 introductory book (Sage) also notes that one learns how to do it by doing it, as it is messy. In my world, where Federal grant money often means the USDA, we have been increasingly required to include research stakeholders in project planning and evaluation, to the point that we often have to show collaboration with the stakeholders in writing the grant proposal. PAR guides much of the research design and execution. Luckily, not everyone knows how to do PAR and many choose to abjure it. That means that those of us who did the apprenticeship(s) are more likely to success in the grants competition.

    I also like Professor Nicolini’s entry points into the literature, though one might also seek out some of his own writings on the subject.



    March 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm

  8. I like Rappoport, Bailyn, Fletcher and Pruitt’s discussion of “collaborative intervention action research” on gender and work-family issues (2002, Beyond Work-Family Balance: Advancing Gender Equity and Workplace Performance) for its mix of case studies and reflections on the practice of doing this work.



    March 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm

  9. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to make recommendations! These are much appreciated.



    March 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm

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