Establishing the Potential for Relational and Critical Action Research within Scottish Public Service Reform

Friday, July 14, 2017
JWS - Room J15 (J375) (University of Glasgow)
Claire Bynner , Urban Studies, University of Glasgow
James Henderson , University of Edinburgh
The What Works Scotland (WWS) research programme aims to inform development of and generate critical dialogue on current Scottish Government public service reform – across macro, meso and micro dimensions of policy and practice. Central to this endeavour is a cross-disciplinary, collaborative action research methodology being applied to work with Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs). These are partnerships set up by local authorities, as mandated by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 2003 being reformed through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

WWS is exploring relational and critical approaches to action research (Bartels & Wittmayer, 2014). Relational approaches that seek to build productive working relationships with local participants; senior and strategic management; and partnership institutions and stakeholders. Critical approaches that support a reflexive, inquiring culture; the mapping of dynamics of power and opportunities for empowerment within this context. (Crotty, 1998; Sayer, 2009; Hadfield, 2012).

In this paper we draw from two CPPs to illustrate relational and critical methods ‘at work’. In particular, we highlight the challenges of building the necessary ‘sanction and sanctuary’ (Dickens & Watkins 1999) to provide ‘spaces’ for critical re-framing and consideration of alternatives (Argyris, 2003). In so doing, we make visible: the need for collaborative action research to involve both collaborative, group-based inquiries and wider partnership and stakeholder capacity-building; and the tensions for action researchers of working with existing institutional policy objectives whilst holding onto aspirations for more critical investigations.