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Critically analyze the steps in action research as described by Kurt Lewin

Action research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative inquiry, emancipatory research, action learning, and contextural action research, but all are variations on a theme. Put simply, action research is learning by doing - a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again. While this is the essence of the approach, there are other key attributes of action research that differentiate it from common problem-solving activities that we all engage in every day. A more succinct definition is, "Action research...aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. Thus, there is a dual commitment in action research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this twin goal requires the active collaboration of researcher and client, and thus it stresses the importance of co-learning as a primary aspect of the research process." What separates this type of research from general professional practices, consulting, or daily problem-solving is the emphasis on scientific study, which is to say the researcher studies the problem systematically and ensures the intervention is informed by theoretical considerations. Much of the researchers time is spent on refining the methodological tools to suit the exigencies of the situation, and on collecting, analyzing, and presenting data on an ongoing, cyclical basis. Several attributes separate action research from other types of research. Primary is its focus on turning the people involved into researchers, too - people learn best, and more willingly apply what they have learned, when they do it themselves. It also has a social dimension - the research takes place in real-world situations, and aims to solve real problems. Finally, the initiating researcher, unlike in other disciplines, makes no attempt to remain objective, but openly acknowledges their bias to the other participants.

c) 3-Step Model

The 3-step model is often referred to as Lewins important contribution to organizational change. Burnes (2004) emphasises that it should be appreciated that when he developed his 3-Step model, Lewin was not thinking only of organizational issues. In addition, the author indicates that Lewin never intended it to be seen separately from the other three elements which comprise his planned approach to change; that is: Field Theory, Group Dynamics, and Action Research.

Burnes (2004, pp.985) highlights that:

...rather Lewin saw the four concepts as forming an integrated approach to analysing, understanding and bringing about change at the group, organizational and societal levels. A successful change project, Lewin argued, involved three steps...

In addition to Burnes (2004) who has been extensively quoted in this report, Carter (2008, pp.21) reported that: of the earliest change models was developed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin and describes a three stage process. The first stage, called "unfreezing," involves setting aside the existing mindset and preparing to change. During the second stage, change occurs, creating a period of transition and confusion as adaptation occurs. The third and final stage, called freezing" or sometimes "refreezing," involves solidification of the new mindset and a return to pre-change comfort levels...

The 3-step model has been well captured by Carter (2008) in the diagram below. The model shows the unfreeze stage, moving stage and finally the refreezing stage:

Diagram courtesy of Carter (2008)

d) Unfreezing

This is the process by which employees become conscious of the need for change. If there is dissatisfaction, then there would be little need in making changes. Lewins work shows that the stability of human behaviour is based on a quasi-stationary equilibrium supported by a complex field of driving and restraining forces. The argument is that the equilibrium needs to be destabilized (unfrozen) before old behaviour can be discarded (unlearnt) and new behaviour successfully adopted.

At most organisations, although most employees appeared to want change, there was a lot of resistance to the envisaged changes. This was because there was a general feeling that the executive management did not know what there were doing. So, the unfreezing part was never

realised. To start with, there was no change agent. Or if there was, nobody took notice. However, what was prevalent was the suspicion that the newly recruited project manager meant to oversee the development of standard operating procedures might be the change agent. That was after she started getting people to work on various assignments in groups.

The bothersome question is: what is it that needs to be done to ensure that change takes place at most organisations. The answer at this point can only be hypothetical. Enlarging on Lewins ideas, Schein (1996) commented that the key to unfreezing was to appreciate that change, whether at the individual or group level, was a profound psychological dynamic process. And, to prove his point he recognised three processes necessary to achieve unfreezing. These processes were disconfirmation of the validity of the status quo, the induction of guilt or survival anxiety, and creating psychological safety. He argued that unless adequate psychological safety is created, the disconfirming information will be denied or in other ways defended against, no survival anxiety will be felt. And consequently, no change will take place. In other words, those concerned have to feel safe from loss and humiliation before they can accept the new information and reject old behaviours.

e) Moving

Schein (1996) notes that unfreezing is not an end in itself, but it develops motivation to learn but does not automatically control or predict the direction. This echoes Lewins view that any effort towards predicting or identifying a specific outcome from planned change is very difficult because of the complexity of the forces concerned. Instead, one should seek to take into account

all the forces at work and identify and evaluate, on a trial and error basis, all the available options. This is, of course, the learning approach promoted by Action Research. It is this iterative approach of research, action and more research which enables groups and individuals to move from a less acceptable to a more acceptable set of behaviours. However, it is generally agreed that without reinforcement, change could be short-lived.

In essence, most organisations have not reached this stage. The unfreezing part has not yet happened; what has happened is that the freezing has even got worse.

f) Refreezing

This is the final step in the 3-Step model. Refreezing looks at stabilising the group at a new quasi-stationary equilibrium in order to ensure that the new behaviours are relatively safe from waning. The main point about refreezing is that new behaviour must be, to some degree, congruent with the rest of the behaviour, personality and environment of the learner or it will simply lead to a new round of disconfirmation (Schein, 1996). Accordingly, this is why Lewin saw successful change as a group activity, because unless group norms and routines are also transformed, changes to individual behaviour will not be sustained. In organizational terms, refreezing often requires changes to organizational culture, norms, policies and practices.

Conclusion Kurt Lewin provides a good and elaborate model for change. If properly followed, the model could help an organisation move from one condition to another. For organisations there is a need

to pause and do a position audit as well as scan the environment in which they are doing business. Obviously, the business environment has changed and will continually be changing. As such, if organisations are unable to adapt itself to the new changes it would definitely be left behind, and experience substandard performance. Evidence that inability to change is hurting is vivid enough as pass rates continue to decline, and yet most organisations continues to carry on as if it is business as usual.

References Barrett, J & Whitehead. J. (1995) . Supporting teachers in their classroom research. University of Bath, School of education.

Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical: education, knowledge and action research. Lewes, Falmer.

Elliott, J. (1991) Action Research for Educational Change, Buckingham, Open University Press.

Lewin, K. (1946). Action Research and Minority Problems, Journal of Social Issues, 2: 34- 46.

McNiff, J. (1988) Action Research: Principles and Practice, Basingstoke, Macmillan