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Research Proposal

Research Proposal
Background
The business context for the emergency services and public service more generally has been changing
to one where problem situations are more complex, turbulent and diverse in nature, typified by the
growing importance of non-emergency services delivered in partnership with other agencies that
recognise the importance of diverse customer needs. As the types of problem to be addressed have
evolved, the question arises as to whether the approaches traditionally used to help managers better
operate in this new environment are still sufficient and the System of Systems Methodologies (SOSM)
(Flood & Jackson, 1991) can be usefully employed to reflect on this situation. Commonly, problem
situations are taken as simple-unitary and in particular HST predominates. Consequently the systems
approaches employed neither provide a means of gaining consensus among stakeholders with
potentially differing world views nor reliably accommodate complexity.
The emphasis placed upon simple unitary approaches to address the new environment of policing and
community safety problems not only runs the risk of failing to tackle problems effectively but also
undermines the value of systems thinking in the eyes of stakeholders; limits the understanding of
alternative systems thinking approaches within the sector and reduces the motivation to build the
necessary capability locally to view problem situations from a number of viewpoints through
employment of a variety of systems approaches. However, despite these barriers there are examples of
successful applications of alternative systems approaches and of the development of broader systems
thinking capability in the sector.
This situation presents a challenge to the business sector and systems thinkers in terms of encouraging
and improving the application of systems thinking in the policing and community safety sector to better
meet the requirements of the new operating environment. To help respond to this challenge we need to
learn whether some systems approaches and methods of deployment are more effective than others in
certain situations and understand why this is the case in order to improve the future application in new
contexts.
Jackson (2003, p315) emphasises the potential to develop Critical Systems Practice through an ongoing process of action research and Jacksons viewpoint (Jackson, 2009) on Eden (2009) identifies the
significance of leadership and facilitation in multi-method work as.
Purpose of Research
An underpinning question within the proposed research is whether the application of CST can bring
about significant improvement in the development of joint service provision and its management within
the policing and community safety sector. CST seeks to consider a wide variety of systems approaches
when viewing problems in order to improve the response to situations that are increasingly complex,
diverse and turbulent (Jackson, 2003, p275). Different systems approaches bring with them strengths
and weaknesses and a critical awareness of these can help would be problem solvers identify ways of
improving situations through pluralism in theory and method. Through consideration of the SOSM it is
possible to reflect upon the systems thinking approaches in relation to the problem contexts currently
being faced by organisations involved in joint problem solving. The SOSM proposes that problem
situations can be usefully, though not strictly, viewed in terms of system complexity (from simple to
complex) and the relationships that exist between those concerned with the problem context (unitary,
plural or coercive).
The new policing environment, typified by the introduction of:
Public Service Agreements
Local Area Agreements
Integrated Offender Management
heightens the challenge of encompassing a wider range of stakeholders in developing and managing
services. The strategic direction of these initiatives places a greater emphasis on joint responsibility for
problem solving amongst partners and with local communities. There is a requirement for these
stakeholders to work together in a more formal way but to still operate as independent bodies. The
nature of the problem situations now being faced, the range of largely independent stakeholder
organisations involved, each with subtly different and potentially conflicting purposes, demands a

Research Proposal

different approach. The relationships between the actions/impacts of these stakeholders which are
highly complex, often displaying political and power dimensions, make the problem situations
extremely difficult to understand let alone control.
Research Questions
A set of research questions and associated research objectives underpin the proposed study. The
following table presents the questions to be applied within the policing and community safety sector
that set the agenda for the research along with their associated research objectives.

Research Question
1. Can the application of critical systems
thinking improve the success of joint
problem solving (within the policing and
community safety sector)?
2. Are there combinations of systems
methodologies, methods and techniques that
are found to be particularly successful in
meeting the challenges of service
improvement, identifying the features that
are influential in effective engagement of
stakeholders and actors in joint service
improvement interventions?

1.

2.

3.

Linked Research Objective


Determine whether the application of critical systems
thinking can bring about significant improvement in the
effectiveness of joint service provision and its
management
Identify and implement practical combinations of systems
approaches that help policing service stakeholders fulfill
their purposes in relation to joint problem solving
Determine the features of approaches that are found to be
influential in successfully supporting multi-paradigm
problem solving, recognising contextual factors that
might affect transferability

3. How do these systems interventions


address the challenge of handling the
multiple philosophical assumptions
(paradigms) that underpin the problem
situations and systems approaches
employed?
4. What is the influence of leadership in the
facilitation process upon the successful
application of systems approaches by
managers and facilitators?

4.

Determine the impact of leadership in the facilitation


process upon the successful application of systems
approaches by managers and facilitators, recognising
those factors that are particularly influential

5. Can effective processes be established to


improve the capability of problem solvers in
the sector to successfully select and employ
systems thinking, through a more informed
understanding of the impact of systems
approaches in prevailing problem contexts?

5.

Develop guidance to assist sector practitioners


successfully select and employ systems thinking in
problem situations through a better understanding of the
impact of systems approaches

Research Philosophies
The philosophical position taken by the researcher will determine the methodology applied. Although
there are numerous philosophical positions and variants purported in literature, Easterby-Smith et al
(1991) identify two extremes of philosophical position that can usefully be employed to reflect on the
research approach, with at one extreme, positivism and at the other phenomenology.
Positivism sees the social world as existing externally and measurable by objective methods. Augustus
Comte was influential in this view and believed that real knowledge was based upon observed fact
(Comte, 1853). Although there is no single universally accepted set of characteristics, taking this view
the researcher sees truth as logical, linked and predictable and believes it is possible to derive and
understand it through objective mathematical logic and scientific methods. Quantitative methods are
seen as the most reliable tools to derive knowledge in an objective world (Neuman, 2000).
Phenomenology on the other hand views the world as socially constructed and given meaning by
people rather than being objective and external (Husserl, 1946).

Research Proposal

As a critical systems thinker, the strength of viewing the research through alternative philosophical
lenses is recognised. The wide variety of systems approaches that might be of relevance within the
research have clear association with both extremes, for example, HST is more closely associated with
positivism and SSM has more in common with phenomenology. Consequently, the proposed research
does not commit to a single paradigm, aiming instead to take a neutral position, drawing upon the
strengths of alternative views.
Research Design
Research design should be consistent with the chosen philosophical position and decisions relating to
the design in key areas will be influenced by this. Three areas are key:
1. Action research is seen as providing an important influence in the design for the proposed research,
providing a generic framework that can accommodate the neutral philosophical position, providing the
necessary flexibility to respond to prevailing real life problems as defined by relevant stakeholders,
facilitating improvement in the problem situations and facilitating learning that can be transferred to
new applications. As action research is context bound, the transferability of the learning relies on
understanding both the original contextual situation and the context of any new situation to determine
its applicability.
The nature of the personal and practical research objectives, in particular the need to address practical
organisational problems in partnership with local participants and given the position of the researcher
within the problem context, seem to all support the selection of an action research design focused upon
interventions in a series of problem areas.
2. Checkland & Poulter (2006, p19) present a developmental process, known as LUMAS, as a generic
model for making sense of any real world application of any methodology. LUMAS stands for
Learning for a User by a Methodology-informed Approach to a Situation. Here a user (U) perceives a
problem situation (S) and appreciating a methodology (M) adapts the methodology to the situation to
develop an approach (A) to be applied. The application aims to improve the situation and produce
learning (L).
The generic LUMAS model is seen as a relevant framework for reflecting upon the proposed research
process. Although the proposed research is not being applied to refine a single specific methodology,
the LUMAS model as a generic framework can be used to describe how the selection and application
of systems approaches leads to improvement in problem situations and produces learning that helps to
develop the systems approaches themselves as well as the users knowledge.
3. Critical Systems Practice is an action research approach comprising a metamethodology of four
stages:
Creativity to identify concerns, issues and problems
Choice to select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem
Implementation to develop and implement desired change
Reflection to create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches employed
and the metamethodology itself
The four phases of CSP provide a core structure to the action research. The research process will
initially follow an inductive form of inquiry to identify learning from individual interventions and then
take a deductive approach in evaluating a set of practical guidelines for application within future
problem interventions.
The high level project structure will take the following form:
1. Identify intervention opportunities:
monitor the organisational business context to identify problem areas with potential for
service improvement
research and monitor the development and application of systems theory and practice offering
potential to improve services. This will consider both criminal justice applications as well as
theory and practice from other sectors
in consultation with stakeholders, identify problem areas offering intervention opportunities.

Research Proposal

2.

For each selected problem area:


a. Creativity - Based on the current research experience and in consultation with
stakeholders, identify concerns, issues and problems and their relationships
b. Choice Select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem, acquiring
any necessary capability to undertake intervention
c. Implementation Develop and implement desired change proposals
d. Reflection Create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches employed
and the metamethodology itself.
Monitor/collect data on the intervention
Analyse & evaluate data in terms of its impact upon the problem situation and
achievement of the research objectives
Re-formulate research understanding and target subsequent intervention(s)
Develop a set of practical guidelines for employment of systems approaches that can be readily
deployed by practitioners in relevant problem situations with multiple stakeholders
Interpretation of overall research findings in relation to the overarching research objectives and
any subsequent refinements

3.
4.

Research Evaluation
As it is proposed that the study is based upon an action research design the study has to be judged upon
two broad criteria relating to the actions taken in the problem situation and the learning from each
application. The research questions formed the basis for a set of objectives relating to the action and
the research that will be addressed and evaluated iteratively. Although the evaluation methods will
be adapted to the specific interventions being employed, a generic structure will form the basis of this
that recognises the aspirations of action research and in particular critical systems practice described
earlier in this chapter. The dimensions of performance will be used to evaluate individual interventions.
Qualitative views and experiences of individuals will be used to evaluate findings and shape the
direction of (subsequent) research iterations. Qualitative assessment will be supplemented where
appropriate with quantitative data where this is seen to provide context and insight, for example in
terms of quantitative performance data such as crime detections or costings. The combination of
qualitative and quantitative assessment will be used to triangulate the findings.
Research Project Work Breakdown
Work Breakdown (assuming 5 year project duration)
Activity
Undertake research into problem context, theory & practice
Prepare & present upgrade document
1.

Identify intervention opportunities:


monitor the organisational business context to identify problem areas with potential
for service improvement
research and monitor the development and application of systems theory and
practice offering potential to improve services. This will consider both applications
within policing and community safety as well as theory and practice from other
sectors
in consultation with stakeholders, identify problem areas offering intervention
opportunities.
2. For each selected problem area:
a. Creativity - Based on the current research experience and in consultation with
stakeholders, identify concerns, issues and problems and their relationships
b. Choice Select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem,
acquiring any necessary capability to undertake intervention
c. Implementation Develop and implement desired change proposals
d. Reflection Create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches
employed and the metamethodology itself.
Monitor/collect data on the intervention
Analyse & evaluate data in terms of its impact upon the problem situation

Dates
March 2007
March 2011
June 2008 Dec
2008
Jan 2008 Sept
2010

Research Proposal

and achievement of the research objectives


Re-formulate research understanding and target subsequent intervention(s)
Develop a set of practical guidelines for employment of systems approaches that can be
readily deployed by practitioners in relevant problem situations with multiple stakeholders
Interpretation of overall research findings in relation to the overarching research objectives
and any subsequent refinements
Write up research thesis

Jan 2009-March
2011
Sept 2010
March 2012
Sept 2010
March 2012

Research Resources
Access to appropriate literature and expertise is a key requirement of the research. It is assumed that
this will be accessible through key university staff, resources and training. Appropriate information and
stakeholder access will be provided by West Yorkshire Police, along with the agreed researchers
project time and costs. It is also envisaged that Community Safety and other partnership networks at a
national and local level will be consulted and involved as part of the research. Although the researcher
is in a position to interact closely with the research subject, some constraints will be evident in terms of
access to individual stakeholders, their information and processes. Further, the opportunity to
implement the methodologies as outlined within the problem situation will be dependent upon gaining
additional stakeholder acceptance for their incorporation within the constraints of their existing
processes (such as timeframes) and the course of the research will be influenced by the changing
business environment and the problems and opportunities this might bring. However, it is envisaged
that the researcher will have a unique opportunity to apply systems thinking within high profile
corporate projects and to derive learning that will have a significant impact upon service improvement
as well as learning within the business sector and within systems thinking more generally.
Research Validity, Reliability and Generalisability
Validity, reliability and generalisability are factors that determine whether the research will stand up to
external scrutiny and the meaning of these factors will be affected by the philosophical viewpoint
adopted by the researcher. A positivist viewpoint might claim that without hard quantitative data and
methodological rules, the research cannot stand up to scrutiny. However, Greenwood & Levin (1998,
p81) contrast the conventional social researchers belief that credibility is created through generalising
and universalising propositions with their preferred AR model, believing instead that only knowledge
generated and tested in practice is credible.
As this project is to take the form of action research, Greenwood and Levins challenges of credibility
warrant consideration. They see the research credibility needing to stand up to challenge in terms of:
workability whether the resultant actions provide solutions to the problem;
sense making how to make sense out of the tangible results of the AR by way of a meaning
construction process that creates new knowledge; and
transcontextual credibility based upon a historical and contextual analysis, reliable
judgements can be made regarding the possibility of applying knowledge from one situation to
another.
These last two challenges are complemented with experience gained through the development of SSM.
Checkland & Poulter (2006, p177) identify a challenge for action research in terms of establishing a
truth criterion. To them the repeatability criterion of natural science is seen as inappropriate for
social situations and they suggest instead that the criterion of recoverability should be the aim.
Making explicit the research thinking and activity is seen as necessary to enable others to follow the
research process and understand how the outcomes were achieved. They emphasise the importance of
an advance declaration of the framework of language in terms of which knowledge will be defined (in
their case the carefully defined language of SSM).
The proposed research will not confine itself to a single philosophical paradigm and validity, reliability
and generalisability will need to consider the different perspectives presented in this section depending
on the nature of the individual interventions tackled. It is considered however, that Checkland and
Poulters recoverability criterion might be seen as being able to accommodate both positivist and
phenomenological positions and as such provides a valuable aspiration for all interventions and has
consequently been explicitly included as an evaluation criterion. Given the AR design for this study, its

Research Proposal

credibility must also be judged upon its ability to address the challenges offered by Greenwood &
Levin. Some of these challenges are addressed explicitly in the stated evaluation criteria (such as
workability) and others will need to be judged on the basis of the quality of research intervention
evidence and its interpretation as well as on the adherence to relevant methodological standards for
approaches applied during the study.
Ethical Issues
In accordance with the Ethical Principles for Researchers and Lecturers in the Hull University
Business School and the Universitys Ethical Approval Policy a series of ethical considerations will
be drawn up to guide the research. Written consent will be obtained from certain research project
participants. The action research design is based within a live work situation where research findings
are derived from the researchers observations of a series of projects in action. Not all project
participants will be specific subjects of the research. The data collected will relate to generalised
findings on project approaches employed rather than individuals involved in the projects and as such
the research data is a by-product of projects that would be progressed regardless of the research. Where
specific individuals views and involvement is sought and used in the research then specific consent
will be obtained on a project by project basis. It is considered that seeking general consent of other
project participants or to promote the research project to those participants not directly affected would
undermine the credibility and success of the projects themselves.
References
Checkland, P.B. and Poulter, J. (2006). Learning for Action : A Short Definitive Account of Soft
Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. Chichester: Wiley.
Comte, A. (1853). The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (translated: H. Martineau). London:
Trubner & Co.
Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Lowe, A. (1991), Management Research: An Introduction.
London: Sage Publications.
Eden, C., Ackermann, F., Bryson, J.M., Richardson, G.P., Andersen, D.F. and Finn, C.B. (2009).
Integrating modes of policy analysis and strategic management practice: requisite elements and
dilemmas. Journal of the Operational Research Society (2009) 60, 2-13
Flood, R. L. and Jackson, M. C. (1991). Creative Problem Solving, Total Systems Intervention.
Chichester: Wiley.
Greenwood, D. J., Levin, M. (1998). Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social
Change. London: Sage Publications.
Husserl, E. (1946). Phenomenology in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed. Vol17:699-702
Jackson, M.C. (2003). Systems Thinking - Creative Holism for Managers. Chichester: Wiley.
Jackson, M.C. (2009). Viewpoint - Managing the tensions created by mixing methods : comments for
Eden et al (2009) from a critical systems perspective. Journal of the Operational Research
Society 60, 1297-1299
Neuman, L. R. (2000), Social Research Methods - Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Boston:
Allyn and Bacon.