Action Research and Reflective Practice

How do promising management practices evolve? It’s a tough question.


Typically, scholars construct new theories from their research: think of Amy Edmondson’s work on psychological safety or Michael Porter’s 5 Forces model in strategy.

They publish in practitioner-oriented journals, like the Harvard Business Review or the MIT Sloan Management Review. They publish books. They develop courses.

Developing research that helps practitioners is, however, not an easy path for scholars. Rigorous scholarly research — research that can make its way into peer-reviewed journals — is not always relevant to practice. That leads to the “rigor v. relevance” gap.


There’s another path.

Practitioners, in collaboration with researchers, can generate scholarly research. Action research is an umbrella term for research designed to generate actionable knowledge in the course of solving problems. In some academic disciplines, action research is well-accepted by scholars as a legitimate way to generate valid knowledge. In others, like strategic management, not so much.

Strategic Doing evolved from reflective practice and provides an exemplar for this approach. The development of this discipline provides an example of how action research can generate theory, actionable knowledge, and the skills needed to apply this knowledge.


Without the support of scholars from three universities — Purdue University, University of North Alabama, and University of the Sunshine Coast — my work in developing a strategy discipline for networks would not have developed.

I’m in the process of developing a course on emerging management practices for our doctoral students. I plan to use the following graphic to tell the story.

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