Action Research Reporting: Is Your Project Valid, Credible or Reliable?

Nancy B. Alston

At the end of your action research project, or even as a formative assessment halfway through, you will need to go back over your data and analyze what you have really done. This article is the last of five that outline the process for analyzing research, and analyzing action research and reporting them. Analysis and reporting are an alchemical processes through which the researcher looks carefully at all they have done and a completely new version of what happened emerges from that reflection. Whether and to what extent that new embodiment of the work is convincing or important to others has a great deal to do with how deeply you can justify whether or not your work is valid, credible, or reliable to others. This article is the last in a series of five which takes you through both reflecting upon your project, and then what is needed in reporting on it.

Research practice is typically measured against the standards of validity, credibility, and reliability. Together and make the argument that your findings and your conclusions are correct, and your report becomes convincing to your audience. Valid, credible, and reliable are concepts that apply beyond the research community, although they have very specific meaning within a research paradigm. Now, you need to question whether or not you can make a claim for your work against those three standards.

Validity

AR has two overarching goals: 1) to increase personal and community knowledge about a topic of this study and 2) to show results to improvements or movement towards defined purpose. To what extent the practitioner can demonstrate these two goals then determines the validity of their claims. Your study may be valid in one area but not in the other, as discussed previously in this chapter when we separated your personal results from your professional. Herr and Anderson go on to discuss several kinds of validity, each of which is a claim you could make in your final report.

Outcome validity is whether or not you were successful in getting to your purpose.

Process validity discusses whether you can show that your research was well done, that it included the voices of others in the context, and that it met the standards of research as discussed throughout this book.

Democratic validity is appropriate for participatory action research studies and it demonstrates that the voices of all members of the community were considered.

Catalytic validity is exemplified in the nurse’s study in the previous section of this chapter. It is when one of your outcomes exceeds your target in one or more ways.

Finally, dialogic validity can be claimed by the extent to which you can demonstrate that a diverse group of stakeholders were involved and now agree with your final conclusions and analysis. Dialogic validity requires a discussion of the ways in which others collaborated with you throughout the project and through analysis and the report writing.

Credibility

There are two attributes that you need to consider as you write your final report in order to ensure its credibility to your stakeholders: how you report the data, and how you report the process. Credibility (whether or not your case is convincing) is the degree to which the person reading the report thinks that it makes sense. This is a subjective judgment and requires action researchers to be cognizant of their audience and context. Most action research uses concurrent qualitative and quantitative data gathering strategies, and together they enhance the strength of each other. As has been discussed earlier, qualitative data such as interviews can be quantified by counting the number of times certain subjects are discussed. Also the percentages of individuals who agree to one thing or another quantifies qualitative evidence and makes it feel more solid, or credible to the reader. Likewise, quantitative evidence can be qualified by discussing key phrases that were written as comments,or adding quotations from interviews that agree with the finding which developed.Your final report will be more credible to the extent you are able to merge and weave all your data together so that the interplay between it makes sense to your reader.

The second question that you have to consider is how or whether you are going to report your process. While action researchers enjoy the cycles of discovery, measurable action, and reflection they are not inherently necessary in the final report. At the same time there can be definite reasons that you need to explain the process, in order to make what you found seem natural, and therefore more credible, to your audience. Basically, if you found that your process added to your findings you should discuss your process to your reader as well. Providing that your findings are valid, writing them up as part of the process that revealed them will add further credibility.

Reliability

Action research often tries to create an effect on things or situations that are complex. Therefore results may not dependably transfer across settings and action researchers in general do not believe in a “one size fits all” type of solution. Nevertheless, it is interesting to read what is happening to others in your field and I completely believe in the reliability of AR project result. They are useful, if not to create a model for success, at least to provoke new and innovative ideas in business non-profit and public administration. Therefore you may want to start to increase the reliability of your project through reading the studies of other action researchers.

There are two types of reliability: internal and external. Internal has to do with whether and to what extent you followed solid research practices in the way you gathered and analyzed your data. You also need to be able to demonstrate one-to-one correlation between your data and your findings. Both of these are considered internal reliability. Another test of reliability is whether or not these studies could be implemented in new settings and this is known as external reliability. It is wise to discuss both if writing a report for an academic audience.

This concludes this series of five short articles aimed at helping you as an action researcher to analyze your data and write up your final report. Also discussed in this series were: how to analyze action research from a personal point of view, or in conjunction to its purpose, or as a result of your measurable actions, and finally how to determine if you succeeded or failed overall. No matter what the outcome of this particular action research project, it has proven itself as a transformational tool and one that is very useful for individuals or groups trying to make positive changes in complex situations.

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