Discuss the statement that a positivist approach to research would be an inappropriate approach to researching change management. The generation of information is essential for the progress of our society, Knowledge and understanding of our natural, social, and economic environments have become the basis of modern societies and organizations and a firm grasp of research methods and processes have become an essential skill for modern managers. There are a few different approaches that may be taken to research and several methods of data gathering and analysis.
However, there are two main paradigms in social science research that are as known as positivist research and critical interpretive or action research. This essay Will discuss why it is inappropriate to use a positivist approach when researching change management situations.
The key focus of positivist research is based on the idea that the social world exists externally to us and that our world may be measured through objective methods, rather than being inferred subjectively through sensations.
reflection or intuition. Researchers are seen to be separate to research projects and its central purpose is to uncover facts, the implication of this is that the choice of what to study, and how to study it, can be determined by objective criteria rather than by human beliefs and interests. The positivist paradigm believes that making comparisons of variations across samples can best identify patterns and irregularities. Within the positiVist paradigm, data is collected in a quantitative manner and can usually be described or represented in numerical form.
In order to analyze this data, we do a series of statistical tests to be able to determine the significance and importance of the data to either prove or disprove the hypothesis under consideration.
These statistical tests are designed to measure central tendency, dispersion, frequency, variance and correlation. To be sure of the numerical reliability of the results it is often necessary to study relatively large numbers of people or organisations – i,e. the researcher needs a fairly large sample size of the population that he she is studying and what is more important, is that these samples are representative of the whole population. Computers are usually used to manage. process and analyse the data. However, this type of research paradigm became increasingly unsuitable as soft systems and human activity systems concepts became more significant. Within these systems greater importance was placed on human perspectives and beliefs. However, these perspectives were inappropriate Within the positivist research paradigm because the data collection, management and analysis processes don’t leave room for subjectivity.
People’s perspectives on a complex situation cannot be meaningfully measured using numbers, which meant that the statistical tests used in positivist research became irrelevant. Consequently, another paradigm evolved that of action research, also known as the critical interpretive approach to research. Action research can be described as a group of research methodologies that pursue action (change) and research. It is about trying to understand and explain why people have different experiences as opposed to positiist methods that search for external causes to explain the behavior of something. Also unlike positivist research, the researcher is seen to be a part of the research process and his/her feelings, as well as reasoning, can help to shape the progress of the research. In action research, data are collected in a qualitative manner that is concerned with the idea that reality can be socially constructed rather than objectively determined. Consequently, social scientists are more concerned with appreciating different perceptions of people and the meanings people place on different events rather than gathering and analyzing facts and measuring how often a certain pattern occurs.
According to Ticehurst qualitative methods require a more flexible approach to data gathering and management. Quantitative research often uses a deductive process of thinking, whereas qualitative research demands a more inductive thinking process. This means that in terms of research design, hypothesis formation evolves as the research project progresses data analysis and collection take place simultaneously and writing is also often an ongoing process rather than a separate thing that happens at the end of a project. The methods used in a qualitative research process include observation, informal and in-depth interviewing and participant observation. Clearly this approach places more reliance on the people being studied to provide their own explanation of their situation or behavior, Ticehurst Ii Veal (1999) states that the action researcher tries to ‘get inside’ the minds of his or her subjects and see the world from their point of view in this respect also, the action research paradigm differs from the positivist paradigm in that it is based on the belief that a more complete and holistic understanding of the experiences of a few individuals, however unrepresentative that group is of the whole population. is of more value than a limited amount of specific information for a large, representative group ol people or organizations.
Although there is a Vigorous debate about the merits of the two methods, Ticehurst & Veal (1999) believe that the best research is done with a combination of the two that quantitative research should be based on qualitative research. In fact, there is often an overlap between the two methods and any piece of research becomes a matter of degree rather than absolute distinction. The most important point is that both positions make significant assumptions concerning approaches to research and when choosing an approach, it is important to consider all aspects, it is recommended to use a combination of the two as the research results will provide a more detailed insight into the situation, Research in change management situations is often necessary when constructing conceptual models of possible future improved situations. With change management is to deal with a complex situation, which is best considered in terms of soft systems as opposed to hard systems. This is because a hard system approach attempts to quantify the problem, which is a concept that belongs within the positivist paradigm.
The soft systems approach however is vastly different in that it considers that a system exists in terms of human perceptions rather than hard facts, which clearly aligns with the action research paradigm. it is more effective to take the soft systems approach in change management as this approach takes into account the views, concerns and perceptions of those people involved in the complex situation. A well known methodology has been developed to investigate human activity systems and to facilitate the planning and implementation of improvements in these situations. It‘s called Soft Systems Methodology, developed by Peter Checkland. This process recognizes the central place of human perceptions in the definition of the ‘problem’ and in the design of a system to represent the complex situations of management and action research is often needed as a pait of the process. Action research is more suitable than positIist research because action research has a Similar focus on human perceptions.
Up to this point, two different research approaches have been discussed along with the concepts and ideas belonging to each. In terms of change management situations, it may be concluded that the positivist approach would not be suitable because it relies on quantifying data and carrying out statistical analysis. in a complex change management situation however, it is more important to place emphasis on people’s perceptions of the situation, as they are the people who will be affected by the proposed change. Action research is designed for this purpose as indicated by its name, it is intended to lead to change (action) and understanding (research) at the same time. An action research project within change management operates on the belief that the best way of learning about an organization or social system is through attempting to change it and that those people most likely to be affected by the change should be involved in the research process itself.
The action is achieved by applying the principles of change – most often participative change because usually people are more committed to their own decisions and actions than to other people’s decisions. Therefore, the most effective change plans are those implemented by the participants themselves. Furthermore. there is an increased likelihood of collecting better or more complete data if certain people are involved. For research outcomes, the most effective methodology is one that generates appropriate data and interpretations. For change management is one that generates commitment to the change, action research is cyclic by nature, going around the Kolb learning cycle (1984) through planning, acting, observing, and reflecting then planning, acting, etc. This is theory/research and practice/action integrated. Action research takes form slowly. informed by the growing understanding of those using it, of the movement around the cycle. This is what allows it to be sufficiently flexible and responsive that it can be used in change programs.
In conclusion, approaching change management in the positive paradigm is inappropriate because it seeks to uncover facts and implement statistical analysis In order to prove hypotheses. Change management situations however, cannot be numerically depicted and analyzed as it is more about human perceptions and biases which has no place within the positivist paradigm. In opposition of the positivist approach, action research is concerned primarily with human experiences and is a particular way of critically learning about events in this world in order to change them. According to Zuberr Skerritt (1991), it combines theory with practice into a critical process where one seeks to find out about their world so that one can take informed action in it. Within the action research paradigm, the primary idea is that what we do in this world is determined by the way we see. Thus there Will need to be some significant changes in the way we go about our ‘seeing’ and ‘dog’ if we are to improve our current situation through action research.