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Action Research for ICT Development for When You Don’t Really Have a Clue

The issue is how to develop solutions where researchers do not initially understand local issues and culture. At the same time the local communities cannot appreciate the potential of ICT to help address their development needs. These solutions are also developed in a political context that cannot accommodate patronising attitudes to policy makers or clients.
The fundamental attitude of the software developer has to be a combination of determination to overcome obstacles and humility to work without preconceived solutions or even research methods.
In this situation, we believe that an “extension” of iterative agile software design methods that take into account the cultural and social realities of the community and provides for the reciprocal learning of both the investigators and users is the right methodology. Such an extension, to all intents and purposes, ends up being Action Research. Once one recognizes this, the rich experience of several decades of Action Research becomes germane.
Action Research demands an open and ethical approach to the interventionist research undertakings. As researchers in a world that needs transformation and development we feel a sense of urgency to act and bring about beneficial change. We have learnt humility through failure and now understand that we are collaborators with our communities in the enterprise of change. We offer to help developing communities with the skills we have acquired.  We also recognize our own needs as researchers for information and results.  Out of this is (re-)born what has been called “Action Research” for the past sixty years.

Action Research grew out of the work of two groups after the Second World War: Kurt Lewin’s Research Centre for Group Dynamics at MIT and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations affiliated to London University. The war had encouraged cross-disciplinary work on tackling complex problems with an emphasis on attaining results and learning from the experience. These groups set out to apply these lessons to broader social issues.