Developing Action Research as an embodied life practice. An online conversation with Gill Coleman, Margaret Gearty and Judi Marshall,
pro-sustainability change involves more than just knowledge and information: it involves also personal reflection, collaborative working and a willingness to try new things in practice and learn from what happens.
Dr Gill Coleman
My practice of living and learning grapples with questions of change that span from the personal and local to the systemic and political
Dr Margaret Gearty
I’ve repeatedly explored what I am next curious about – including managers’ job stress, women in management, how to change organizational cultures, ‘responsible’ careers, education and action for sustainability, and the gendering of corporate social responsibility.
Dr Judi Marshall
Gill Coleman, Margaret Gearty and Judi Marshall will offer accounts of Action Research as a source of core but ever-flexible disciplines they adopt in seeking to act with integrity, in life generally and in the service of systemic change for sustainability.
If you’re new to Action Research then you’ll see it in practice and learn how you can get started.
The conversation will cover the following themes
- How they each developed notions and practices of action research
- How they have integrated formats of inquiry into the varied activities they have engaged in
- How they keep senses of inquiry alive, ever fresh and developing
- How they live with the vulnerabilities of engaging in ongoing inquiry
- In what ways they see these life practices relating to earth conversations
- Why and how developing action research practices might be relevant to ASP members
An initial learning conversation amongst the three of them, as a triad, a classic co-inquiry form – including engaging with questions posed by Helena and Jagdish, the ASP hosts who invited this contribution to Earth Conversations – and then opening out to a conversation amongst all participants.
Gill, Margaret and Judi have multiple identities, with many intersections. Very briefly: they were all members of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice (CARPP) at the School of Management at the University of Bath. Gill and Margaret subsequently moved to Ashridge / Hult Business School to tutor on MSc and doctoral action research programmes there, and Judi to the Department of Management Learning and Leadership at Lancaster University Management School.
Dr Gill Coleman
Gill is an educator and researcher with more than 25 years’ experience of working with action research-based approaches to personal and organizational learning and change, particularly connected to issues of sustainability and social justice.
In the mid-1990s she left an academic post at Bristol University to join the New Academy of Business, a radical business education venture sponsored by Anita Roddick of The Body Shop International. While there, she worked with Judi Marshall and Peter Reason at the University of Bath to establish the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice, and helped establish and run a successor course, the Msc in Sustainability and Responsibility, at Ashridge Business School (now Hult International Business School) from 2009.
These programmes were innovative in the way they expressed the view that pro-sustainability change involves more than just knowledge and information: that personal reflection, collaborative working and a willingness to try new things in practice and learn from what happens also matter.
Gill has also been involved in action research doctoral teaching and supervision at Bath and at Ashridge, and has done workplace-based action research projects in the UK, US and Middle East.
Dr Margaret Gearty
Margaret is an action researcher and lifelong learner who sometimes describes herself as peripatetic scholar practitioner. Originally from Ireland she’s based near Bath in the UK where she enjoys exploring the local woods and swimming in nearby rivers when feeling brave.
Margaret’s specially interested in exploring how storytelling and action research might be creatively combined to develop meaningful personal and systemic responses to social and environmental issues, not least the climate crisis. One area of focus for Margaret over the years has been the approach of ‘learning histories’ as a means of surfacing stories of practice and spreading learning about ways to creatively organise and adapt within complex challenges. She has published and spoken widely on this. More recently Margaret joined Judi Marshall in writing about ‘living life as inquiry’ – as an embodied practice for change agents.
Via her research practice New Histories (established in 2012), Margaret has been lucky to be able to pursue her research interests with others through a diversity of projects relating to environmental sustainability. She has collaborated with teams and individuals from across public and private sectors to adopt inquiry-based approaches to learning that are often rooted in their day-to-day and life stories. Meanwhile Margaret’s a professor and active member of the teaching community at Ashridge /Hult business school. Since 2011 she has tutored on the PhD in organisational change there, and until 2018, on the MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility. In summary her practice of living and learning grapples with questions of change that span from the personal and local to the systemic and political. She blogs here regularly about ‘poetic activism’ as a way to make the connection.
Dr Judi Marshall
Judi joined academic life, by accident, in the 1970s. She has repeatedly explored what she is next curious about – including managers’ job stress, women in management, how to change organizational cultures, ‘responsible’ careers, education and action for sustainability, and the gendering of corporate social responsibility.living
Judi was at the School of Management, University of Bath from 1978 to 2008, where she was a core member of the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice (CARPP). In 2008 she moved to Lancaster University Management School, where she is now a Professor Emerita in Learning and Leadership.
From the early days of her PhD, Judi paid attention to and articulated the processes of going about researching, seeing research as both personal and political process. In her inquiries and educational practice she has worked with multiple ways of knowing and engaged in action alongside conceptual development.
Judi has especially enjoyed developing and tutoring part-time action research based masters and doctoral programmes for course participants who are seeking to contribute to systemic change in their organizations and society as well as in their own lives. in 1997 Judi, Gill Coleman and Peter Reason developed the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice at Bath addressing issues of sustainability and social justice. Leadership for Sustainability: An action research approach (2011, Greenleaf) tells the stories of 29 graduates from that degree.
Judi’s contributions to action research are expressed in a sequence of publications on the development of first person action research approaches, including First person action research: Living life as inquiry (2016, Sage), and a paper on living life as inquiry with Margaret Gearty in Systemic Practice and Action Research in August 2021. Copies of some of Judi’s papers can be found on www.jmarshall.org.uk