Research Proposal. Background

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1 Research Proposal Background The business context for the emergency services and public service more generally has been changing to one where problem situations are more complex, turbulent and diverse in nature, typified by the growing importance of non-emergency services delivered in partnership with other agencies that recognise the importance of diverse customer needs. As the types of problem to be addressed have evolved, the question arises as to whether the approaches traditionally used to help managers better operate in this new environment are still sufficient and the System of Systems Methodologies (SOSM) (Flood & Jackson, 1991) can be usefully employed to reflect on this situation. Commonly, problem situations are taken as simple-unitary and in particular HST predominates. Consequently the systems approaches employed neither provide a means of gaining consensus among stakeholders with potentially differing world views nor reliably accommodate complexity. The emphasis placed upon simple unitary approaches to address the new environment of policing and community safety problems not only runs the risk of failing to tackle problems effectively but also undermines the value of systems thinking in the eyes of stakeholders; limits the understanding of alternative systems thinking approaches within the sector and reduces the motivation to build the necessary capability locally to view problem situations from a number of viewpoints through employment of a variety of systems approaches. However, despite these barriers there are examples of successful applications of alternative systems approaches and of the development of broader systems thinking capability in the sector. This situation presents a challenge to the business sector and systems thinkers in terms of encouraging and improving the application of systems thinking in the policing and community safety sector to better meet the requirements of the new operating environment. To help respond to this challenge we need to learn whether some systems approaches and methods of deployment are more effective than others in certain situations and understand why this is the case in order to improve the future application in new contexts. Jackson (2003, p315) emphasises the potential to develop Critical Systems Practice through an ongoing process of action research and Jackson s viewpoint (Jackson, 2009) on Eden (2009) identifies the significance of leadership and facilitation in multi-method work as. Purpose of Research An underpinning question within the proposed research is whether the application of CST can bring about significant improvement in the development of joint service provision and its management within the policing and community safety sector. CST seeks to consider a wide variety of systems approaches when viewing problems in order to improve the response to situations that are increasingly complex, diverse and turbulent (Jackson, 2003, p275). Different systems approaches bring with them strengths and weaknesses and a critical awareness of these can help would be problem solvers identify ways of improving situations through pluralism in theory and method. Through consideration of the SOSM it is possible to reflect upon the systems thinking approaches in relation to the problem contexts currently being faced by organisations involved in joint problem solving. The SOSM proposes that problem situations can be usefully, though not strictly, viewed in terms of system complexity (from simple to complex) and the relationships that exist between those concerned with the problem context (unitary, plural or coercive). The new policing environment, typified by the introduction of: Public Service Agreements Local Area Agreements Integrated Offender Management heightens the challenge of encompassing a wider range of stakeholders in developing and managing services. The strategic direction of these initiatives places a greater emphasis on joint responsibility for problem solving amongst partners and with local communities. There is a requirement for these stakeholders to work together in a more formal way but to still operate as independent bodies. The nature of the problem situations now being faced, the range of largely independent stakeholder organisations involved, each with subtly different and potentially conflicting purposes, demands a

2 different approach. The relationships between the actions/impacts of these stakeholders which are highly complex, often displaying political and power dimensions, make the problem situations extremely difficult to understand let alone control. Research Questions A set of research questions and associated research objectives underpin the proposed study. The following table presents the questions to be applied within the policing and community safety sector that set the agenda for the research along with their associated research objectives. Research Question 1. Can the application of critical systems thinking improve the success of joint problem solving (within the policing and community safety sector)? 2. Are there combinations of systems methodologies, methods and techniques that are found to be particularly successful in meeting the challenges of service improvement, identifying the features that are influential in effective engagement of stakeholders and actors in joint service improvement interventions? 3. How do these systems interventions address the challenge of handling the multiple philosophical assumptions (paradigms) that underpin the problem situations and systems approaches employed? 4. What is the influence of leadership in the facilitation process upon the successful application of systems approaches by managers and facilitators? 5. Can effective processes be established to improve the capability of problem solvers in the sector to successfully select and employ systems thinking, through a more informed understanding of the impact of systems approaches in prevailing problem contexts? Linked Research Objective 1. Determine whether the application of critical systems thinking can bring about significant improvement in the effectiveness of joint service provision and its management 2. Identify and implement practical combinations of systems approaches that help policing service stakeholders fulfill their purposes in relation to joint problem solving 3. Determine the features of approaches that are found to be influential in successfully supporting multi-paradigm problem solving, recognising contextual factors that might affect transferability 4. Determine the impact of leadership in the facilitation process upon the successful application of systems approaches by managers and facilitators, recognising those factors that are particularly influential 5. Develop guidance to assist sector practitioners successfully select and employ systems thinking in problem situations through a better understanding of the impact of systems approaches Research Philosophies The philosophical position taken by the researcher will determine the methodology applied. Although there are numerous philosophical positions and variants purported in literature, Easterby-Smith et al (1991) identify two extremes of philosophical position that can usefully be employed to reflect on the research approach, with at one extreme, positivism and at the other phenomenology. Positivism sees the social world as existing externally and measurable by objective methods. Augustus Comte was influential in this view and believed that real knowledge was based upon observed fact (Comte, 1853). Although there is no single universally accepted set of characteristics, taking this view the researcher sees truth as logical, linked and predictable and believes it is possible to derive and understand it through objective mathematical logic and scientific methods. Quantitative methods are seen as the most reliable tools to derive knowledge in an objective world (Neuman, 2000). Phenomenology on the other hand views the world as socially constructed and given meaning by people rather than being objective and external (Husserl, 1946).

3 As a critical systems thinker, the strength of viewing the research through alternative philosophical lenses is recognised. The wide variety of systems approaches that might be of relevance within the research have clear association with both extremes, for example, HST is more closely associated with positivism and SSM has more in common with phenomenology. Consequently, the proposed research does not commit to a single paradigm, aiming instead to take a neutral position, drawing upon the strengths of alternative views. Research Design Research design should be consistent with the chosen philosophical position and decisions relating to the design in key areas will be influenced by this. Three areas are key: 1. Action research is seen as providing an important influence in the design for the proposed research, providing a generic framework that can accommodate the neutral philosophical position, providing the necessary flexibility to respond to prevailing real life problems as defined by relevant stakeholders, facilitating improvement in the problem situations and facilitating learning that can be transferred to new applications. As action research is context bound, the transferability of the learning relies on understanding both the original contextual situation and the context of any new situation to determine its applicability. The nature of the personal and practical research objectives, in particular the need to address practical organisational problems in partnership with local participants and given the position of the researcher within the problem context, seem to all support the selection of an action research design focused upon interventions in a series of problem areas. 2. Checkland & Poulter (2006, p19) present a developmental process, known as LUMAS, as a generic model for making sense of any real world application of any methodology. LUMAS stands for Learning for a User by a Methodology-informed Approach to a Situation. Here a user (U) perceives a problem situation (S) and appreciating a methodology (M) adapts the methodology to the situation to develop an approach (A) to be applied. The application aims to improve the situation and produce learning (L). The generic LUMAS model is seen as a relevant framework for reflecting upon the proposed research process. Although the proposed research is not being applied to refine a single specific methodology, the LUMAS model as a generic framework can be used to describe how the selection and application of systems approaches leads to improvement in problem situations and produces learning that helps to develop the systems approaches themselves as well as the users knowledge. 3. Critical Systems Practice is an action research approach comprising a metamethodology of four stages: Creativity to identify concerns, issues and problems Choice to select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem Implementation to develop and implement desired change Reflection to create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches employed and the metamethodology itself The four phases of CSP provide a core structure to the action research. The research process will initially follow an inductive form of inquiry to identify learning from individual interventions and then take a deductive approach in evaluating a set of practical guidelines for application within future problem interventions. The high level project structure will take the following form: 1. Identify intervention opportunities: monitor the organisational business context to identify problem areas with potential for service improvement research and monitor the development and application of systems theory and practice offering potential to improve services. This will consider both criminal justice applications as well as theory and practice from other sectors in consultation with stakeholders, identify problem areas offering intervention opportunities.

4 2. For each selected problem area: a. Creativity - Based on the current research experience and in consultation with stakeholders, identify concerns, issues and problems and their relationships b. Choice Select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem, acquiring any necessary capability to undertake intervention c. Implementation Develop and implement desired change proposals d. Reflection Create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches employed and the metamethodology itself. Monitor/collect data on the intervention Analyse & evaluate data in terms of its impact upon the problem situation and achievement of the research objectives Re-formulate research understanding and target subsequent intervention(s) 3. Develop a set of practical guidelines for employment of systems approaches that can be readily deployed by practitioners in relevant problem situations with multiple stakeholders 4. Interpretation of overall research findings in relation to the overarching research objectives and any subsequent refinements Research Evaluation As it is proposed that the study is based upon an action research design the study has to be judged upon two broad criteria relating to the actions taken in the problem situation and the learning from each application. The research questions formed the basis for a set of objectives relating to the action and the research that will be addressed and evaluated iteratively. Although the evaluation methods will be adapted to the specific interventions being employed, a generic structure will form the basis of this that recognises the aspirations of action research and in particular critical systems practice described earlier in this chapter. The dimensions of performance will be used to evaluate individual interventions. Qualitative views and experiences of individuals will be used to evaluate findings and shape the direction of (subsequent) research iterations. Qualitative assessment will be supplemented where appropriate with quantitative data where this is seen to provide context and insight, for example in terms of quantitative performance data such as crime detections or costings. The combination of qualitative and quantitative assessment will be used to triangulate the findings. Research Project Work Breakdown Work Breakdown (assuming 5 year project duration) Activity Dates Undertake research into problem context, theory & practice March 2007 March 2011 Prepare & present upgrade document June 2008 Dec Identify intervention opportunities: Jan 2008 Sept monitor the organisational business context to identify problem areas with potential for service improvement 2010 research and monitor the development and application of systems theory and practice offering potential to improve services. This will consider both applications within policing and community safety as well as theory and practice from other sectors in consultation with stakeholders, identify problem areas offering intervention opportunities. 2. For each selected problem area: a. Creativity - Based on the current research experience and in consultation with stakeholders, identify concerns, issues and problems and their relationships b. Choice Select the most appropriate systems approaches to address the problem, acquiring any necessary capability to undertake intervention c. Implementation Develop and implement desired change proposals d. Reflection Create learning about the problem situation, the systems approaches employed and the metamethodology itself. Monitor/collect data on the intervention Analyse & evaluate data in terms of its impact upon the problem situation

5 and achievement of the research objectives Re-formulate research understanding and target subsequent intervention(s) Develop a set of practical guidelines for employment of systems approaches that can be Jan 2009-March readily deployed by practitioners in relevant problem situations with multiple stakeholders 2011 Interpretation of overall research findings in relation to the overarching research objectives Sept 2010 and any subsequent refinements March 2012 Write up research thesis Sept 2010 March 2012 Research Resources Access to appropriate literature and expertise is a key requirement of the research. It is assumed that this will be accessible through key university staff, resources and training. Appropriate information and stakeholder access will be provided by West Yorkshire Police, along with the agreed researcher s project time and costs. It is also envisaged that Community Safety and other partnership networks at a national and local level will be consulted and involved as part of the research. Although the researcher is in a position to interact closely with the research subject, some constraints will be evident in terms of access to individual stakeholders, their information and processes. Further, the opportunity to implement the methodologies as outlined within the problem situation will be dependent upon gaining additional stakeholder acceptance for their incorporation within the constraints of their existing processes (such as timeframes) and the course of the research will be influenced by the changing business environment and the problems and opportunities this might bring. However, it is envisaged that the researcher will have a unique opportunity to apply systems thinking within high profile corporate projects and to derive learning that will have a significant impact upon service improvement as well as learning within the business sector and within systems thinking more generally. Research Validity, Reliability and Generalisability Validity, reliability and generalisability are factors that determine whether the research will stand up to external scrutiny and the meaning of these factors will be affected by the philosophical viewpoint adopted by the researcher. A positivist viewpoint might claim that without hard quantitative data and methodological rules, the research cannot stand up to scrutiny. However, Greenwood & Levin (1998, p81) contrast the conventional social researchers belief that credibility is created through generalising and universalising propositions with their preferred AR model, believing instead that only knowledge generated and tested in practice is credible. As this project is to take the form of action research, Greenwood and Levin s challenges of credibility warrant consideration. They see the research credibility needing to stand up to challenge in terms of: workability whether the resultant actions provide solutions to the problem; sense making how to make sense out of the tangible results of the AR by way of a meaning construction process that creates new knowledge; and transcontextual credibility based upon a historical and contextual analysis, reliable judgements can be made regarding the possibility of applying knowledge from one situation to another. These last two challenges are complemented with experience gained through the development of SSM. Checkland & Poulter (2006, p177) identify a challenge for action research in terms of establishing a truth criterion. To them the repeatability criterion of natural science is seen as inappropriate for social situations and they suggest instead that the criterion of recoverability should be the aim. Making explicit the research thinking and activity is seen as necessary to enable others to follow the research process and understand how the outcomes were achieved. They emphasise the importance of an advance declaration of the framework of language in terms of which knowledge will be defined (in their case the carefully defined language of SSM). The proposed research will not confine itself to a single philosophical paradigm and validity, reliability and generalisability will need to consider the different perspectives presented in this section depending on the nature of the individual interventions tackled. It is considered however, that Checkland and Poulter s recoverability criterion might be seen as being able to accommodate both positivist and phenomenological positions and as such provides a valuable aspiration for all interventions and has consequently been explicitly included as an evaluation criterion. Given the AR design for this study, its

6 credibility must also be judged upon its ability to address the challenges offered by Greenwood & Levin. Some of these challenges are addressed explicitly in the stated evaluation criteria (such as workability ) and others will need to be judged on the basis of the quality of research intervention evidence and its interpretation as well as on the adherence to relevant methodological standards for approaches applied during the study. Ethical Issues In accordance with the Ethical Principles for Researchers and Lecturers in the Hull University Business School and the University s Ethical Approval Policy a series of ethical considerations will be drawn up to guide the research. Written consent will be obtained from certain research project participants. The action research design is based within a live work situation where research findings are derived from the researcher s observations of a series of projects in action. Not all project participants will be specific subjects of the research. The data collected will relate to generalised findings on project approaches employed rather than individuals involved in the projects and as such the research data is a by-product of projects that would be progressed regardless of the research. Where specific individuals views and involvement is sought and used in the research then specific consent will be obtained on a project by project basis. It is considered that seeking general consent of other project participants or to promote the research project to those participants not directly affected would undermine the credibility and success of the projects themselves. References Checkland, P.B. and Poulter, J. (2006). Learning for Action : A Short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. Chichester: Wiley. Comte, A. (1853). The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (translated: H. Martineau). London: Trubner & Co. Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Lowe, A. (1991), Management Research: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications. Eden, C., Ackermann, F., Bryson, J.M., Richardson, G.P., Andersen, D.F. and Finn, C.B. (2009). Integrating modes of policy analysis and strategic management practice: requisite elements and dilemmas. Journal of the Operational Research Society (2009) 60, 2-13 Flood, R. L. and Jackson, M. C. (1991). Creative Problem Solving, Total Systems Intervention. Chichester: Wiley. Greenwood, D. J., Levin, M. (1998). Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change. London: Sage Publications. Husserl, E. (1946). Phenomenology in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14 th ed. Vol17: Jackson, M.C. (2003). Systems Thinking - Creative Holism for Managers. Chichester: Wiley. Jackson, M.C. (2009). Viewpoint - Managing the tensions created by mixing methods : comments for Eden et al (2009) from a critical systems perspective. Journal of the Operational Research Society 60, Neuman, L. R. (2000), Social Research Methods - Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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