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Bridging the gap between academic research and technological practice: Roles, benefits and pitfalls of action research in information systems development
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Land and Water Resources Engineering.
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Land and Water Resources Engineering.
(English)Manuscript (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This paper highlights the shortfalls of traditional approaches to academic research in the technological sciences, with respect to their failure to effectively impact on practice and tosupport joint learning between academicians and practitioners. Action Research (AR) is proposedas a suitable way of bridging this gap. AR is an inquiry process that involves partnership between researchers and practitioners for the purpose of addressing a real life problem issue, while simultaneously generating scientific knowledge. It is recognized that AR methods provide apotential avenue to improve the practical relevance of Information Systems (IS) research. An ARapproach has been used in an ongoing study involving the development of Decision SupportSystems (DSS) for water supply management in Uganda. The study seeks to explore how thedegree of adoption of DSS in practice, generally perceived to be low, may be improved.However, AR is not without its challenges, many of which are both contextual and emergent innature, and these are highlighted in the paper. The case study thus provides an opportunity, notonly to carry out research specific to the particular field of study (IS development), but also to reflect on the roles, benefits and pitfalls of AR as a research approach.

Keyword [en]
Action Research, Joint learning, Collaborative research, Decision Support Systems
National Category
Water Engineering
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-8668OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-8668DiVA: diva2:14050
Note
QC 20100723Available from: 2008-06-04 Created: 2008-06-04 Last updated: 2010-07-23Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Development of Decision Support Tools for Urban Water Supply Management in Uganda
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Development of Decision Support Tools for Urban Water Supply Management in Uganda
2008 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

In this study, five real-life problem situations were used to explore the challenges of developing and implementing decision support tools for management of an urban water utility in Uganda. The study sought to explore how the degree of adoption of formal decision support tools in practice, generally perceived to be low, could be improved. In the study, an Action Research (AR) approach was used. AR is an inquiry process that involves partnership between researchers and practitioners for the purpose of addressing a real-life problem issue, while simultaneously gener-ating scientific knowledge. Unlike other research methods where the researcher seeks to study organizational phenomena but not to change them, the action researcher attempts to create or-ganizational change and simultaneously to study the process. It is recognized that AR methods provide a potential avenue to improve the practical relevance of Information Systems (IS) re-search.

The five cases that were considered in the study involved participatory problem structuring to address water distribution bottlenecks; identification of Non-Revenue Water (NRW) reduction strategies; facilitation of decentralized management of customer accounts; monitoring and con-trol of procurements and expenditure; and geospatial investigation of declining water sales. Dur-ing the study, participation in problem identification was achieved through discussions and brain-storming sessions bringing together top and middle managers within the organization. A number of prototype decision support tools were developed and implemented. Maps and other geovisu-alization tools were also used to inform and enhance the processes of collective problem identifi-cation and structuring.

Results of the study emphasized the need for proper problem structuring prior to the formula-tion of actions; the challenge of moving from planning to action; the importance of user in-volvement in the development of tools; and the need to manage IS implementation as part of a holistic, organization-wide change process. The challenges of embedding formal decision support within existing work systems in organizations were highlighted, and recommendations were made on how best to achieve this. The AR approach was found to be useful in bridging the gap be-tween academic research and technological practice, thus supporting the development of IS with immediate and practical benefits to organizations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH, 2008. x, 36 p.
Series
Trita-LWR. LIC, ISSN 1650-8629 ; 2041
Keyword
Decision support systems, Participatory decision-making, Geovisualization, Non-revenue water, Geostatistics, Action research
National Category
Water Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-4803 (URN)978-91-7415-018-6 (ISBN)
Presentation
2008-06-13, V3, KTH, Teknikringen 72, Stockholm, 13:15
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20101115Available from: 2008-06-04 Created: 2008-06-04 Last updated: 2010-11-15Bibliographically approved
2. Water supply management in an urban utility: A prototype decision support framework
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Water supply management in an urban utility: A prototype decision support framework
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this study, four real-life problem situations were used to explore the challenges of developing and implementing decision support tools for planning and management within an urban water utility. The study sought to explore how the degree of adoption of formal decision support tools in practice, generally perceived to be low, could be improved. In the study, an Action Research (AR) approach was used. AR is an inquiry process that involves partnership between researchers and practitioners for the purpose of addressing a real-life problem issue, while simultaneously generating scientific knowledge. Unlike other research methods where the researcher seeks to study organizational phenomena but not to change them, the action researcher attempts to create organizational change and simultaneously to study the process.

During the study, a number of prototype data management tools were developed. GIS-based spatial analysis and visualisation tools were extensively used to inform and enhance the processes of participatory problem identification and structuring, while a number of modelling tools were applied in the generation and evaluation of alternative solutions. As an outcome of the study, a prototype framework for the application of decision support tools within an urban water supply planning and management context was proposed.

The study highlighted the challenges of embedding formal decision support processes within existing work systems in organizations, and recommendations were made on how best to achieve this. The AR approach was found to be useful in bridging the gap between academic research and technological practice, supporting the development of computerised planning and decision support tools of practical benefit to organizations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH, 2009. x, 45 p.
Series
Trita-LWR. PHD, ISSN 1650-8602 ; 1054
Keyword
Decision support systems; Geographic information systems; Participatory planning; Urban water supply management; Decision support framework; Action research
National Category
Water Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-11900 (URN)978-91-7415-543-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-02-05, Conference Room, Department of Food Science and Technology, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20100723Available from: 2010-01-25 Created: 2010-01-21 Last updated: 2010-07-23Bibliographically approved

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