Research – from data to knowledge

As an Action Researcher I belong to a group of people who distinguish research on nature from research on social systems – while being aware that social systems are a part of nature’s incredible variety. Before I introduce you to Action Research as such, I’ d like to take a closer look to research. Especially on the process of generating knowledge from data, and what makes good research.

An example. My nick Nae73 is data. It includes the 73. When you see it you might – or might not – interpret it as information. E.g., one could assume that 73 is my year of birth. If you read elsewhere that I am 40 it is not too far fetched to say: I know that Nae was born in 1973. You can now even generate new knowledge, if you can calculate and know your year: that I am not born between January and July. Which is true; I am scorpio. TADA, good research! Right?

Wrong! Although in this case the conclusions you draw were right, they are based on the false assumption that I chose 73 to indicate my year of birth. The real reason why I chose the 73 is that 73 is the best number. That I happen to be born in the best of years is a coincidence.

But what is wrong with the initial interpretation, if the knowledge we generated was correct? 

Nothing, actually. You might even find that it meets crucial criteria for good research, which are objectivity, reliability and validity. To keep it short and simple:

  • If the majority of people you ask also concludes that I am born in 1973, you assume reliability.
  • As many people use a number in their nick which does indicate their age, it is appropriate to assume I did so, too. That’s (totally superficial) validity.
  • Ignoring your own fling for Sheldon Cooper when evaluating my nick would show you’re unbiased: objectivity.

In traditional research traditions, it goes like this:

If you want to evaluate me (research topic + questions), you look at the data (methodology): Nae73. You evaluate the reference frame: online nickname, often structured as ‘name+age’ or ‘name+year’ (in research papers: discussion). You check secondary literature, supporting your interpretation of ‘name+year’. You present the finding: Nae was born in 1973 (question answered), in the third trimester of the year (area for further research). Everyone is happy, you met all quality criteria and get your paper published. Whoohoo!

Some Action Researchers of course share this more tradional approach, but we will see later on that researching human beings challenges the quality criteria on all levels. For today, let me focus on objectivity. The thing is not that the unbised approach led you to wrong findings, but it led you to a limited view of your research object. 

In AR, we do not assume objectivity. Some interpret this approach as arbitrary, because a researcher might interpret what she wants, but that is not the case. Denying the possibility of an objective researcher does not mean I can do whatever I want; it means I am doomed to interpret data based on my existing knowledge. You cannot interpret 73 as the best number if you have never heard of the idea of a ‘best number’. But if you have, you are a nerd lover and it is likely that you try to ignore it to stay objective. But why? Maybe your particular frame of reference is exactly my frame of reference, and you are the only researcher who can interpret me correctly? Which would be pointless, if your fellow researchers would not believe you, but that is the fate of all brilliant minds, isn’t it?

And here we approach the ‘poodle’s core‘: knowledge is only knowledge if others share it. This is as true for the traditional research community as it is for the relationship between action researchers and their research object. As an Action Researcher you would aks me which of your potential interpretations is correct – something no traditional researcher would even consider because part of the scientific word view is that ‘we know, and they don’t’. But that makes for another post.

I love research. But I do not like the elitist approach many scientists show. I think that they should write in a language which allows non-scientists to question their work. Especially because some say that politics should consider scientifc findings to a greater degree. Poltics – in democratic societies at least – should not be based on concepts nobody understands. And, for heaven’s sake, it should not be based on concepts treating human beings as ‘objects’!

Cheers, Nae73

Dear Granny,

I started blogging, and there is this challenge to get into the habit of writing regularly. Task six is writing a post for my dream reader. I considered some ‘to my lost love’ bullshit or a ‘why I adore Ellen‘ draft. But, you know what, the person I’d really love to speak to one last time is you. I miss you so much. And I’m angry that you left. You did not die in an unforeseen accident or after suffering from severe health issues; you had given up on living. 

Of course you had given up a long time ago. What I remember best is you sitting on your kitchen chair, preparing some food, and waiting to join Grandpa on the other side. What I learned from that was never to let someone so close that his death would rip my heart out of my body and leave me waiting for the end. Oddly, I got my heart ripped occasionally, nevertheless. A wall does not protect the heart, thank God!

But I also remember the warmth of your hugs and how close I felt to you, the only person who seemed to understand my inner struggles behind the outer ones. When I got pregnant unmarried, I know this was totally against everything you wanted for me, and against everything you considered right. But you never questioned my decision and stood firmly behind me. You were my hiding place. And now you’re gone.

Since you passed away, I completed my MBA and started teaching at university before setting up my consultancy. Can you imagine! I know where we come from, and how hard the family worked their way up the ladder. I eventually feel the pride I refused to accept when I was a kid and everyone was out of their minds because I would be the first family member on higher schooling. As a girl! I detested the fuss you made of it. But looking back to my roots, I get it.

The kid is now a teenage nerd, beautiful and bright, and I am curious to see where he will lead the family history. He challenges me on learning coding (I want someone to talk about it!), but I can’t be bothered. I still prefer reading a book, going to the theatre, some sports, and oh, I took up sewing! That is really cool and it makes me think of you every now and then and of your stories on sewing dresses from bedclothes because there was nothing available right after the war. Looking around in this crazy world I wonder whether I might need this skill one day.

Mom is fine. She clings to what you told her: Don’t be sad; I had a good life.

This is exactly why we miss you, Grandma. Take care.

Social Media Diet

I’m giving up on social media. For a while at least. Having stopped building houses on Facebook months ago was a step into the right direction, but all the time management blabla suggesting to check e-mails once a day works just as long as I have a deadline approaching. Whenever I am free to work in a more relaxed manner, with the space to maybe write the book which would pay my garden, procrastination jumps in, and wait, I do have to comment on this post first.

Withdrawing from all social websites is a tough decision, as I use social media for marketing my services. But then again – also this could be done much more focused and not doing it at all might not nearly have the impact I tell myself it had. To be frank: I think what I fear most is that it had absolutely no impact whatsoever to stop reminding people I exist by liking their food photos. What if nobody misses me?

O.k., I deleted the first account: LinkedIn. I have hardly used it anyway.

Any experiences on quitting social media?

Cheers, Nae73


Hi there!

The other day I thought about quitting social media. Then I felt that it would be pointless to do so when nobody realises what I do. Maybe I should blog about quitting social media? Err, yeah, you see the problem, I guess.

So, that’s how my life goes: I am constantly confronted with the weirdos of society – including me – and I have been trying to make sense of it for some 40 years now. Life is a social field study – and you should chose whether you are an oberver, or the observed. I don’t know yet where this blog is leading me, but I plan to write about my experiments in studying life. I am curious when things are not congruent. I hate stupidity, and I am going to conquer it. Join me if you wish!

Some facts about me: Management artist, social scientist, comedian, teenage nerd mom, multiple cat owner, terrible friend.

Stay tuned!