By Morrie Mullins


One of the things I’ve found is that there are really no boundaries for where HWP-related themes can fit in a graduate curriculum.  In this blog post, I’ll offer one example that came to me somewhat fortuitously as part of a broader lit review effort.


A year or so ago, an undergraduate student (who has gone on to be an I-O graduate student with a focus in HWP-related issues) was helping me with a lit review and stumbled across an article by Yao-Jen Chang, Rui-Hua Liao, Tsen-Yung Wang, and Yao-Sheng Chang titled, “Action research as a bridge between two worlds: Helping the NGOs and humanitarian agencies adapt technology to their needs.”  NGOs?  Humanitarian agencies?  And RESEARCH?  Sign me up!


It’s actually an interesting paper, dealing with how to incorporate various information systems in an NGO that “provides supported employment.”  The team involved in the project was highly interdisciplinary, including IT professionals, social scientists, and engineers, and used a set of techniques called “action research” to gather both quantitative and qualitative data about the domain being studied.


There is a LOT of detail in the article about their approach to the project, but a lot of it should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever had an I-O internship or done any consulting.  Their first stage involved diagnosing the problem using a series of interviews and focus groups, coming up with a preliminary set of findings, and designing an intervention.  They then moved on to another key stage of the research, where team members volunteered to go out and actually do some of the jobs they were studying, to get a sense of what the work was like.  Based on both the interview/focus group data and the direct observations made through working in the jobs being studied, the researchers came up with an action plan.  This derived from the needs and problems observed as the data were collected through various modalities.


One of the things that I find it’s important to keep in mind, when training graduate students on research methodology, is that there is a lot of “research design” that they’ve heard four or five times in the past.  I don’t have to go back over between- versus within-groups designs.  All those classic experimentalist designs are great and important, but most of the students I’m training are going out into the world to become practitioners, so they need other types of research skills.


What I LOVE about the “action research” article is that it puts research into the context of solving workplace problems – which is exactly what I-O/work psychology does, when it’s working well.  We are applied problem solvers, and we should be talking about methods that work well for approaching and resolving problems in the real world – not just in labs.  (Not that there’s anything involved in lab research, mind you.  All research has a place…)


Even in their second semester, my students see the way action research connects to what we do in I-O.  I generally hear comments like, “This sounds like some of what we did when we did job analyses” – which is exactly correct.  The way I was trained on job analysis involved a lot of detailed data-gathering and direct observation of workers on the job.  I didn’t get to step in and do their work like an action researcher would, but I was around them enough that I’d like to think I could have.**


Then you’ve got the HWP aspect, where we get to talk about NGOs and how to help them.  We get to talk about the importance of not assuming that you know what the job is like, and the willingness to get your (metaphorical and literal) hands dirty in order to really understand it.  We get to talk about how key it is to volunteer your time with non-profits if you want to get a sense of how they “live” their mission – because otherwise, you will have a hard time really understanding their problems.


The full citation for the article is below.  If you have other HWP-related papers you use to teach research methods, or really, any course, we’d love to hear about them!



Chang, Y.-J., Liao, R.-H., Wang, T.-Y., & Chang, Y.-S. (2010). Action research as a bridge between two worlds: Helping the NGOs and humanitarian agencies adapt technology to their needs.  Systemic Practice and Action Research, 23, 191-202. doi 10.1007/s11213-009-9154-8



** Yeah, I know.  I really couldn’t have.  I like my little delusions, though…