When Research and Practice Collide: The Role of Action Research When There Is a Conflict of Interest with Stakeholders

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This article discusses problematic aspects of the role of the action researcher when working with multiple stakeholders on a complex research project concerning regional development. The case presented here deals with the improvement of the regional innovation system in a small region in the south of Norway. The project resulted in a conflict between stakeholders and the action research (AR) team. We claim that when working in a regional context, the role of the action researcher is set to be a collaborator in a context of power play; the ultimate stakeholders must be defined as the citizens in that region. Therefore, in some situations the action researcher must have a legitimatised right to abandon collaboration and present a critical voice in the public deliberation. Strategic power play and strategic action by stakeholders represent a clear threat to the “soft approach” of collaboration, reflectivity, and democratic dialogue that AR represents. The ultimate challenge and obligation of the action researcher is to improve democracy in society in a long-term perspective through representing a critical capacity in the public deliberation.

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