The Whitehead-Lomax-McNiff action research community consider a researcher’s claim to have generated their ‘living theory’ as valid if it shows how it is grounded in a robust evidence base, and can be tested against values-constituted living standards of judgement.
The validity of the claim can further be tested by subjecting it to specific social criteria (Habermas 1987), that demonstrate that the claim is comprehensible, faithful to the situation, expresses truthful intentions, and can be reciprocally and mutually justified within the research community.
A living theory is justified when it suggests a course of intellectual and imaginative action that improves a person’s understanding of practice or situation, supports healthier relationships, and engaged learning (Rearick 1999). Whitehead and McNiff’s (2006) more recent work on validity suggests that validation can be gained by grounding your claim in personal validation and social validation.
Personal validation can be based on aesthetic, ontological and moral values: the sense that it feels right or being satisfied, in myself, that my claim is justified. Personal validation is dependent on relying on your own internal processes of critical reflection to validate your beliefs (Whitehead and McNiff 2006: 103). Personal validation is supported by Polanyi’s point that we can take a decision to understand the world from our own point of view as individuals claiming originality and exercising our judgement with universal intent (Polanyi 1966: 327).
Social validation is based on the researcher’s responsibility to others to act according to democratically negotiated rules. Social validation for my work has been sought through a series of mechanisms throughout the research. In the early stages of my research I met with a group of fellow researchers who gave accounts of our practice and critiqued each other’s practice. The LCA team provided critique in relation to the work with the LCA group. The Setanta steering group at regular meetings critiqued the work in relation to the Setanta project. The NCVA Action Learning group critiqued each other’s practice as part of the process of improving practice.
Public presentation of my work
By presenting my research publicly I can demonstrate the exercise of my educational influence. At the same time, by presenting the evidence base of this research publicly and offering it to public critique in a variety of fora I am hoping to have gained social validation. This has been accomplished by presentations at the Schools Integration Project (SIP) Symposium (Galvin: 2002; O’Neill 2000c), British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2006 (O’Neill 2006), the Setanta Project launch (see www.ictaspoliticalaction.com/pages/setanta/setantalaunch.htm) and to several gatherings of educators and educational administrators under the umbrella of Arion Study visits (www.ictaspoliticalaction.com/pages/chapters/influence/index.html). Arion is a European Community initiative which enables education specialists and decision makers to access up-to-date information about educational developments (see www.arion-visits.net)
Video presentation of the research to Arion Study Group 30 Ocotber 2004
Video presentation of the research to Dutch Inspectorate of Education and teacher and student participants in Comenius project 21 April 2001
Presentation of the achievements of the Setanta project 21 April 2001
The role of students in the Setanta project
Presentation at the Schools Integration Project Symposium, Portmarnock, Dublin, 1-2 December 2000
Launch of the Setanta Project, St Aidans, Dublin, 19 May 2000
Initial reponse of Mr Ferry de Rijcke, Head of Dutch Delegation of Inspectors, to the Setanta Project