The accidental collaborator: participatory action research as an emergent framework for sustainable multi-stakeholder engagement

AAEE 2014
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Conference Proceeding
Australasian Association of Engineering Education (AAEE) Conference 2014, 2014, (2014)
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BACKGROUND As part of a three-year review cycle, a series of post-graduate program review initiatives were conducted in 2013 by the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia. This was conducted through an Industry Engagement Project utilising multiple research methods to gather information from various stakeholders. PURPOSE This paper aims to present two levels of project reflections based on the postgraduate review initiatives conducted. Firstly, it reflects on the mechanisms that lead to the emergence of a multi-stakeholder action-research framework that is practitioner-orientated, reflective and collaborative. Secondly, it reflects on the attributes and skills necessary to inform such a framework. DESIGN/METHOD This paper draws from academic literature about emergent research processes and action-research mechanisms to support the reflections made. This paper reflects on the collaborative stakeholder engagement process that commenced in 2013 as a participatory action research process. The research process involved a series of research initiatives as consultation and collaborative mechanisms to investigate and review the current postgraduate courses on offer. RESULTS Information elucidation through traditional research approaches (surveys, interviews) is perceived as insufficient for project robustness, sustainable engagement and knowledge validation. Through various research strategies, a pragmatic stakeholder engagement framework applicable to education and industry collaborative processes emerged. The collaborative action-research initiatives provided added momentum for a series of incremental changes in different Engineering and Information Technology (EIT) courses. Another key outcome is the inception of discipline-specific Professional Advisory boards (PAb) in 2014. These are networks of academics, students, graduates and industry members that undertake to advice and review faculty courses from multiple perspectives in order foster currency and relevancy in teaching and learning outcomes. Collaboration and engagement are now fundamental characteristics within the mechanisms of the project. Attributes that contribute to an effective action-research framework include communication, iterative research design, co-creation, embracing uncertainty, adaptability, openness and critical mindedness. Skills supporting this collaborative process include effective team and project organisation, communication, multi-methods research and group facilitation capabilities. CONCLUSIONS Participatory action-research framework is observed to provide multiple stakeholders with different avenues to share their priorities and interests. This paper demonstrates that emergent research methods can be structured into contemporary action-research approaches that translate well as stakeholder collaboration, engagement and advisory frameworks.
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