Strategic Planning as Action Research: Envisioning the Future of a University Library

Smith, G. A. (2021, February). Strategic planning as action research: Envisioning the future of a university library [Paper presentation]. Leading Change Virtual Conference.


In 2020, Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Library (JFL) carried out a participatory strategic planning project that bore many surface similarities to an action research study: a design based on scholarly and professional literature, systematic collection of new data, structured analysis of such data, and the enactment of change based on project findings. An examination of the planning process provides the opportunity to consider whether a participatory approach to strategic planning can legitimately be viewed as a form of action research. The library’s planning process exhibited three key features of action research: a focus on change, a blurring of the distinction between participants and researchers, and an explicit aim to develop the organization’s planning capacity. However, the JFL’s reliance on nonconventional methods of data analysis raises a question about describing the project as research. Nevertheless, the literature supports the viability of applying action research methods in strategic planning, assuming that an organization or community subscribes to participatory, organic, collaborative principles.

Below are some sample slides from the presentation:

Aims of the Strategic Planning Process
3 Distinctive Features of Action Research
Literature: Processes, Deliverables, Settings
Data: Types of Data Collected
Diagram: Steps in the Production of Planning Deliverables

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