Systemic Practice and Action Research
English // Keywords: systemic action research, institutionalization, governance, territorial development
Institutionalization is one of the challenges met by action research (AR) processes aiming at structural changes in society, but what institutionalizing AR means and how it occurs is understudied. This paper is based on the experience of a long-term AR process in Gipuzkoa (one of the three provinces in the Basque Country, Spain), in which a regional government, eleven county development agencies, and a team of action researchers have been working together since 2009 to construct a new governance for territorial development. From its start, the Territorial Development Laboratory (TDLab) project has been inspired by AR approaches emphasizing participation. After a signed formal agreement in 2017 institutionalized the spaces and procedures built through AR as the new governance, tensions started to emerge, which suggests that the project’s participatory approach must also evolve and adapt to the institutionalization stage. To do so, systemic action research (SAR) provides a good framework to revisit the case and complement participatory features with systemic ones. Based on the discussion of the case from the SAR perspective, the paper proposes some systemic features that can help adapt participatory AR projects into structural features of governance.