What is Action Science?

Action Science is an approach to improving organizational performance that focuses on helping members of team or organization to more effectively learn together, solve complex problems, and make better decisions.

It is concerned with helping individuals and teams who are faced with complex and/or socially challenging problems to think and behave in ways that enable them to accomplish solve their problems while also learning about and addressing the conditions which gave rise to the problems.

Action science recognizes that teams and organizations in almost every culture engage in a fairly typical set of habitual “defensive” behaviors that inhibit them from identifying and addressing critical organizational problems. These defensive behaviors or routines prevent team members from reflecting together on their own how their cognitive and conversational patterns and recognizing how these patterns actually allow deeply entrenched and serious organizational problems to remain unaddressed, to the detriment of the individuals themselves as well as their organizations (and despite the individual’s best intentions).

Traditional approaches to improving organizational problem-solving or decision-making typically focus on identifying opportunities, finding, correcting, reducing or eliminating threats in the external environment (including in other members of the team or organization). In contrast, Action Science reorients individuals to look inward, reflecting on their own thinking and habitual behaviors as the source of the most intractable and challenging problems. It helps teams establish new conceptual frameworks and conversational practices that enable them to identify, discuss and resolve problems by publicly testing their own and each other’s assumptions, opinions, and hypotheses. This facilitates collaborative learning and enables teams to recognize and address previously undiscussable problems and issues at a much deeper level than was previously available to them.

Action Science has its roots in the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and others in the early 1900s, and over the past 40 to 50 years was developed into a rigorous and effective domain of organizational inquiry and performance practice by Chris Argyris, Ph.D., Donald Schön, Ph.D., and Robert Putnam, among others.