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Aristotle’s Breakfast: How can you practically embed an ethical culture in your workplace?

Kenya is at an interesting place in history. Everyone seems to have an idea about corruption, especially how to fight it. Usually, the first item on the menu is to create an ethical culture. However, this is not so easy to achieve. Is it enough to have codes of conduct and appropriate policies in place? It seems not. Ultimately, an ethical culture is a combination of regulations and the free collaboration of each person who forms part of any given community. Generally, people agree that the most effective way to fight corruption is to get everyone involved. Whether in corporate organizations, families, or institutions- just get involved. A grey area is ‘how’ to get involved. Dr Catherine Dean, a Senior Lecturer at Strathmore University, thinks that action research may help in this process. This was the idea behind the discussion during the June edition of Aristotle’s Breakfast held on 13th June, 2019 at Strathmore University.

What is action research, you may ask? It is a type of practice-based research in which a person reflects on their professional activity, in collaboration with others, to find ways of improving his or her practice. Action research is a values-based approach to doing research on one’s professional work which contributes to the on-going development of the person and, potentially, their environment.

A person doing action research will ask questions like: How am I doing my work? Why am I doing my work? What is motivating me? What are my personal values? When faced with a disconnect between his or her values and their way of working, a person conducting action research tries to find out what their contribution is to the current situation. For example, perhaps a teacher notices that his students are performing poorly. Rather than jumping to conclusions about the students, the teacher will try to carry out a critical evaluation of his own possible contribution to the situation. The teacher will identify an area in which he can improve the learning experience of his students. He will then try to find ways to adjust his teaching methodology to help his students improve their performance.

The critical steps in carrying out action research include:

  • Identify an area you want to improve on, with impartiality and without any bias.
  • Portray the situation as it is, the situation which you wish to improve.
  • Imagine possible solutions or actions you could take which may help to change the situation.
  • Try to implement the possible solutions and gather data about the process and the results.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of the solutions you have implemented. You should involve relevant stakeholders in assessing these outcomes in a collaborative manner.
  • Make further changes to your practice in light of this evaluation.

Action research enables one to look at what they are doing from a critical point of view and reflect on the manner in which they do their work, with the aim of fostering professional growth. The process never ends. When one completes an action research cycle, they start another cycle and constantly evaluate the processes and the quality of their actions.

Action research is one way in which a person may ensure continuous improvement in their professional practice. As action research is done in the company of other people and with their input, it may contribute to the growth of an ethical culture in the entire organization through a positive influence on others. As I challenge myself to live my ethical values more effectively in practice and hold myself accountable to other people in this process, they too may be encouraged to do likewise.

A specific type of action research known as participatory action research involves others more directly by agreeing to collaborate together on improving some aspect of a common activity. In general, action research ensures that one constantly looks at their professional activity in the light of their contribution and the ultimate meaning and end of the work done.

Action research is a relatively new methodology in Kenya. Dr Dean discovered action research through her doctoral supervisor Professor Margaret Farren, who is based at the Institute of Education in Dublin City University, Ireland. Professor Farren facilitated a symposium on action research at Strathmore University in June 2010, under the auspices of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

What do you think? Could action research help to embed an ethical culture in the workplace? We would be happy to hear your thoughts on the matter.


Dr. Catherine Dean is a Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Gabriel Dinda is a Graduate Assistant at the same school.