Integration of system dynamics and action research with application to higher education quality management
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Quality management has become a central concern for managers of higher education institutions (HEIs) as it is arguably the cornerstone of success and eventual survival of these institutions. Previous research in higher educational quality, however, have mixed characteristics. In some cases, focussing on a narrowscope such as academic staff quality tantamount to addressing the main challenge (Vinnik and Scholl, 2005). Others have suggested that quality is too subtle to be measured meaningfully (Srikanthan and Dalrymple, 2007; Grandzol, 2005; Parker, 2002), while others claim that good policies on quality improvement in higher education are often not based on systematic engagement with simulation experiments but on use of intuition and experience (Grandzol, 2005; Barnab´e, 2004). This thesis extends this discussion further by developing simulation models for institutional and program quality analysis that demystify these claims. In adopting the system dynamics (SD) modelling and simulation technique in this research, attention to the modelling process was highly regarded. This follows insight formulated from many scholars in the field of SD that the modelling process is often more important than the resulting model (Gr¨oBler and Milling, 2009; Forrester, 1998). Hence, the integration of SD and participatory action research (PAR) in this thesis is meant to increase modelling process outcomes through a more rigorous modelling design architecture. The emerging integrated approach, also, referred to as SyDPAR was evaluated against rigour and relevance criteria for information systems methodologies, making the SyDPAR approach not only an original aspect but a useful outcome. The SyDPAR approach recognises the contributions as well as benefits of clients/practitioners in participative modelling using three cycles, namely: problem articulation, modelling proficiency, and solution refinement. In addition, it provides a general modelling framework that extends participative modelling outcomes beyond the prevalent individual, group, and organisational outcomes, culminating into contributions to the SD knowledge base and system change by modellers and clients respectively. Fundamental to this thesis is the application of SyDPAR to higher education quality management problem area, leading to the development of a “quality management tool 2009” (QMT09). This tool is validated and verified using standard system dynamics tests and three sets of quality checklists. Specifically, the contributions of this research and the thesis may be classified into four aspects: 1) provision of guidelines for evaluation of participative modelling design effectiveness, 2) theoretical validation of the SyDPAR research process, 3) development of SyDPAR as a generic participative modelling design, and 4) development of decision support tool for higher education quality management. In terms of scientific rigour and relevance, the first two can be aptly categorised as theoretical and the rest practice oriented. Consequently, the dual imperatives of solving a real world problem while contributing to the knowledge base adopted by the researcher is fulfilled.