What is action research?

Action research is a research paradigm that pursues action and research at the same time. It is used in situations where action is expected to result in change or to solve problems. The conventional research paradigm of academics formulating research problems doing basic research and practitioners applying the outcomes is rejected in favor of practitioners formulating the problems and acting in their own situations to bring about change. In the process of change and as a result of doing the research it is assumed that practitioners will gain a deeper insight into their own situations and a greater understanding of their own practice.

Back to top

Who does action research?

Action research is carried out by practitioners, who wish to improve or change their practice, whether, for instance, in education or business or nursing or social work. Action research can be done by individuals or by teams of colleagues. The team approach is called collaborative inquiry.

Back to top

What is the action research method?

Action research has its own set of guiding principles. It tends to be:

  • Cyclical in that a similar series of steps is repeated in the research process
  • Participative in that everyone is an active partner in the research process
  • Qualitative in that it deals more often with language than numbers
  • Reflective in that reflection on the process and outcomes is an important part of the process.

The process alternates between action and reflection. The reflection consists of analyzing what has happened in previous stages of the research process, and then of planning what to do next.

Back to top

Is action research really research?

Action research is not experimental research as practiced in the natural sciences. It does not aim to make normative and general statements about the natural or social world. However, there is a family of research methods, which have been found to be more applicable to educational problems than scientific research: experiential learning, qualitative research, field research, action research. These are now accepted fields of enquiry in education.

Back to top

Is action research an inferior version of experimental research?

Action research and experimental research serve different purposes depending on the research question and the aim of the research. For example:

  • If you wish to find out about a limited number of variables and the causal relationships between them, experimental or quasi-experimental research will serve you much better than action research.
  • However if you want to explore some organization or group in depth, ethnographic or other qualitative methods will be preferred
  • Action research is most valuable when practitioners have to respond to the changing demands of a situation or for evaluation of an on-going program or curriculum change

Back to top

What is the difference between action research and consulting?

Action research is similar to some forms of consulting practice, which are directed towards bringing about change in an organization. However, action research usually involves a search for understanding of the situation and places greater overt emphasis on critical reflection as the basis for action.

Back to top

Can action research provide causal explanations?

Action research does not aim to provide causal explanations in terms of relationships between variables in the research study. An apparent causal connection between certain actions and certain outcomes may be identified and tested. But the main emphasis is on action which is intended to produce change.

Back to top

Can action research be quantitative?

There are no reasons why action researchers should use only qualitative measures, though most of the time they use natural language rather than numbers. This is appropriate in a paradigm where participation and understanding are paramount. Quantitative measures can be valuable for instance in the use of learning inventories, but their ready interpretation should be possible in natural language.

Back to top

Can you generalize from action research?

Action research aims for local relevance rather than global generalizations. Claims made about the study are often particular to the community, situation and time frame. Of course it is possible that several action research studies in very different settings give similar findings and this may imply a generalized trend.

Back to top

Can I do action research by myself?

A great deal is made of the collaborative nature of action research but there is no reason why an individual cannot undertake an action research project. Certain aspects become more difficult though, for example, rigorous critical reflection and framing questions in an objective way.

Back to top

Who or what is a critical friend?

A critical friend is usually a facilitator or collaborator who is very familiar with action research methods and procedures as well as its philosophy and intent. A critical friend can perform many duties: educational consultant, team builder, evaluation advisor or provide assistance with writing reports and publication.

Back to top

Is action research different from action learning?

To all intents and purposes there is little or no difference between the two. The term action learning is more frequently used in business circles and may imply less emphasis on academic research and publication aspects of action research but this is not always the case.

Back to top