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  • Action Research

    Action research is a flexible spiral process which allows action (change, improvement) and research (understanding, knowledge) to be achieved at the same time. The understanding allows more informed change and at the same time is informed by that change. People affected by the change are usually involved in the action research. This allows the understanding to be widely shared and the change to be pursued with commitment.

    What is action research?

    It's a natural way of acting and researching at the same time

    With the exception of well-practised tasks there is a natural rhythm to the way most of us behave. We do something. We check if it worked as expected. If it didn't, we analyse what happened and what we might do differently. If necessary we repeat the process.

    act -> review -> act -> review ...

    This is the natural cycle which action research uses to achieve its twin outcomes of action (for example, change) and research (for example, understanding). You might say that action research is true to label -- it is action and research.

    action research = action and research

    Some features of action research assist the action. Some assist the research. Some assist the "and" -- they help the action and the research fit together. We'll explore these in turn.

    How does action research achieve the action outcomes? --

    Mostly by involving people in the planning and the action and by being flexible and responsive to situation and people

    In many situations some people (managers, teachers, parents) decide what is to be done. Others (employees, pupils, children) are then expected to do it. The deciders and the doers are different people. This often results in a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of the doers.

    In contrast, action research seeks to remove the gap between deciders and doers. Those who are affected by the decision join those who will carry it out. Together they decide what is to be done. Done well, participation generates commitment.

    Further, wider views of the situation can then be taken into account. Managers do not always understand their employees, nor teachers their pupils, nor parents their children. Done well, participation can provide more complete information.

    In addition, action research provides a flexibility which suits it well to changing situations. It achieves its flexibility mostly from its cyclic or spiral process. We'll come to that later. First, consider its pursuit of research outcomes.

    How does action research achieve the research outcomes? --

    Mostly by following action with critical reflection

    When action research is explained to people they often respond "Oh, I do that already". And to some extent they do. It is natural to act and then review the results of the action. Much of the time, however, many of us do not reflect as regularly or as critically or as systematically as we might.

    With regular, critical and systematic reflection we can have more confidence in our research conclusions. Without it we may overlook some important evidence. In particular, it seems to be uncommon for people to pay a lot of attention to evidence which doesn't fit in with what they expect or assume.

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