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The Process Of Action Research

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Discuss about the Use of Action research as a Strategy to Promote Social Change.



Action research involves a systematic inquiry that seeks to improve social issues that affect our daily lives (Strringer, 2008).  Action research has historically been associated with the work of Kurt Lewin who had a very unique view on this specific research methodology. His view was that it was cyclical, dynamic and collaborative in nature. It is only through the repeated cycles of planning, observing and reflecting that persons involved in action research are capable of implementing changes needed for social development (Kemmis, 1988). Views it as a collaborative process done by people with a common interest. They also suggest that it is mainly done by participants caught up in a social situation that they desire to improve.

The major differences between Action research and other types of research used in problem solving is the intense emphasis on the scientific study which implies that the researcher has to study the problem at hand systematically and ensure that the intervention is guided by the theoretical considerations. A large percentage of the researcher’s time is used up on modifying the methodological tools that will perfectly fit the exigencies of the problem, and also on collecting, analyzing and presenting data on a continuous cycle basis. (O'Brien, 2001). The unique attributes that make action research stand out as an important aspect is the fact that the people involved are turned into researchers, they learn best and are always more willing to apply lessons learnt, when they do it by themselves.


Action research has a social magnitude in that the research occurs in real world scenarios and aim at giving solutions to real world issues. The launcher of the research, unlike the other disciplines, doesn’t have an intention of remaining objective but instead he/ she vividly acknowledge their bias to the other participants. (O'Brien, 2001).

The process of action research may be explained through simplified models in order to ensure that the steps are well understood for an effective and result oriented process. Many guidelines are available especially for teachers wishing to engage in this research methodology. (Strringer, 2008) In page 4 includes the action research helix commonly referred to as the Look Act and Think model. The model has been used by the author as an illustration for important processes in action research to students. The model is show below.


Figure 1: Action Research Helix

In the Look stage, information is put together carefully through looking, listening and recording. In the think stage, the researcher analyses the collected data in order to identify the significant and important features of the problem under study. The newly formulated information is used to come up with solutions to the problem under study in the Act stage.

The figure below is additionally meant to expand the key processes in figure 1. This demonstrates the Action Research cycle which consists of five steps. Design of the study, collection of data, analysis of data, communication of the outcomes and finally taking action. This is a common process of action research enquiry. When designing the study, researchers carefully refine the issue that needs investigation, come up with a systematic process of enquiry the check the validity and ethics of the work.

Figure 2: Action Research Cycle

The second stage involves the researcher collecting data concerning the phenomenon of interest. The information is then analyzed to check important characteristics of the issue. The outcomes of the study are then made available to the relevant audiences by use of appropriate media during the communication stage. The most critical part of the action research process is last step which where the researcher takes action in consideration of the outcome of the study. Those outcomes are used to work towards a resolution of the issue at hand. (Strringer, 2008)

Action research is performed under 6 key principles. The reflexive critique which ensures that people reflect on issues and processes the judgments are made on clear the interpretations, biases, assumptions and concerns. This ensures that practical accounts give rise to theoretical considerations. (O'Brien, 2001) The dialectical critique is required in understanding the relationship between the phenomenon and its context and also between the elements that are in the phenomenon. Key elements that require focus are the constituent elements that appear to be unstable or are in opposition to the other elements. These are most likely to create changes. Collaborative resource is the third principle which presupposes that every person’s ideas are equally important and significant and can be potential resources for creating interpretive categories of analysis, negotiated among all the participants. This ensures that ideas borne from recognizing contradictions between several viewpoints and within a single viewpoint are made possible.


Risk is the forth principle key to the changing process, which challenges all the previously established methods of performing things. This led to creation of psychic fears among the practitioners. The biggest fear originates from the risk to ego stemming from open discussions of one’s interpretations and ideas. Therefore the initiators of action research make use of this principle to abate others fears and encourage them to engage making clear the fact that they too, will be subject to the same process, and regardless of the outcome, learning has to take place. Plural Structure is the fifth principle which requires a plural text for reporting. There will be several accounts made explicit, with commentaries and a classification of options for every action presented. This report therefore acts as a support for ongoing discussions among the collaborators compared to a final conclusion of fact. (O'Brien, 2001)

The final principle is Theory, practice and Transformation. Theory informs practice, and then practice refines theory, in a very continuous transformation. In most cases, peoples’ actions are always based upon held assumptions and theories. It is however up to the researchers to make theoretical justifications precise for the actions taken and to question the grounds for those justifications. Practical applications that follow are subjected to further analysis in a transformative cycle which continuously keeps alternating the emphasis between theory and practice.

Key assumptions

Several assumptions are made during action research. Systematic reflexitivity is the constant analysis of a person’s theoretical and methodological presuppositions which enables him to acknowledge the importance of other people’s definition of theirs. Ontology on the other hand involves the assumptions that constitute social reality and the value implications enjoined in those assumptions. It is however not easy to characterize the ontological assumptions involved in action research, considering that action research has developed in various ways with enormous differences in basic assumptions. (Nielsen, 2004).

Having been the first person to use the concept of action research, (lewin, 1946)’s scientific background was an important attribute to the objectification that is found in experimental social research like the one practiced in the Hawthorne experiments. The major element in the reports of Hawthorne’s experiments known as bias and later named as Hawthorne effect was the actual and real result in Action research. The researchers therefore influenced the field and pushed it further to a humanizing direction. Lewin therefore viewed the influence of the researchers as something productive in the process of creating knowledge. The answers to experimental social science were that Lewin considers the field as some sort of permanent social change. He also believed that objectification in social science was incremental in the authoritarian and undemocratic social orientations in contemporary modern societies. He was convinced enough that an organizational and cultural reorientation whose intention was to assign to people and workers more responsibility was a very important remedy to authoritarian and that action research could play a part in reorientation towards a democratic society. (Nielsen, 2004)

Creating social responsibility on the shop floor or in the street through participation was a key guideline for Lewin in his experiments. He proved that one can’t find objective laws on behavior in groups that could be restructured via democratic and responsibility building. This very attitude acted as a guide in his understanding of the research process. It should therefore lay out a democratic process where the researcher acknowledges and shares information with practitioners in the formulation of problems and solutions.


A researcher who tries to establish neutrality and independence can never get to his goal. This is because the researcher will always find himself in the same ontological condition as everyone else. Relationships between people are built on invitation and requests to do something together hence this are the same principle that we find in classical hermeneutic sociology such as Max Weber’s. He understands that a researcher is obliged to share his intentional meanings and values to the actor. Interactive relations are however rooted in shared values and connected with intentional orientation. However in contrast to Weber’s and hermeneutic sociology, Skjervheim denies the need for attempting to reduce neutrality or reduce the commitment. (S.C.Hine, 2013)

In classical controlled experiments, especially in qualitative research interviews or in surveys, the researcher attempts to come up with situations which only make sense due to the researcher’s project. What is mainly investigated in such a case is a frozen reality, only sustainable to the needs of a researcher.

Most types of action research follow the ontological assumption. Critical theories that are closer to Marx regarding the interpretation of strengths of social structures whereas pragmatists are closer to Skjervheim in his interpretations of the possibilities of democratic changes within the existing social structures. In the critical theory, nature relation is part of some normative ontology. In the concept of a participatory worldview Peter Reason tries to look for a more elaborative normative set up to both natural and social surrounding. (lewin, 1946)

Epistemology is another assumption that requires to be made in Action research. Epistemology simply refers to the theories and assumptions that are concerned with the creation of knowledge. For any action researcher, this assumption is key to understanding possibilities and the present conditions required in the creation of new knowledge in this unfinished world. However, most of the action researchers would agree on the ontological assumption since in epistemology, there are strong disputes among various schools of action research (Skjervheim, 1957)

Action research is massively used as a mode of developing social change. This is through Participatory action research, Youth action research, (Allaman, Dec 17, 2012). Participatory action research (PAR) is the process of investigating meaningful social topics; participate in research in order to understand the root causes of problems that directly impact people then take action to influence policies through the dissemination of the findings to the policy makers and stake holders. (Allaman, Dec 17, 2012) . PAR therefore promotes youth’s involvement in the activities of the community and leadership skills development is enhanced. It also puts great emphasis on the development of young people’s knowledge, skills and abilities to be competent in solving issues of importance to them and speed up positive changes among their peers.

Youth participatory action research (YAR) is a tool that is used to catalyze youth’s involvement in social movements that could generate modified enthusiasm for social change and also create new opportunities for youth leadership. Young and old Educators, philanthropists, activists and community leaders work together n PAR projects but YPAR only employs a youth development lens to certain that the young people have a direct role in deciding on policies that have an impact on them. (Allaman, Dec 17, 2012)

In YPAR projects, the youth help determine the issues that are deemed to be important to them and the community at large. Adults play a role of instilling unique skills in youths required to understand and address issues accordingly. PAR plays a role of integrating research and action and is significant in working with the youth who show interest in broad issues and are interested in identifying the specific pathways to action. There has to be clearly defined goals and objectives for this process to be worthwhile.


Through the research process, the youths who participate get to learn how to make claims and create new knowledge about existing social conditions. YPAR leads to significant social change through actions that vary from educational outreach to political lobbying. Conducting research using qualitative and quantitative data collection methods as well as critical analysis helps the young people to form their very own opinions about different issues. With adult mentorship, youths gain concrete skills and reasonable access to networks which can be used to develop their career and expand their leadership.

YPAR also increases the diversity of youth participation in that it enables generation of involvement from a huge cross-section of young people when youth give opinions that represent their peers. It also leads to mobilization of youths every time they see their peers with leadership positions. It improves the civic efficacy of the youth as the youth researchers that come from different backgrounds become informed, more important and involved in matters democracy. When youth discover that their inputs are valued and considered, they get more encouraged to participate in matters that lead to development of the community, hence the nation at large.

In order to make the most benefit out of PAR initiatives, one should be expectant of the following challenges. One should expect some tension and dilemma to arise and inadequacy of resources for various programs. However this should not lead to withdrawal from the attempt to make a better social environment.



Allaman, C. B. (Dec 17, 2012). How participatory action research can promote social change and help youth development. The Kinder and Braver world project.

Ferrance, E. (2000). ACTION RESEARCH. New York: LAB.

I.Susman, G. (1983). Action Research:A socialtechnical Systems Perspective. london: Sage publishers.

Kemmis, S. M. (1988). The Action Research planner. Geelong,Australia: Deakin University Press.

lewin, K. (1946). Action Research and Minority problems. Journal of Social issues, 34-46.

Marx, K. (1969). Das Kapital.Kritik der politischen okonomie. Berlin: Dietz Verlag.

Nielsen, K. A. (2004). Methodologies in Action Research. Action Research and Critical Theory.

O'Brien, R. (2001). An Overview of the methodological Approach of Action Research. Brazil: Faculty of Information studies,University of Toronto.

S.C.Hine, G. (2013). The importance of action research in teacher education programs (23(2) Special Issue ed.). Australia: The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Skjervheim, H. (1957). Deltaker og Tilskodar. Oslo: Oslo University Press.

Strringer, E. (2008). Action Research in Education (2nd ed.). New jersey: Pearson publishers.

Participatory action research in local development: an opportunity for social work

Nico Bortoletto

European Journal of Social Work. Jul 2017, Vol. 20, No. 4: 484-496


Food justice youth development: using Photovoice to study urban school food systems

Krista Harper, Catherine Sands, Diego Angarita Horowitz, Molly Totman, Monica Maitín, Jonell Sostre Rosado, Jazmin Colon, Nick  Alger

Local Environment. Jul 2017, Vol. 22, No. 7: 791-808

Que Luchen por sus Intereses (To Fight for Your Interests): Unearthing Critical Counter-Narratives of Spanish-Speaking Immigrant Parents

Kevin Roxas, Maria L. Gabriel

Journal of Latinos and Education. Jul 2017, Vol. 16, No. 3: 243-262

Viewing Gendered Violence in Guatemala Through Photovoice

Lynne Duffy

Violence Against Women. Jun 2017, Vol. 7: 107780121770805

Editors? Notes

Kyung-Hwa Yang, Randee Lipson Lawrence

New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Jun 2017, Vol. 2017, No. 154: 5-8

Moving from Pictures to Social Action: An Introduction to Photovoice as a Participatory Action Tool

Susan Mayfield-Johnson, James Butler

New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Jun 2017, Vol. 2017, No. 154: 49-5


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