Participatory action research
Action research comprises a family of research methodologies which aim to pursue action and research outcomes at the same time (PAR, action learning, soft systems methodology, developmental evaluation, etc.). It therefore has some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research. The focus is action to improve a situation and the research is the conscious effort, as part of the process, to formulate public knowledge that adds to theories of action that promote or inhibit learning in behavioural systems. In this sense the participatory action researcher is a practitioner, an interventionist seeking to help improve client systems. However, lasting improvement requires that the participatory action researcher help clients to change themselves so that their interactions will create these conditions for inquiry and learning. Hence to the aims of contributing to the practical improvement of problem situations and to the goals of developing public knowledge we can add a third aim of participatory action research, to develop the self -help competencies of people facing problems. The LfS blog posting - How action research can support collaborations and collaborative practice - How action research can support collaboration and collaborative practice - provides a brief introduction to action research and how it is can be used, and points to a range of resources that provide more specific information around its use in practice.
The principles of action research can be seen to underpin the development and improvement of practice in all the fields of inquiry within this site. The concept of learning by doing in which learning is perceived as experiential and reflexive is fundamental to this approach. It recognises that people learn through the active adaptation of their existing knowledge in response to their experiences with other people and their environment. Moreover, the process of building on experience is a natural one for most people and action research provides a framework for formalising and making this process more effective. By making explicit and documenting the processes by which individuals carry out their activities and problem solving processes allows for the fine tuning and improvement of these processes. And while action research is inherently a collaborative approach, it is also useful as an approach to one's individual work.
The following links provide access to a number of sites which contain quite substantive information on action research and its practice:
- Chapter 3: The role of action research in environmental management In this methodology chapter Will Allen outlines the underlying concepts of action research in more detail. Some differences between action research and mainstream science are then explained, particularly to justify its use as an appropriate methodology to address social and institutional issues related to improving environmental management. Some more practical details of practising action research are then discussed. Finally the process of critical reflection in action research is highlighted, and an illustration of how it's use in practice can help in getting people to think more deeply about the use of environmental practices is outlined.
- Seeking conceptual clarity in the action modalities This pre-publication paper by Joe Raelin highlights the benefits that can arise from seeking to link across the similarities in the different approaches that link action and reflection. This article begins by briefly summarizing the history and differences among the main action modalities, and then focuses on their potential confederation. It cites ten unifying elements that may construct an agenda characterized by the value of learners collectively reflecting on planned engagements that can not only expand but can create knowledge while at the same time serving to improve practice. [Raelin, Joe (2009) Seeking conceptual clarity in the action modalities. Action Learning: Research and Practice, 6(1),17-24.]
- Action Research Resources This recently updated site by Bob Dick provides comprehensive links and material to key action research, action learning and related resources. This site also acts as home to Areol, action research and evaluation on line, which is a set of on-line learning sessions provided (as a 15-week public on-line course offered each semester) as a public service by Southern Cross University and the Institute of Workplace Research Learning and Development. I did this course when it started some years ago ... and can really recomend it.
- Action Science Network The Action Science Network aims to accurately describe and efficiently demonstrate the theory and practice of action science and, secondarily, to connect individuals and groups interested in working with action science. (In the field of Organizational Development, Action Science is also known as Action Inquiry, Action Research, and Organizational Learning.) The Network also maintains a comprehensive bibliography of books and articles by Chris Argyris.
Action Research Resources A comprehensive collection of on-line papers and other resources hosted by the Denver campus of the University of Colorado.
Useful papers on the history and application of action research include:
- A Set of Principles for Conducting and Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems This paper by Heinz K. Klein and Michael D. Myers discusses the conduct and evaluation of interpretive research in information systems. While the conventions for evaluating information systems case studies conducted according to the natural science model of social science are now widely accepted, this is not the case for interpretive field studies. A set of principles for the conduct and evaluation of interpretive field research in information systems is proposed, along with their philosophical rationale. The intention of the paper is to further reflection and debate on the important subject of grounding interpretive research methodology.