Action Research is a philosophy and methodology of research generally applied in the social sciences. It seeks transformative change through the simultaneous process of taking action and doing research, which is linked together by critical reflection. Kurt Lewin, then a professor at MIT, first coined the term “action research” in 1944.
In his 1946 paper “Action Research and Minority Problems” he described action research as “a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action” that uses “a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action and fact-finding about the result of the action”.
Dennis Agyei (2019) Takoradi Technical University, defines Action research as a type of research for practitioners to acquire and help in their field of work in order to solve a problem. Action research practitioners reflect upon the consequences of their own questions, beliefs, assumptions, and practices with the goal of understanding, developing, and improving social practices.
This action is designed to create three levels of change (1) self-change as the only subject of action research is the person who conducting the research. This person is seeking to be better understand the effects of their activities in social settings and to engage in a process of living his or her values.
The second level is a collective process of understanding change in a classroom, office, community, organization or institution. Action research enlists others and works to create a democratic sharing of voice to achieve a deeper understanding of collective actions.
It is a process of sharing finding with the community of researchers. This can be done in many ways, in journals, on websites, in books, in videos or at conferences. The Social Publishers Foundation provides support for this process.
Action Research involves actively participating in a change situation, often via an existing organization, whilst simultaneously conducting research. It can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of improving their strategies, practices and knowledge of the dynamic environments within which they practice.
As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to help their community improve their work practices. Depending upon the nature of the people involved in the action research as well as the person(s) organizing it, there are different ways of describing action research.
- Collaborative Action Research
- Participatory Action Research
- Community-Based Action Research
- Youth Action Research
- Action Research and Action Learning
- Participatory Action Learning and Action Research
- Collective Action Research
- Action Science
- Living Theory Action Research
There are also a set of approaches that share some properties with action research but have some different practices.
These include . . .
- Appreciative inquiry is a way of starting with what is working well and then using action research to improve it.
- Lesson study places the teaching of a shared lesson as the action and has a set of protocols for understanding the outcomes.
- Practitioner research does not have to be action research, as practitioners can engage in any form of the many forms of research.
- Reflective practice/self-study is the first part of action research but does not require the practitioner to make the results public, to share the results of the learning with others. Many of these approaches will be described in these resources.
- Teacher research can be any form of research that teachers do, including action research, but not limited to it. At George Mason University, teacher research is described in a way that is very similar to what most authors understand as action research. At some point, they suggest that action research can be a synonym of teacher research. The description of action research posted on this site is more closely aligned to what we have called reflective practice. This shows the variation in the way that people working in the field have of conceptualizing these terms.
- Action inquiry draws on action research and recasts evaluation research to help navigate complexity when enacting collective leadership.
- Improvement science is explicitly designed to accelerate learning-by-doing and a more user-centric, problem-centred approach to improved teaching and learning that is highly similar to action research supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.