Deals with individuals as members of social groups
Is problem-focused, context-specific and future-orientated
Involves a change intervention
Involves a cyclic process in which research, action and evaluation
Aims at improvement and involvement
Is founded on a research relationship in which those involved
are participants in the change process
(Hart E and Bond M - 1995)
Good action research is developmental; namely, it is a
form of reflective inquiry which enables practitioners to
better realise such qualities in their practice. The tests
for good action research are very pragmatic ones. Does it
improve the professional quality of the transactions between
practitioners and clients/colleagues? Mission Statement, CARN
Literature and websites
The following selection of references offer a range of perspectives
on action-research applicable to educational development.
Many of these texts are written with schoolteachers in mind
though they are transferable to any field of education. I
have derived key principles from these references for the
action-research checklist below.
Carr W and Kemmis S (1983) Becoming Critical: Education,
Knowledge and Action Research, Falmer. This is a theoretical
exploration into reflective practice and epistemology in education.
The authors privilege action research as a method that can
produce transformative practice in contrast to positivist
or interpretivists research methods. Carr and Kemmis argue
that action research can problematise the socio-historic context
of research and can sustain a dialectic between theory and
practice in ways that other methods fail.
Elliott, J. (1996) Action Research for Educational
Change, Open University Press. This book is concerned
with action research as a form of teacher professional development.
See especially Ch.5 on the dilemmas and temptations
of the reflective practioner for a discussion about
insider research and teaching as craft v. reflective practice.
Hart E and Bond M (1995) Action-Research for Health and
Social Care: A Guide to Practice, Open University Press.
An assessment of the usefulness and the distinctiveness of
action-research over other methodologies; much can be transferred
to educational development.
Kemmis S and McTaggert R (1982) The Action Research Planner,
Deakin University Press. This is a guide to implementing
action research in education. The reader is taken through
a self-reflective spiral of planning, acting, observing, reflecting,
re-planning with suggested questions and problem solving scenarios.
Lewin, K. (1946) Action Research and Minority Problems, Journal
of Social Issues, Vol.2. Lewin is a US founding
father of action research; he describes action research as
a spiral of steps that proceeds from planning to action to
observation and finally to reflection. Lewin originally formulated
action research for social problems but educationalists have
borrowed much from it.
McGill I and Beaty L (1995) Action Learning: a guide
for professional management and educational development,
Kogan Page. How to share and solve problems through
the use of action learning sets. The processes described
for developing professional practice follow similar cycles
as that of action research. A good supportive text.
McNiff, J (1988) Action Research: Principles and Practice,
Routledge. This very accessible book focuses on the methodology
of action research and the aim of developing a reflective
practioner approach.. McNiff provides a short and useful
overview of the history and theoretical underpinnings to action
research. She critiques certain models of action research
(Kemmis, Elliott and Ebbutt) as low on scope for self-reflexivity.
Her approach follows that of Whitehead (see below) which offers
a dialetectical logic founded on dialogue and
on change as metamorphisis.
McNiff J (1993) Teaching as Learning: An action
research approach, Routledge. A teacher-user guide
to action research as praxis and self-development. This book
reviews a number of case studies of school based action research.
McNiff discusses the nature of knowledge and how it can be
generated from educational inquiry; she offers a critique
of what she calls the normative-analytic approach
which tests the processing of information but does not engage
with the quality of education. Action research, according
to McNiff, closes the gap between teaching and learning.
McNiff J, Lomax P and Whitehead J (1996) You and Your
Action-Research Project, Routledge. This is a how
to book for an action researcher wanting clear, basic
guidelines and suggestions for their project. This book is
not theoretical but it gives references that are.
Schon, D.A (1983) The Refective Practioner: How professionals
think in action, Basic Books. Schon is the founding
father of professional development by reflective practice.
A classic read.
Somekh B and Thaler M (1997) Contradictions of Management
Theory, Organisational Cultures and the Self Educational
Action Research, Vol.5,1. Through transnational
case studies, this article looks at the role of participative
action research (PAR) in turning an organisation into a learning
one; it examines blockages created by defensive routines;
it urges organisation members to negotiate multiple
selves and relationships to maximise their effectiveness
and for the acquisition of Aristotlean nous.
Stenhouse, L. (1979) Using research means doing research
in Dahl H et a (eds) Spotlight on educational research,
Oslo University Press. Strenhouse brought action research
to the field of education in Britain and did much to popularise
the idea of the teacher as a researcher, the classroom as
a laboratory and teachers as part of a scientific community.
This is one of a number of articles that engage with this
Whitehead J (1987) Action Research and the politics
of educational knowledge, British Educational Research
Journal, Vol.13, No.2.
Winter, R (1998) Finding a Voice - thinking with others:
a conception of action-research Educational Action
Research, Vol.6,1. Winter focuses on the democratic, collaborative
aspect of action-research for the production of really useful
knowledge/theorising. This is a readable snapshot of Winters
Winter, R (1987) Action Research and the Nature of Social
Inquiry: Professional innovation and educational work,
Gower. This somewhat dense book explores the theoretical
underpinning to action-research and its analytic capacities
against those of positivism. Winter promotes a reflexive action
research which treats action and research
or theory and practice dialectically
and which is sensitive to context.
Winter, R. (1989) Learning from Experience: Principles
and Practice in Action-Research, Falmer. Winter
discusses and describes the reasons for and process of action
research. His outline of six principles for the conduct
of action-research is useful both in terms of a theoretical
rationale for action research and for implementation procedures.
Zuber-Skerritt O (1996) Action Research in Higher Education:
examples and reflections, Kogan Page. This book
(also rather dense) is about the dialectic of theory and practice
within the framework of action-research. Exploration is based
on case studies in higher education in Australia. Producing
more effective HE learners is linked to the need for students
to have learning skills, i.e. to know about the
process of learning (metalearning) rather than to learn study
skill techniques only. Producing reflective lecturers, the
author urges, is about involving them in the process of identifying,
analysing and solving the problems they confront themselves
rather than presenting them with research done by others.
A new on-line journal: Action Research International:
Action research links to resources elsewhere: http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arr/links.html
The Centre for Action Research in professional Practice (CARPP):
The Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN): http://www.uea.ac.uk/care/carn/
An excellent site from Colorado University - http://www.cudenver.edu/~mryder/itc/act_res.html
A good review of action research literature - http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/books.html
Here is an excellent article on action-research for teaching
for action research
There is no neat sequential process in action research. All
theorists of action-research offer models based on spirals
or cycles in which thinking, doing and watching are interwoven
and repeated throughout the research activity. Here are some
checklist points under three common headings for the action-research
process (planning, acting and reflecting).
- Identify a problem in your own practice. Write a statement
of this problem.
- Clarify what changes you can make to overcome the problem.
Write up your anticipated design of practice. How does it
differ from the status quo? What are the hoped for outcomes?
- Share your thoughts, Ensure that your research is question
driven through dialogue with others (action learning set
members, critical friends, involved subjects,etc.) - this
helps you to be rigorous and to avoid bias; it also helps
you to avoid forms of self-validating inquiry that presuppose
the answer to a problem (e.g. I will change this to see
if it will rather than I will change this because it will).
- Consider your own embeddedness (culturally, professionally,
socially, etc.) and the influence this has on your research
plan. Will your professional status affect your communication
with students? Are your questions skewed by your own social
and educational experiences?
- Keep your planning reasonably provisional. Be open
to the shifting focus your research might reveal (this is
the principle of generative action-research) and to the
revision of your original identification of the problem/need.
- Ensure that the scale of your research project is realistic
(starting small is usually best).
- Establish how long you have and/or need to watch changes
happening as a result of your action
- Ensure that supportive resources and involved people
can be mobilised for the research.
- Clarify the action part of the action-research.
What is its distinctive character?
- Experiment with not on students or colleagues.
Ideally, there is no subject-object dichotomy in action
research. Keep all concerned people informed as you progress
with your research. Ensure good quality feedback at important
points of the research process.
- Collect evidence, e.g. logs, personal field notes, video
observation, questionnaire data, evaluations, performance
measures, etc. Make it as rich as possible by thinking about
different ways of showing change (quantitative and qualitative).
Aim for triangulation (the process of gathering
data from many sources). Clarify with your co-researchers
their role in data gathering?
- Analyse your data as you gather it. Compare your observations
with those of your students/colleagues if applicable. Critically
assess the usefulness of your evidence. What has changed?
How can you show this? Identify what is missing/further
- Synthesise your data and share it in various public forms
(meetings, publications, etc.) and encourage debate about
- Adopt a formative approach to your research so that you
are open to new problems, directions and revisions. Action-research
is not a finite project because entering its spiral processes
is a way of being a reflective practitioner at all times.
- Blur the distinction between your personal and your professional
development by asking questions about your practice and
assumptions from both areas.
- Do not inform your work with pre-defined quality indicators
because the research itself must throw up questions of quality
in the light of the practice researched.
- Be open to unintended outcomes and to mistakes or to the
possibility that the status quo worked better than the change
(which means reformulating the problem and the imagined
- Consider the ethical issues and those of value relating
to your research. For instance, are you making educational
judgements or political and wholly finance lead ones? Will
your practice create barriers for some groups or will it
expand access? Are all those implicated in your research
being informed of its purpose and progress?
- How are you checking that the judgements you are making
are reasonable ones?