1) What is Action Research?


How do YOU define action research?

Feel free to add your definition of action research on this page, either with or without your name, and if you like with links to your action research site.

Also visit our online tutorial course on Action Research


The Center for Collaborative Action Research, CCAR

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At the Center for Collaborative Action Research, Riel (2013) describes action research is a form of cyclic learning that capitalizes on day-to-day work experiences as opportunities to improve practice. Action researchers gain deeper understanding of the social, political, and physical forces that shape actions in complex social settings. It is a way of learning more from practice by questioning, listening, watching, acting, analyzing, and reflecting. Action research can be done in a formal way with results which can be shared across contexts or it can be conducted informally as a way of learning from and improving one's practice. When conducted formally, action research can provide new understandings of relationships that can become the basis of further study. When carried out informally, action research can become a habit of mind, a process of progressive problem solving that leads to a form of adaptive expertise (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993, Bransford, Brown, & Cockling, 1999).

Take this survey to explore how you define action research

The Action Research Special Interest Group of the American Education and Research Association as a evolving definition that you can help shape.



Your Definitions of Action Research -- Feel free to add your insights below this line.


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A Group of Students from Cadre 9 at Pepperdine's online learning technologies program define action this way:

Action Research is a recognized form of applied research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of concern (Dick, 2002; Reason & Bradbury, 2001; Hult & Lennung, 1980; McNiff, 2002). Action research involves utilizing a systematic cyclical method of planning, taking action, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle O'Brien, 2001; McNiff, 2002). The actions have a set goal of addressing an identified problem in the workplace, for example, reducing the illiteracy of students through use of a new strategies Quigley, 2000) or developing shared governance to increase the quality of nursing (Doherty & Hope 2000). It is a collaborative method to test new ideas and implement action for change. It involves direct participation in a dynamic research process, while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions with the aim of improving practice (Dick, 2002; Checkland & Holwell, 1998; Hult & Lennung, 1980). At its core, action research is a way to increase understanding of how change in one's actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners (McNiff, 2002; Reason & Bradburym, 2001; Carr & Kremmis 1986; Masters, 1995).


FROM: Reason, P, & McArdle, K., (2001) Action Research and Organization Development

in T.C. Cummings, (Ed.) Handbook of Organization Development, Bath:Sage Publications

Action research is a practice for the systematic development of knowing and knowledge, but based in a rather different form from traditional academic research. It has different purposes, is based in different relationships, it has different ways of conceiving knowledge and its relation to practice. We can define it broadly as "… a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, grounded in a participatory worldview… It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities (Reason &Bradbury, 2001a:1)."

This definition brings together five dimensions of action research: it is pragmatic, concerned with addressing practical issues and making links between theory and practice; it is democratic both in the sense of involving people and in being liberationist - seeking to enable all people to create their own knowledge in learning organisations and communities of inquiry; it draws on an “extended epistemology” (Heron 1996) of many ways of knowing, valuing the experiential, narrative and aesthetic, alongside the propositional and conceptual; it is value oriented, asking how we can contribute to the flourishing—economic, political, psychological, spiritual— of human persons and communities, and of the wider ecology of the planet; and it is developmental, evolving over time from tentative beginnings toward more significant influence (Reason & Bradbury, 2001a).



James, Milenkiewicz, and Bucknam (2008) define Participatory Action Research (PAR) as..."The action research (AR) portion of PAR is defined as a multistage type of research designed to yield practical results capable of improving a specific aspect of practice and made public to enable scrutiny and testing. This iterative process is bolstered through the strategic use of standard research methods--but AR differs from scientific research practices in a number of ways. The traditional view of scientific research sees research as a distinct and measurable construct in which scientists must remain neutral, without directly influencing the results of their experiments. PAR blends participatory research, defined as research conducted in circumstances where diverse practitioners work together to achieve reliable results. In local context this implies groups of citizens who have an equal say in all aspects of the study. PAR offers a practical and effective approach for educators to study, asess, and improve their own practices, because PAR researchers intentionally make changes through the action cycle as they progress with the project. While the scientific view insists on absolute quantifiability, the PAR view appreciates subjective reflection as a form of data, giving credence and respect to intuitively driven moments and epiphanies" (p. 8).

James, Milenkiewicz, and Bucknam (2008) describe "PAR as incorporating the highest values and principles for human justice and democracy including:
*The belief in human capacity
*The unyielding commitment to social justice and equity
*The value of collaborative work both to individual educators and to their schools
*The norms of professional and public accountability
*Mutual inquiry as a means to honor others, empower ourselves, and adapt to a changing environment" (p. 2)

Participatory Action Research is a collaborative, research-based, and results-oriented approach for leading second-order, systems-oriented change. In PAR, the researcher is an actor in their own research. As a principal actor, the researcher studies the problem, plans, implements action, assesses results, and reflects upon outcomes in a series of cycles and over time. They also concurrently study their own leadership practice and the practice of others throughout the iterative cycles. This multi-dimensional and ongoing learning promotes individual and collective capacity building and leads to new and better ways of thinking and "being". PAR is transformative. (Dr. Linda Purrington, Academic Chair, ELAP Ed.D. Program, Pepperdine University)


Add your definition here.. (use the edit this page button at the top of this frame.) if you use references please add them to the list at the end of this page.




References mentioned in these definitions

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M., (1993) Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implication of expertise. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Bransford, J., Brown A., and Cocking, R , Eds. (1999) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Washington, D.C. National Academy Press.

Carr, W. & Kremmis, S.(1986). Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge, and Action Research. London: Falmer Press

Checkland, P., Holwell, S. (1998). Action Research: Its Nature and Validity. Systemic Practice and Action Research, Volume 11, (Issue 1, Feb),p 9-21.

Dick, B. (2002). "Action research: Action and research" Accessed on Feb 3, 2007 from http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/aandr.html .

Doherty C, & Hope W. (2000). "Shared governance--nurses making a difference." Journal of Nursing Management 2000 March 8(2):77-81.

Hult, M., and Lennung, S. (1980). "Towards a Definition of Action Research: A Note and Bibliography," Journal of Management Studies (17:2), 1pp. 242-250.

James, E.A., Milenkiewicz, M.T., & Bucknam, A. (2007). Participatory Action Research for educational leadership: Using data-driven decision making to improve schools Thousand Oaks:CA, Sage Publications, Inc.

Masters, J. (1995) 'The History of Action Research' in I. Hughes (ed) Action Research Electronic Reader, The University of Sydney, Accessed online on Feb 26, 2007 at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arr/arow/rmasters.html .

McNiff, (2002) Action research for professional development. Accessed online Feb 2, 2007 at http://www.jeanmcniff.com/booklet1.html .

O'Brien, R. (2001). "An overview of the methodological approach of action research.". In Roberto Richardson (Ed.), Theory and Practice of Action Research. João Pessoa, Brazil: Universidade Federal da Paraíba. (English version) Accessed online on Feb. 2, 2007 from http://www.web.ca/~robrien/papers/arfinal.html .

Quigley, B., 2000, ‘The practitioner-research: a research revolution in literacy’, Adult
Learning, 11 (3), 6-8.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (Eds.) (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA, 512p

Reason, P., & McArdle, K. L. (2004). Action Research and Organization Development. In T. C. Cummings (Ed.), Handbook of Organization Development. Bath: Sage Publications.

Yorks, L. (2005) Adult learning and the generation of new knowledge and meaning: Creating liberating spaces for fostering adult learning through practitioner-based collaborative action inquiry. Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 6, 2005, p. 1217-1244
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11909, Date Accessed: 10/18/2007 3:25:00 PM






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