Planning Action Research

Action research is a form of inquiry where you identify a problem and plan a series of actions as a way of gaining deeper understanding of the range of possible solutions. Please tell us about your experiences in any of these steps if you are framing a project. If you help others frame projects, please share your strategies. The idea is for both researchers and professors to think together about this phase. You can choose to add your name or not, but others can see who added the comments by using the history button. Also, please feel free to use the discussion tab on every page to start a discussion around any action research topic.

  • Identify your field of acton
  • Values and Planning Actions
  • Planning Strategies
  • Examine your Theories of Action or Model of Change
  • Collaboration Among Action Researcher to Support Planning
  • Documenting the Process (blogging)

Identify your field of action

The first step is to define your field of action. For many, this is the workplace. But you can chose to locate your action research outside of work in some other arena. For example, you might consider action research in your church or in a community-based agency.
A Force Field Analysis (Kurt Lewin) can be helpful in understanding the forces that help or inhibit change. Mindtools has a free worksheet but there are lots of creative ways to represent the opposing forces.

Share your experiences or questions in identifying your field of action:
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Values and Planning Actions

Examine your values and visions vs. your practice and community
Is your work in alignment with your values? Does your practice achieve the goals you set for yourself? Examine the distance between your values and your practices, between your practice and your image of perfection. What would have to change to move you and your workplace closer to your visions and values. This is where you begin to see the power of action undertaken as research.

In examining your values in the process of bringing about changes/improvements in your workplace, it is often helpful to produce a piece of autobiographic writing that clarifies for yourself (and for others) the experiences from your past that helped to form the values that you are now trying to live as fully as you can in your workplace. As you write, it is important that you express yourself freely without the usual constraints that can be felt in expectations about fulfilling criteria of "academic writing." I am writing this in the context of producing a living educational theory account for Master's writings (on the 9th June 2010). I am hoping to put an illustration of how such autobiographical writings that reveal the meanings of values, can be transformed into Master's writing, in the Doctoral and Masters supervisions and references of at:

Brainstorming the problems without thinking about the solutions can be a helpful process. (Jack Whitehead).

You might enjoy this video montage of images and words by Mellisa Medley, Al Rainaldi and Will Wright. It might help inspire you to think about your ability to make real lasting change in your context.

What would you like to change about your workplace?
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Planning Strategies

Planning your action research is a process of envisioning what your workplace would be like if it was in perfect alignment with your values and goals and then thinking about what manageable steps will result in change in this direction. One of the problems that action researchers have as they try to plan their action is what is the specific problem and how does it relate to problems that others have studied. Here are some examples that might help in the process of planning the project.

Ideas that might help you find the problems that you care about:
  • Communication problems - The message sent is not the same as the message received. Learning to listen and help others learn to listen is often at the heart of the action research project.
  • Low motivation and engagement - What role does ownership play in the investment of ideas? What are the incentives that shape high engagement in your place of learning or working?
  • Lack of knowledge sharing - How are best practices saved and shared over time. If employee turn over is high, so is the need for finding ways to ensure that knowledge stays with the organization.
  • Lack of Intellectual capital - You can't share what you don't have. Look for evidence for good practices from other places. Expand your knowledge by reading, listening, researching, and observing other people who might be engaged in practices that can help you and the people you work with learn.
  • Lack of measurement - If you care about something, find a way to measure it as evidence helps you understand change. You will learn from collecting evidence.
  • Distrust or fear of promising new ideas and technologies - What helps someone approach change and how does this interact with tradition or work habits that might have become outdated? Think about the role of trust in change. New tools can solve problems but they need to be accepted first.
  • Isolated work patterns - When people work alone there is generally a duplication of effect, a lack of resources, and overly routinized patterns that can stall progress. Think about creating community.
  • Shared vision of the future missing - Think about how best practices will lead to a changed or new future. Where are you going as an organization? What does it mean to be a servant leader?

Once the problem is identified, then one needs to design a possible action. Try to locate a small number of problems that are really important to you. If you go for something really general, try to move down a few levels to your sphere of power. If you start with something really focused, try moving out a bit to tie it with problems in the field. Go to research questions for examples for developing research questions. Action research is a systematic process of examining the outcomes of a design experiment. You need evidence. One form of evidence is careful observations and reflections. Throughout the cycles of your action research, keeping a research journal (a computer blog is helpful) can help you track your thinking which may change over time. You might later to be able to track themes that appear or track shifts in your personal theory of learning and teaching.

Jack Whitehead's approach to help students plan (from Jean McNiff, (2002) Action research for professional development: Concise advice for new action researchers)
Here is a modified version of Jack’s action plan.
  • What issue am I interested in researching?
  • Why do I want to research this issue?
  • What kind of evidence can I gather to show why I am interested in this issue?
  • What can I do? What will I do?
  • What kind of evidence can I gather to show that I am having an influence?
  • How can I explain that influence?
  • How can I ensure that any judgments I might make are reasonably fair and accurate?
  • How will I change my practice in the light of my evaluation?
There is always a dilemma between suggesting action plans and avoiding making them appear as prescriptive. In action research, everyone takes responsibility for their own practice and for asking their own questions. You do need to ensure, however, that your research is reasonably systematic and rigorous. In doing your research, you are aiming to make a claim that you have improved practice, so you do need to produce validated evidence to support that claim.

ACTION Research Planning Proposal - Alana James
You can download a planning proposalfor thinking through your action research from another online source for more information about developing action research project

Beginning with an APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY approach

Action research is problem based by does not mean that problem is always fixing something that is broken. Problem seeing or problem locating is a talent. While some action research projects are trying to fix overt problems, most action research problems are located by paying attention to activities and asking how they can be continually improved. So problem can be seen as a positive move towards an imagined future. But for some, problem finding or problem solving feels like too strong a focus on what is wrong. So a form of action research has evolved that is called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry focuses away from problems and towards inquiry into how what is positive might evolve into a future state. They avoid the focus on problem and talk about an envisioned future. To learn more about appreciative Inquiry (AI) visit the AI Portal.

Project based Learning

Many educators might want to experiment with some form of project based learning in their action research. Here is a set of resources that will them play out action research in this area.
The Complete Guide to Project-Based Learning

What ideas, resources, or examples can you share to help with planning?
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Examine your Theories of Action or Model of Change

A valuable tool to diagram your theory of action is a logic model and it is good have it be a living document. It will help you think through what you need as inputs, what you will do (your action), and what you expect to happen (the outcomes). This planning process will help you think about what will be indicators that you can use to see if you logic model matched the experiences you had. Mapping out the theory of action is a great planning process.

--The University of Wisconsin has designed an interactive and effective tutorial for learning how to create a logic model which is an excellent tool to help action researchers think about the problem they are addressing.

--Here are some examples of logic models for action research projects... feel free to use the discussion tab to start a discussion around any of these examples.
Tutorial from the University of Wisconsin Extension program on designing logic models

--You can also download the
W. K. Kellogg Foundation guide to developing a logic model .

-- Another tool that helps you create an Advocacy & Policy Change Composite Logic Model

--Here is a link to a video description of logic model design by the THE EVALUATION CENTER They are assuming evaluative research. Action research might include an evaluation component but remember that action research is not the same as evaluation research. So some of the discussion will be more directed to evaluation than to action research but it might help generate some ideas of how to document change.

-- Lucid Chart has a more tools for creating the logic model....

--University of Arizona provides help in developing Logic Models Visit to see a video on why you might want to use a logic model. Their focus is on evaluation research but this also works for action research. This web-based Logic Model builder provides step-by-step processes to build models, identify common measures, and also to build surveys.

--Action researcher Oscar @menjivar shares this video which shows two students thinking through the development of a logic model. They discuss the value of creating a logic model. They learned the value of discussing the logic relationships as it is created. Enjoy! Please let me (Oscar) know if it helps by commenting on my Blog.

-- A tool that works well with logic models is voice threads. At Pepperdine, we have students share their logic models in a voicethread. They can then "walk" their learning circles members through the logic model. Their circle mates can comment on and offer suggestions to the logic model in voice or text.

What ideas or resources can you suggest for developing a theory or action or model of change?
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Collaboration Among Action Researchers to Support Action Research Planning

Learning Circles
Learning Circles

A powerful way of planning and conducting research is for action researchers to work in learning circles. These learning circles can be in person or online and can help at every stage of the action research design from planning, to taking action, evaluating the outcome, reflecting and planning the next phase.

What processes have you used for collaboration?
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Documenting the Process

What comments or reflections do you have on keeping a log (blog) of your action research process? What have you learned from rereading your blog?

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