A Beginner's Guide to Action Research 1

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A beginner's guide to action research  1

This is a resource file which supports the regular public program "areol" (action research and evaluation on line) offered twice a year beginning in mid-February and mid-July.  For details email Bob Dick  bdick@scu.edu.au  or  bd@uq.net.au ...  in which action research is briefly described, and the simultaneous achievement of action (that is, change) and research (that is, understanding) is discussed  

* Introduction
* Action research in more detail
* Cyclic, participative, qualitative
* "Good" action research
* Summary
* Notes
* References
Action research consists of a family of research methodologies which pursue action and research outcomes at the same time.  It therefore has some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research. Conventional experimental research, for good reason, has developed certain principles to guide its conduct.  These principles are appropriate for certain types of research; but they can actually inhibit effective change.  Action research has had to develop a different set of principles.  It also has some characteristic differences from most other qualitative methods. Action research tends to be...

* cyclic -- similar steps tend to recur, in a similar sequence; * participative -- the clients and informants are involved as partners, or at least active participants, in the research process; * qualitative -- it deals more often with language than with numbers; and * reflective -- critical reflection upon the process and outcomes are important parts of each cycle. In fact, some writers insist on those characteristics.

To achieve action, action research is responsive.  It has to be able to respond to the emerging needs of the situation.  It must be flexible in a way that some research methods cannot be. Action research is emergent.  The process takes place gradually.  Its cyclic nature helps responsiveness.  It also aids rigour.  The early cycles are used to help decide how to conduct the later cycles.  In the later cycles, the interpretations developed in the early cycles can be tested and challenged and refined. In most instances the use of qualitative information increases responsiveness.  It is possible to work in natural language, which is easier for informants.  There is no need to develop a metric (which may have to be abandoned later if it doesn't fit the emerging situation). The use of language also makes the whole process more accessible to participants.  They can develop enough understanding to become co-researchers in many situations. One crucial step in each cycle consists of critical reflection.  The researcher and others involved first recollect and then critique what has already happened.  The increased understanding which emerges from the critical reflection is then put to good use in designing the later steps. The cycle best known in Australia is probably that of Stephen Kemmis and his colleagues at Deakin University.  The steps are: plan --> act --> observe --> reflect (and then --> plan etc.) The reflection leads on to the next stage of planning.  The "planning" isn't a separate and prior step; it is embedded in the action and reflection.  Short, multiple cycles allow greater rigour to be achieved. As change is intended to result, effective action research depends upon the agreement and commitment of those affected by it.  This is usually generated by involving them directly in the research process.  In many instances, researchers try to involve them as equal partners. Action research in more detail

I regard action research as a methodology which is intended to have both action outcomes and research outcomes.  I recognise, too, that in some action research the research component mostly takes the form of understanding on the part of those involved.  The action is primary.  In distinction, there are some forms...
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