is a focused effort to achieve both:- (1 change/improvement in a practical (intra- or inter-organization/community/network) setting and; (2 meaningful contribution to the stock of social science knowledge/theory.
Action research relies upon an explicit collaboration between (internal or external) researcher(s) and an organization/community/network entity. Both parties need to share a real interest in the
combination of "action" and "research" objectives, although their relative interest in each of these particular objectives may vary by degree.
This shared commitment to "action" and "research" relies upon
a "reflective" attitude. "Research" needs to inform action, and "action" is required to ground theory and research. It is a continuous learning process with a typical cycle of four steps: plan (research),
act, observe, and reflect (evaluate).
Put very simply, action research is "learning by doing".
A problem/opportunity/challenge is identified and data is collected for a careful
assessment/diagnosis. This is followed by a collective postulation of possible solutions, from which a plan of action emerges and is implemented. Data on the results of the intervention are collected and
analyzed, and the findings are interpreted in light of how successful the action has been. At this point, the situation is re-assessed and the process may begin another cycle.
Within organizations, action
research is highly participative and a tremendous growth experience for people, so that it is often referred to as "action learning". See "Action Research at Mackenzie: Experiences of Employee Participation in Decision-Making".
What distinguishes action research from general professional practices, consulting, or daily problem-solving is the emphasis on "scientific" study, which is
to say, the question is studied systematically, and much time is spent on refining methodological tools to suit the situation, and on collecting, analyzing, and presenting data on an ongoing basis.
same time, what distinguishes action research from other types of research is the immediacy of the researcher's interaction with, and indeed, vulnerability to the real-life complexities and unpredictable
challenges in the social context of the research. See:"Action
Research in an American Underground Coal Mine".
From the viewpoint of the "researcher", action research
provides vital access to real-world, real-time situations that provide unique opportunities to test and develop social science hypotheses and theory, as well as to discover, often unintended, new knowledge.
From the practical standpoint of the organization or social entity, action research provides tools, methods, and an attitude for systematic inquiry that can support highly effective planned change as well as
foster the capabilities and culture for a "learning" organization. See: "Action Research Design of Knowledge Work & IT: A Case Study."
(*) The term "Action-Research" originated with the German and American social psychologist,
Kurt Lewin, in 1946, followed by extensive application at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, from the 1950's and on, until today, when it is a distinct approach to applied social
research and organizational/community development. See: "An Overview of the Methological Approach of Action Research".