Action research is systematic multi-staged cyclical process, which seeks to improve practice through the implementation of informed and incremental change. Action research is not done in isolation but seeks out opportunities for collaboration and the participation of other agents.

Action research is characterised by clear stages, which include:

  • A consideration of action (reflection and reconnaissance);
  • Implementation of an action for improvement to individual practice;
  • The use of data collection on the action;
  • A review of the action through consideration of data;
  • The identification of further opportunities for improving intervention.

Throughout each stage the researcher’s learning is articulated and reinvested into the process. In the process learning occurs for practice, about practice and through practice.

Action research is a type of inquiry that is practical as it involves making change to practice and theoretical as it is informed by theory and can generate new insights.

  •  Action research is a methodology, which means it provides a framework for approaching a piece of research. This framework encourages us to look at our practice, assess where change may be valuable, to research the issues and possible actions, to implement and evaluate action steps and to articulate learning from the process. If you have always worked in natural sciences, and have mainly dealt in facts with a main concern for discovering whether something is ‘right or wrong’ or whether an intervention ‘does this or that’ this may all feel very strange. That is perfectly normal and one of your challenges in using action research will be to adopt the mind-set of an action researcher. To be clear though, you don’t have to disregard all your beliefs about research; for the purposes of action research you may need to just take a different view.  Action research is often small scale. You can only affect change within your own remit, so a lecturer forming a project to change academic workload allocation is unlikely to be successful, whereas a project that focuses on the use of multimedia in the classroom is likely to be much more manageable.
  • Action research follows a pattern, or cycle, which always involves planning, then making a change and then reviewing the situation to generate learning. There are many models of action research that break these key phases down in to smaller steps. You will notice similarity between action research models and models of reflection, this is because both activities are part of a family of approaches to developing practice. Compared to reflective practice, action research is more thoroughly planned, more formal, is likely to have an audience and is probably undertaken less frequently. Unlike reflection, it involves data collection.
  • Action research is undertaken through your practice. It is about your own practice. It should have benefit you, your colleagues and other key stakeholders. Any action research project relating to teaching and learning should complement your existing activities, interests and priorities.
  • Action researchers believe that the world can be seen from different perspectives; they recognise that the world is complex and messy. They try to understand and make improvements to practice in an environment where there are probably many viewpoints. Action researchers do not start out with the opinion that there is one way of seeing the world and their research can discover this. Instead they try to reach decisions and ways forward based on evidence and good judgment. These underpinning beliefs fit with an interpretivist epistemology.
  • Action research is often associated with education and health contexts, but it can also be found in agriculture, international development and management research. Do a web search or library search to see the number of disciplines and professions that make use of this approach.

 Please see here for a downloadable booklet on getting started with action research