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What is action research?

Last updated

26 April 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Action research is a participatory approach to research that emphasizes collaboration between researchers and individuals or groups to identify problems, develop solutions, and implement changes. It is a method of inquiry driven by a desire to reflect upon and improve practice rather than generate knowledge.

This research approach is often used in education, social work, healthcare, and community development.

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What are the main types of action research?

Technical action research

This type of action research focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a system or process. It is often used in organizational contexts, such as businesses or government agencies, to address specific issues or improve operations. 

In technical action research, the research process typically involves a systematic analysis of the existing system or process to identify areas of inefficiency or opportunity for improvement. This analysis may include collecting and analyzing data, observing work practices, conducting interviews with employees or other stakeholders, and/or reviewing documentation.

Collaboration action research

Collaborative action research seeks to empower stakeholders and give them a voice in the research process. It’s about working together to identify issues, create solutions, and implement change. This approach is typically used in community-based research, where community members and organizations are actively involved in the research process.

Collaborative action research is characterized by a high degree of participation, communication, and cooperation between researchers and stakeholders. The goal is to create a sense of ownership and commitment among all participants, leading to more sustainable and effective outcomes.

Critical reflection action research

This type of action research aims to create a space for marginalized voices to be heard and to address the power imbalances that exist between different stakeholders. It seeks to challenge the dominant power structures and social injustices that exist within a particular context. 

This research also emphasizes the importance of reflecting on the underlying assumptions and values that drive research and decision-making processes.

Critical reflection action research involves a continuous process of questioning and reflection. This helps researchers gain a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances of the context they are working in.

Through this research process, researchers can identify and challenge assumptions, beliefs, and practices that perpetuate social inequalities and injustices.

What is the main purpose of action research?

The primary purpose of action research is to drive change and improvement within a particular context or situation. It aims to address real-world problems and challenges by involving stakeholders in the research process, encouraging collaboration and reflection, and using data to inform decision-making.

Action research emphasizes practical solutions over theoretical abstractions, and its goal is to create meaningful and sustainable change that benefits everyone involved.

Using a cyclical process of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting, action research enables stakeholders to learn and adapt continually and to make ongoing improvements based on their experiences and insights.

Overall, action research is a powerful tool for driving positive change and promoting continuous learning and improvement in various contexts.

What are the tools of action research?

Action research typically involves a range of tools and techniques that help researchers gather and analyze data. 

Here are some commonly used tools for action research:

Surveys and questionnaires

These are structured and often include closed-ended questions with predetermined response options. These tools help understand a population's experiences, opinions, and attitudes toward a particular issue or topic.

Document analysis

This involves analyzing written documents such as reports, policies, and procedures to gather qualitative data.


This involves systematically watching and recording phenomena, such as behaviors or interactions, in their natural setting to collect data.


Asking people questions during interviews is one way to gather qualitative information about their perspectives or experiences.

Case studies

This method deeply understands a particular person, group, or situation. It involves collecting data through various sources, such as interviews, observations, and document analysis, to form a comprehensive picture of the situation being studied.

How is action research different from other methods?

Action research is distinct from other research methodologies because it focuses on producing actionable insights that lead to practical solutions.

Unlike other forms of research that tend to emphasize the generation of abstract theories or empirical models, action research emphasizes the active engagement of stakeholders in problem-solving activities that can result in a substantial change in real-world situations.

This approach strongly emphasizes collaboration, co-creation, and participatory processes to empower individuals and organizations to take ownership of their challenges and work towards sustainable, impactful solutions. 

By prioritizing the needs and perspectives of those directly affected by a problem, action research can help bridge the gap between theory and practice and create meaningful, impactful, and sustainable change.

What research method is used in action research?

Action research uses a process that allows researchers to implement changes and observe the effects of those changes in real-life situations.

This research methodology is grounded in the idea that the best solutions come from those who are most impacted by the issue. The participants are actively involved in the research process, collaborating with the researcher to develop solutions that work in their unique context.

Using participatory methods and data collection tools ensures that the data gathered is accurate and reflects the participants' perspectives. This can include surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and observations.

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