Practitioner Action Research

Practitioner Action Research

Action research may be defined as ‘the study of a social situation carried out by those involved in that situation in order to improve both their practice and the quality of their understanding’. (Winter and Munn-Giddings: A Handbook for Action Research in Health and Social Care, p.8) As such it requires a radical re-thinking of the basis and the processes of ‘research’, which conventionally uses the methods and principles of data gathering and analysis by those who are external to the situation being studied.

For more than thirty years I have been an active member of The Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN).
The work of CARN, which has a wide international membership, and the particular form of action research that I have been concerned with, focuses on methods to help professional workers (both as indiviudals and as groups) take responsibility for developing their own practice and, more generally, the practices of the institutions in which they work. Hence the term ‘practitioner action research’. It is thus closely linked with ways of thinking about professional education. Nevertheless, it has a powerful political dimension, since it is centrally concerned with more democratic forms of organizational decision-making and with transforming the alienating experience of working within large bureaucracies.

The questions surrounding action research methods were the focus of my work over many years and my attempts to grapple with them are reported in my Ph D thesis (see publications, 1986), in a variety of articles and in books published in 1987, 1989 and 2001.

The following material from the 2001 book (A Handbook for Action Research in Health and Social Care) may be downloaded. Click on attachments at the bottom of this page.
· Action Research Book Chapter Two: Action Research as an Approach to Inquiry and Development
(Reviews the relationship between action and reflection and compares action research with other forms of inquiry.)
· Action Research Book Chapter Three: Action Research – Contexts and Dimensions
(Discusses the relationship between action research and service-user research, community development, management, ‘facilitation’, evaluation, critical reflection, feminist research, and ant-racist research.)
· Action Research Book: Part Four: Action Research, Relativism and Critical Realsim
(Provides a summary of the fundamental issues, focussing on the problems of ‘relativism’ and offering a solution in terms of ‘critical realism’.)
· Action Research Book: Bibliography
(Included so that references in the other material may be followed up.)

This material focuses on the theory of action research, so I have also included a chapter from the 1989 book (Learning From Experience), which is a practical report of an action research project I carried out into my own work, i.e. marking students’ written work. It illustrates the basic action research processes of collaborating with others in collecting data and moving continuously between data, action and analysis through another basic action research process, namely ‘reflexivity’. The nature of ‘reflexivity’ in action research is described in another document from the 2001 book. Click on:
· Action Research Report: ‘Objective' Judgements, The Problem of Marking Written Work
· Action Research: Reflexivity
Three more recent discussions of action research are also included. Click on:
· ‘Action Research as a Mode of Relationship (2006)
· ‘Developing Relationships, Developing the Self: Buddhism and Action Research’ (2009)
'Validity' as 'Equanimity': Keynote CARN Conference (2012)

Of the work on action research listed under ‘Publications’ (see Home Page) the most important are:
1982: ‘Dilemma Analysis – A Contribution to Methodology for Action Research’
1987: Action Research and the Nature of Social Inquiry, Published by Gower
1989: Learning From Experience: Principle and Practice in Action Research, published by Falmer Press
1994: ‘The Relevance of Feminist Theories of Knowledge for Action Research’
1998: ‘Finding a Voice, Thinking With Others – A Conception of Action Research’
1998: ‘Managers, Spectators and Citizens – the Role of “Theory” in Action Research’
2001: A Handbook for Action Research in Health and Social Care (with Carol Munn-Giddings), published by Routledge
2002: ‘Truth or Fiction: Problems of Authenticity in Narratives of Action Research’