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Action Research


Action research is often known by other names, including participatory research, action learning, emancipatory research, and contextual action research, although all of these approaches are based on the same ideas. Essentially, action research is when researchers “discover or learn by being involved” (McIntyre, 2008, p. 112), identifying a problem, working hard to solve it, assessing their results, and, if necessary, trying again. Whilest this is its key characteristic, there are other important qualities that distinguish action research from other typical problem-solving approaches. Generally, it attempts to involve people who are hesitant to work with researchers, by allowing them to speak freely and individually in real-world settings. It also addresses social relationships. The goal of this paper is to discuss the concept of action research and its different forms. In it, I compare and contrast the methods of data collection and analysis that are applied in different forms of action research. Finally, the paper explains why collaborative research is the best choice for carrying out action research.

Definition of Action Research

According to Nolen & Putten, (2007, p. 403), action research is a process that practitioners engage in to study difficulties in a scientific manner, in order to guide, improve, and assess their decisions and actions. Lewin (1947, p. 116) defines action research as a spiral process of planning while in the field, which involves observing the methods that one uses and identifying areas for improvement. Action researchers then suggest new models and approaches, tailored to the context’s specific needs. The whole process is therefore one of self-reflective thinking, composed of reconnaissance, acting, and finding facts about the consequences of actions carried out. In general, action research is the use of social and psychological research techniques to detect social problems facing groups of people or communities. Investigators have to actively participate, so as to be able to identify problems, as well as improve the ways that issues are solved.

In most cases, different forms of action research share the same features, but also have some contrasting points. Generally, all types of action research enhance the competencies of the practitioners, and allow them to understand difficult circumstances. Action research is considered to involve small-scale involvement on the part of the researcher. Its main aim is to bring out change in the performance of the practitioner, and it may or may not have genuine applicability to other fields. Action research is basic research embarked upon by educators and other practitioners in specific known circumstances. In all forms of action research, instructors embrace the use of qualitative and quantitative methodologies in interacting with learners and gathering statistics for interpretation and analysis.

Action research involves real issues facing practitioners and finds solutions to those problems (Nolen & Putten, 2007, p. 402). It is always flexible and is carried out in informal contexts so as to improve existing situations. The objectives of action research are diagnostic as well remedial. For example, the goal of action research for a teacher could be to identify problems and develop his or her classroom. Action research methodology is not as difficult as that of pure research. Unlike pure research, action research is “a holistic approach to problem solving” it does not dwell solely on one method when collecting and analysing information (O’Brien, 2001). This makes it possible for different research tools to be employed when conducting a study. Action research can also be carried out by community development workers, practitioners in any field who want to develop their practices, and teachers and researchers who want to find solutions to classroom and local problems.

Action research can be used by social scientists for preliminary or pilot research when conditions are too ambiguous to arrive at exact research questions. It is also used in situations that require flexibility, the participation of others in research, or rapid changes. Action research can be used by practitioners who wish to improve outside understanding of their practices, and those who work for social change and support action campaigns. For example, it can be used in the area of drug prevention to stress the role of community development input (Duke et al, 1996, p. 110), given that “community drugs deterrence requires citizens gaining access to a range of political, social and economic capital” (Henderson, 1995, p. 60). Action research is also used in the fields of international development, organisational learning, and evaluation, and in sectors such as nursing and health care. Modern health care practice expects practitioners to be patient focused and provide services in different organisational settings.

The benefits of action research are that it allows individuals to identify the problems that they think they are of value, rather than taking on issues from outside the system. For example, in schools, action research permits educators to experience problem-solving and model it to their students and colleagues, refreshing the learning community and their expertise.

Forms of Action Research

In this paper, I examine four types of action research: individual research, collaborative research, school-wide research, and district-wide research. These types of action research are discussed below in details.

Individual Research

Individual action research involves an individual working alone to improve his or her talent. Individual action research is the easiest form of research, and involves a single individual as investigator, focusing on problems facing a particular classroom (McNiff, 2002, p. 122). However, principals or supervisors may offer the researcher support, so as to help him or her more easily solve problems. In individual research, the researcher believes that a problem is evident in his or her line of investigation task and can be solved by him or her alone. He or she carries out research by collecting data or observing student involvement. The investigator then chooses a diverse range of data collection methods, depending on the aim of the research and its complexity. In this kind of research, qualitative data collection methods can be used. Qualitative research focuses on the practises and processes that take place, instead of their results, and emphasises participants’ understandings and experiences (Ferrance, 2002, p. 31). Qualitative researchers enter the field to record individuals’ behaviours and events in natural situations. The most popular types of qualitative methods that can be used in individual action research are observation and interviews. Observation involves situations in which participants are observed from a distance and their activities recorded. This data collection method consumes a lot of time, and researchers may have to wait for participants to be in the situations that they want them to be in. Although observation has limitations, it yields accurate results if the participants are not aware that they are being observed, and if they do not change the ways that they behave. Researchers engaging in observation may opt to collect data through continuous observation or during a set of time periods, depending on the goals of their projects (McNiff, 2002, p. 126). Data collected via observation can be interpreted by using mechanisms such as:

Descriptive observation: For this mechanism, the researcher writes down what he or she has observed. This is similar to interviews, in which the researcher writes down the data that he or she has collected.

Inferential observation: The researcher writes down observations that he or she has inferred based on a subject’s body language and behaviour.

Evaluative observation: The researcher makes an inference and evaluates it, using data based on his or her judgment of a subject’s behaviour.

After analysing individual
research results, a researcher can implement changes in the study area at his or her own level, and possibly influence developments and changes in the school’s or organization’s schedule. For example, a study may reveal that the cognitive and analytical skills of students vary during the day, and that students are more active and concentrated in the first half of the day.

One of the weaknesses of individual action research is that its results may not be available to others, unless the investigator opts to share his or her findings at a faculty or other meeting, or submit them to a journal, newsletter, or library. A second weakness is that several investigators may end up working concurrently on an identical problem without realising it.

Collaborative Action Research

Unlike individual research, collaborative action research involves at least two participants as co-researchers. Collaborative or joint action research happens when a small group of people work together to identify challenges and examine the data they have collected. Collaborative researchers are typically interested in solving a particular department or societal problem (McNiff, 2002, p. 136). One key principle of collaborative research is that all individuals’ ideas are equally important as potential resources for generating interpretive categories of analysis, which are negotiated across participants. This principle aims to avoid the skewing of reliability that can result from the prior status of an idea-holder. It makes it possible for insights to be gathered based on contradictions between viewpoints, as well as based on single viewpoints.

In collaborative action research, participants can use a variety of data collection methods. However, qualitative data collection methods are recommended, sincethey provide opportunities for creative processing and the development of efficient cooperation between educators and their students. Some of the qualitative methods that can be used include taking fieldnotes and conducting interviews. Interviewing is a data collection method that involves asking participants questions to get direct answers. An interview can be done one on one, through the use of questionnaires, or in groups such as focus groups. The resulting data is recorded by using audio recording, stenography, video recording, or more detailed written notes. In-depth interviews are different from observations, in terms of the nature of interaction involved. The main aim of interviews is to question interviewees about their interests. The disadvantage of interviews is that participants may give dishonest answers, which can depend on the level of privacy involved in the questions. Interviews are, however, quite easy to carry out, unlike observation, which produces the most accurate results but requires precise analysis by researchers and is time-consuming.

Qualitative data is usually presented in visual forms such as tables and graphs, and is analysed by using tools such as Word, unlike quantitative data, which involves statistics. Qualitative data involves some form of quantification in most cases, and at times uses specific numbers, just like quantitative data (Stringer, 1999). Qualitative data can also be gathered with tools such as questionnaires, which can involve open-ended questions just like interviews. Questionnaires are tools that are used to collect data in survey research. They include a set of standardised questions that explore a certain topic by collecting information about demographics, opinions, attitudes, and behaviours (Stringer, 1999, p. 211).

School-Wide Research

According to Ferrance (2002), school-wide research concentrates on problems that are common to everyone in the school community or society. School-wide action research includes the majority of a school’s staff, principals, and teachers, as well as the district, in order to help improve the school or organisation. It may involve issues that concern a whole school, such as low parental involvement in school activities. A good example of school-wide action research would be an analysis of school state test scores, with the goal of detecting areas to improve on and determining an action plan for improving the performance of students (Ferrance, 2002, p. 28). Teamwork and individual contributions are of great importance to the success of school-wide action research. To obtain detailed information, it is important that all stakeholders, including school management, students, and parents, take an active part in school-wide research projects. Problems may arise when a team struggles to come up with a problem-solving process, or to commit to each other. When these challenges are overcome, the team gains a sense of ownership and feels that it has achieved something through a school-wide effort.

In quantitative research, numerical data is collected and used to obtain information about the area of research. This type of research is used to describe variables and explain how the variables are related. Quantitative research can lead to crucial changes in a school system and the revision of school policies.

District-Wide Research

District-wide action research aims to solve a common problem facing different schools or address issues of organisational management. Unlike school-wide research which focuses on a single school or organisation, district-wide research is complex and uses more resources, but results in strong feedback (Ferrance, 2002). District-wide research is often used across the district, where staff from different organisations within the district work jointly to correct the situation. It involves participation of multiple constituent groups, which leads to the collection of more comprehensive information and provides valuable insights about the functioning of educational programs in a specific district.

The problems solved by district-wide research can involve issues of performance, organisation, community, or administration. Researchers attempt to collect data from everyone involved, and require participants to commit to carrying out their duties by agreed-upon deadlines. The participation of different groups can add energy to the process and create an environment of authenticity among stakeholders (Ferrance, 2002, p. 17). The impacts of this kind of research include improved collegiality, professional communication, shared vision, and team-building (Ferrance, 2002, p. 22).

District-wide research uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods, such as questionnaires. The researcher can create online surveys using Google Forms or Survey Monkey, and respondents can be asked to complete the questionnaires involved when the researcher is not present. Questionnaires can also be filled in with the aid of a researcher, in which case participants can verbally respond to questions asked by the researcher. The questions in a questionnaire are either closed-ended or open-ended. In a close-ended questionnaire, the questions are based on yes or no responses, providing quantitative data. For open-ended questions, the interviewer does not provide the interviewee with a set of answers to choose from, and the answer is up to the interviewee. Open-ended questions provide qualitative data.

Comparison and Contrast between Different Types of Action Research

Comparisons and contrast between the identified forms of action research is base on terms of the unique characteristics of different forms of research. In individual action research, most problems can be tackled by a single researcher, but he or she may have to look for support of the co-researchers or outside society. The educator can gather data either qualitatively, quantitatively, or both. The outcomes of interpreting and analysing the data guide the instructor in putting adjustments into practice in his or her classroom. In contrast, in school-wide action research, a group of two or more staff members work together with parents and students. This form of research is more detailed than individual research, because it examines diverse aspects and perspectives.
The entire group works on research questions, collects and examines data, and makes decisions.
In school-wide research, the major focus is core problems that affect a specific school. District-wide action research is more multifaceted, involving topics that may affect a number of schools or managerial organisations.


This paper presents an overview of action research as a methodological approach to solving social problems, and discusses different types of research. In the paper discussions on the perception of action research and its different forms are expressed; where methods of information collection and analysis are compared and contrasted to bring out the actual difference among the four forms of action research i.e. individual research, collaborative research, school-wide research, and district-wide research. In the paper I explained why collaborative research is the best choice for carrying out action research. Collaboration is viewed as a source of creativity; it is beneficial on instances in which researchers clash as it led to joint discussion and decision making. In my feature research I intent to identify how beneficial collaborative research can be when one gets the opportunity to network with other researchers, where one can turn to for advice and research help. By collaborating with other researchers, does it become much easier to disseminate the findings of a project through journals or conference presentations, making research more available for use by others and thus increasing its impact.


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