What is action research?
Action research is undertaken by participants in social situations to improve their practices and their understanding of them. It is a method used by communities. Often, teachers or nurses, for example, will use action research in their local working environments to define needs and problems and then devise methods to deal with the problems and to improve services. It has become a very popular method to improve auditing processes, particularly as it is a critical, bottom up and collaborative approach. It promotes self-reflection and action by the participants by engaging them to investigate the problems and develop solutions. The researcher in this instance acts as a facilitator. Action research comprises of a mixture of methods, mostly qualitative, such as focus groups or in-depth interviews as this helps participants feel part of the process. A key component of action research is 'rapid appraisal techniques'. That is, information is gathered quickly and is usually based upon a combination of key people and group meetings. The aim is to gain insight into the population of interest and the community's own perspectives of its needs. A triangulation of research methods is used, for example, you could use workshops, social and geographical mapping, interviews with participants, demographic profiles and a series of multi-disciplinary meetings. By triangulating your methods, you can ensure the scientific rigour and validity of the piece of research.
Hart & Bond's Criteria for Action Research (1995):
1. It is educative
2. It deals with individuals as members of social groups
3. It is problem focused, context specific and future-orientated
4. It involves a change intervention
5. It aims at improvement and involvement
6. It involves a cyclic process in which research, action and evaluation are interlinked
7. It is founded on a research relationship in which those involved are participants in the change process
Stages of Action Research
1. Setting the Stage
This involves identifying the stakeholders and engaging them, making sure they all know who is involved and what the aims are. The researcher should strive to provide a climate of positive interaction. This will involve setting up meetings and facilitating networking.
The researcher must enable the participants to jointly describe the problem or situation. It is key that participants are able to define and describe the problem to be investigated. This can be facilitated by gathering information from the stakeholders, by working with them in describing the problem/situation and observing events and activities. Often, focus groups or other meetings are used at this stage to gather information.
This stage requires the stakeholders to analyze and interpret the situation in order to develop their understanding of the problem. The researcher will aid this by organizing a meeting to enable participants to understand and interpret the situation/problem. Copies of the information gathered from the initial stage can be sent out in advance of the meeting, which can be discussed at the meeting via small group discussion or a wider group discussion, depending on numbers. Follow up activities are usually arranged.
This is the implementation stage. Solutions to the problem/situation have been decided upon and participants come together to set goals, objectives and tasks. The researcher continues his/her involvement by monitoring or supporting the implementation of solutions and by evaluating the project.
Bowling, A. Research Methods in Health, 2nd Edition. Open University Press, 2002.