The Concept Of Action Research


Content Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. The Concept of Action Research
  3. Historic Development of Action Research in the Social Work Sector
  4. Understanding the Role of the Researcher in Action Research
  5. Reflection in Action Research 
  6. Summary

Introudction 

In traditional research, both quantitative and qualitative, the role of the researchers is like that of a consultant. Often, the organisation that wants to conduct the research will approach the researchers and ask them to conduct the research on the issue/ project. The researchers then develop the research proposal, design the methodology, create the tools of data collection, collect the data, manage and analyse the collected data and write up the report. The researchers present the report and their findings to the organisation and the action or intervention is done by the organisation. The researchers are outsiders who may not be as familiar with the field realities as the practitioners/ implementers. They usually have little control in how the findings of the research will be used by the practitioners/ implementers. The role of the practitioners/implementers in traditional research is limited; they may be invited to participate in the research as respondents or key stakeholders. They have little to do with the research design or how the research is planned or controlled. Thus, in traditional research, the researchers and the practitioners/ implementers of the project are two different groups of people whose roles rarely overlap.

work arena especially when the issue being researched requires specialised field based knowledge. Action Research or practitioner research, as it is often known, could provide the solution to this problem. Action Research is a process in which practitioners examine their own practices systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research. This allows them to use their experiential knowledge of the field when planning and conducting the research. Since the researchers are the practitioners, they can ensure that the findings/results of the research are used appropriately. Participatory Action Research is a form of action research which involves collaboration and shared ownership, usually with beneficiaries or respondent groups. Both these paradigms lend themselves easily to research in social work settings and have many traits in common with social work practice as you will learn in this module. Moreover, since the researchers and practitioners are the same, course correction and project modifications can be made immediately which of great importance in social work settings in making the interventions more effective. 

The Concept of Action Research

Action research usually focuses on an action or intervention designed to improve one or more aspects of one’s own work or professional practice (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 1996). Since it focuses on an individual’s own work or practice, it involves a great deal of thinking or reflection about our own work, the way we approach it and the manner in which we actually work. In action research, the focus is on understanding, describing, interpreting and explaining situations or problems while at the same time trying to change them for the better in collaboration with the client or target system. Action research is an orientation to inquiry/research, which means different methods (qualitative or quantitative) can be used in an action research project.
  • Gilmore, Krantz, and Ramirez (1986, p.116) define action research as research that
    aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. Thus, there is a dual commitment in action research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this twin goal requires the active collaboration of researcher and client, and thus it stresses the importance of co-learning as a primary aspect of the research process. 
  • Carr and Kemmis (1986, p. 162) provide what is often considered to be the classical definition of action research:
    Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out. 
  • Robson (2002, p. 215) maintains that in any action research project there is first, the improvement of a practice of some kind; second, the improvement of the understanding of a practice by its practitioners; and third, the improvement of the situation in which the practice takes place. 
From the above, we can conclude that improvement of practice and situations are central to action research

Historic Development of Action Research in the Social Work Sector

Kurt Lewin, a German social psychologist and educator created the term action research in the 1940s to describe work that did not separate the investigation from the action needed to solve the problem (McFarland &Stansell, 1993, p. 14). Action Research became popular in the US in the field of organisational development in the 1960s (Herr and Anderson, 2005), in education in the UK in the 1970s (McNiff, 1988) and in the field of social work and development in Latin America when academics begun to be concerned about poverty and living conditions in the developing countries (Fals-Borda, 2001). Researchers were no longer perceived to be the ‘experts’; opinions of local people and practitioners who worked with directly the local people were increasingly seen as essential as pure science did not appear to have solutions to the problems of poverty and under-development. Activism, emancipation and action research became more popular in the 1970s - all three focused on equalizing power equations. In the 1980s, action research was used in assessments in rural settings and by the late 1980s, the word ‘Participatory’ was added to Rapid Rural Assessment Projects in India and Kenya (Chambers, 1993). Participatory Assessment focused on collaboration and shared ownership between the practitioner researcher and the beneficiaries. Action research and participatory action research have been in used in social work settings in India ever since. 

Understanding the Role of the Researcher in Action Research

Often, action research includes an element of personal enquiry which means that it examines some aspect of the researcher’s own sphere of work. So it is extremely important that the topic being researched be of interest to the researcher. Unlike traditional quantitative research which focuses on examining or understanding a phenomenon, action research is concerned with bringing about change, generating knowledge and empowering stakeholders, beneficiaries and/or clients.

An action researcher is often called a practitioner –researcher. This is because the researcher is essentially a person working in a field setting who wishes to improve some aspect related to his/her work. One can say that the practitioner-researcher examines an area or issue that is close to his/her heart and which s/he wishes to change.
An action researcher is often called a practitioner –researcher. This is because the researcher is essentially a person working in a field setting who wishes to improve some aspect related to his/her work. One can say that the practitioner-researcher examines an area or issue that is close to his/her heart and which s/he wishes to change.

In other words, in an action research project, you as the practitioner-researcher would examine one or more aspects of your own professional practice in a systematic and deliberate manner, using techniques of research. The site of the research is usually the researcher’s field of work - the settings in which you work on a daily basis.

Since, you as the practitioner-researcher are central to the research and since the research is about you, your professional practice, your values and how you can become a better professional; the research itself has some autobiographical aspects to it. You need to place yourself in the research and your rationale has a personal tone to it. Most action research reports are written in first person for these reasons. And because it focuses on an individual practitioner and his/her professional practice, action research is not and cannot be value-free. This means that the researcher must clearly state his/her values in relation to the research topic. An action researcher examines ‘his/her values in action’. This requires that the researcher question his/her actions and reflect on the reasons for the same. Careful thought needs to be given to how the values of the researcher affect the data collection and the analysis of the data. This can be done only through constant reflection and hence makes reflection an integral part of any action research project.  

Reflection in Action Research

There are many levels and types of reflections as per McNiff (2002). These are listed below:
  • Reflection on values where the focus is on our own values and those of others as also on how these affect our actions 
  • Reflection on practice where the focus is on how we do our own work 
  • Reflection on improvement where the focus is on examining change to ensure that the change has taken place for betterment, for improving a given situation. The action researcher would also look at what has improved and how this improvement has taken place. 
  • Reflection on context that would focus on understanding how the various systems help or hinder improvement. While reflecting on context, the action-researcher would raise questions that have global implications.
Additionally, reflection can either focus ‘on action’ or be carried out ‘in action’. Reflection ‘in action’ occurs in the midst of action whereas reflection ‘on action’ is what is done in a purposeful manner after an action is completed. 

The Action Research Cycles

Any action research study is made up of cycles. Each cycle has a planning component, an action component, observation component and a reflection component. An action researcher first studies the situation and develops a plan of action that would help improve the situation i.e. the planning component. S/he then implements that plan and this forms the action component. The next step involves observing the effects of the action. Finally, the researcher reflects on the implemented plan to assess its strengths and weaknesses. This is the reflection component. An action research project can have one or more such cycles depending on the focus and length of the project (Robson, 1993).
The basic action research cycle is depicted in the figure below:

 



In the Plan component, you have to do the following:
  • Identify an area of concern, the issue or aspect of your professional practice that you want to improve 
  • Collect information on this issue- could be from literature, could be secondary sources of data such as records, case histories and case reports in the NGO or could be primary data 
  • Analyse this data
In the Act component, you:
  • Develop an action plan based on your analysis that you think will help you make the change and will also enable you to study the change that you are making 
  • Implement this plan for a fixed period of time 
In the Observe component, you
  • Collect data related to the implementation- the process, the effects and so on as these will act as evidence
In the Reflect component, you:
  • Evaluate the effects of the action plan to see if the improvement you wanted has actually taken place.
Action Research is a process of constant learning. The researcher not only learns more about the issue being researched but also about the context within which the research takes place. As part of action research, the researcher also keeps track of his/her growth as a researcher and professional. This makes action research extremely exciting and unique. 

Summary

  • Action research is a process in which participants examine their own practices systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research.
  •  Participatory Action Research is a form of action research which involves collaboration and shared ownership, usually with beneficiaries or respondent groups.
  • The term action research was created in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin, a German social psychologist and educator
  • The word ‘Participatory’ was added to Rapid Rural Assessment Projects in India and Kenya in the late 1980s
  • Action research and participatory action research have been in used in social work settings in India ever since the 1990s
  • Reflection and discussion are two essential aspects of an action research. 10.7 Action researches follow a cyclic process; planning, action, observation and reflection are the four components of each cycle.
  • In action research, the researcher also keeps track of his/her growth as a researcher and professional. 

References

  • Bradbury, H., and Reason, P. “Action research: An opportunity for revitalizing research purpose and practices.” Qualitative Social Work 2 no. 2 (2003): 155-175.
  • Cahill, C. “Participatory Data Analysis” in Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting People, Participation and Place (Routledge Studies in Human Geography) edited by Sarah Kindon, Rachel Pain & Mike Kesby. London: Routledge, 2007. p. 181- 187
  • Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research, Lewes: Falmer, 1986
  • Chambers, R. Challenging the Professionals: Frontiers for Rural Development. London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1993
  • Dick, B. “Action research literature 2004 – 2006: Themes and trends”. Action Research 4 no. 4 (2006): 439-458.

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Abnormal Psychology Affirmative Action Agenda 21 Agriculture Anthropology applied psychology ARTICLE 14 ARTICLE 15 ARTICLE 16 ARTICLE 19 basic psychology Basic Social Science Concept Behavioural Therapy Black Feminism Body Brazil case work caste CBD Child Rights Chipko Class Climate change Clinical Social Work Cognitive Psychology Communicable diseases Community development Community Organization Constitution Constitution of India Correctional Social Work CPR Culture Current Affairs Daily MCQ Dalit Feminism Deafblindness Development Disability Disability in the field of Social Work Disaster Earth Summit Ecofeminism ecological refugee Economic Development Economics Ecosystem Ecosystem approach Education Emotion Environment Environment and Society environmental equality Equity and substantive equality Evoluation theory Feminism Feminism of Colour Feminist Feminist Community Practice Feminist Psychology Feminist Theories Feminist Theory Field Work forensic Fundamental Right Fundamental Rights Gender Gender and Development Gender and Development Gender and Labour Gender and Social Work Gender and Social Work Gender Equality Gender Justice gender neutrality Global and Postcolonial Feminism global warming gorillas Green best movement Greenpeace ideology India Indian economic Planning individual liberty Inequality International Current Affairs Intersectionality Intersectionality Theory JFMC Labour law Language Leader leadership Learning Legal Literacy Liberalism life span development livelihood Livelihoods Livelihoods Promotion Locomotor Disability Maternity Benefit MCQ Medical Social Work medicine Mental Health Migration Model of economic Model Questions Motivation movements Nagoya Narmada Bachao National Current Affairs Natural hazard Natural Resources nature Neuroscience NGO Niyamgiri Objectivity and Subjectivity Ogoni Participation Pastroalism patriarchy perception Personal Laws Personality PIL Planning in India Political science Post modernism Postmodern Feminism power Preabmle Production Program Planning protests Psychoanalysis Psychological Rehabilittation Psychology psychosocial development Public Interest Litigation Public Policy Radical Feminism Recording Reflection Reflexivity Reproduction rights of women Risk reduction Role of Social Worker Rural Community Rural Development Rural Economy Rural Society Sensory Impairment sex Sexual Division of Labour Sexual Harassment law Short Current Affairs Slum social relations Social Action Social Advocacy Social Blog social case work social casework Social Change social concept Social Control Social Current Affairs Social Development Social Entrepreneurship Social Group Work Social Groups Social Justice Social Legislation social medicine Social Policies Social Policy Social Problem Social Reform Social Transformation Social Value Creation Social Welfare Administration Social Work Social work concept Social Work Education Social Work MCQ Social Work Methods Social work QA Social Work Research Social Work Role of Social Worker Social Work Social Reform Socialiation Socialist Feminism Socialization Sociology SWOT Analysis Team Building Theory of Social Change trade unions tribe Types of Social work UGC NET Social Work Uniform Civil Code and Family Law in India VAW Violence Vulnerability WAD watershed Western Ghats WID women Women and Development Women in Development

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