Action Research


Action Research emerged from Kurt Lewin's work in social psychology in the 1940s.  Lewin had a broad range of research interests. Through his study of religious and racial prejudice and his development of change theory he developed a model of action research. He conceptualized action research as research directed toward the solving of social problems. 


"Action research is a form of collective self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own social or educational practices, as well as their understanding of those practices and the situations in which the practices are carried out...The approach is only action reserach when it is collaborative, though it is important to realise that action research of the group is achieved through the critically examined action of individual group members" (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1988, 5-6).

Action research has the following features:

  • Researchers work with and for people rather than study people (participatory)
  • Researchers and non-researchers are seen as equals and findings are fed back to participants for validation (democracy)
  • The focus is on generating solutions to practical problems
  • People in the organization (e.g. practitioners) are engaged in the research process and empowered to develop and implement improvements (contributes to both social science and social change). Solutions emerge from the process of doing research.
  • To influence practice positively while simultaneously gathering data to share with a wider audience" Meyer, 2000, p. 179).

Common Methods used in Case Study Research

All three methods described below are used in action research, although greatest emphasis may be placed on interviewing or speaking with people in the organization.

Participant Observation. This involves the researcher immersing him or herself in the daily lives and routines of those being studied.  This often requires extensive work in the setting being studied.  This is called fieldwork.

Interviewing. Researchers will learn about the person or persons that are part of organization they hope to change.  Talking with informants is called interviewing.  The types of interviews conducted by researchers may vary in degree of formality (informal interview to semi-structured to structured interviews).

Collection of Artifacts and Texts. Researchers may also learn about an organizaton by collecting and studying artifacts (e.g. written protocols, charts, flowsheets, educational handouts) - materials used by members of the system or case being studied. 


Brown, CL. (2001). "Action Research: The Method." In Nursing Research: A Qualitative Perspective. PL Munhall (Ed.) pp. 503-522. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical. Education, Knowledge and Action Research. Lewes: Falmer Press.

Greenwood, DJ. & Levin, M. (1998). Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.

Hart, E. & Bond, M. (1995). Action Research for Health and Social Care: A Guide to Practice.  Buckingham: Open University Press.

Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (1998). The Action Research Planner. Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University Press.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field Theory in Social Science; Selected Theoretical Papers. D Cartwright (ed.). NY: Harper Row.

Meyer, JE. (1993). "New paradigm research in practice: The trials and tribulations of action research." Journal of Advanced Nursing, 14; 1066-72.

Meyer, JE. (2000). "Qualitative research in health care: Using qualitative methods in health related action research." BMJ, 320; 178-181.

Peters, M. & Robinson, V. (1984). "The origins and status of action research." The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 20(2), 113-124.

Reason, P. (1994). "Three approaches to participative inquiry." In NK Denzin & YS Lincoln (Eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Inquiry. pp. 324-339. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.

Webb, C. (1989). "Action research: Philosophy, method and personal experience." Journal of Advanced Nursing,  14; 403-410.

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