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Participatory action research

"You cannot understand a system until you try to change it" (Lewin)

Action research comprises a family of research methodologies which aim to pursue action and research outcomes at the same time (PAR, action learning, soft systems methodology, developmental evaluation, etc.). It therefore has some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research. The focus is action to improve a situation and the research is the conscious effort, as part of the process, to formulate public knowledge that adds to theories of action that promote or inhibit learning in behavioural systems. In this sense the participatory action researcher is a practitioner, an interventionist seeking to help improve client systems. However, lasting improvement requires that the participatory action researcher help clients to change themselves so that their interactions will create these conditions for inquiry and learning. Hence to the aims of contributing to the practical improvement of problem situations and to the goals of developing public knowledge we can add a third aim of participatory action research, to develop the self -help competencies of people facing problems. The LfS blog posting - How action research can support collaborations and collaborative practice - How action research can support collaboration and collaborative practice - provides a brief introduction to action research and how it is can be used, and points to a range of resources that provide more specific information around its use in practice.

The principles of action research can be seen to underpin the development and improvement of practice in all the fields of inquiry within this site. The concept of learning by doing in which learning is perceived as experiential and reflexive is fundamental to this approach. It recognises that people learn through the active adaptation of their existing knowledge in response to their experiences with other people and their environment. Moreover, the process of building on experience is a natural one for most people and action research provides a framework for formalising and making this process more effective. By making explicit and documenting the processes by which individuals carry out their activities and problem solving processes allows for the fine tuning and improvement of these processes. And while action research is inherently a collaborative approach, it is also useful as an approach to one's individual work.

The following links provide access to a number of sites which contain quite substantive information on action research and its practice:

Useful papers on the history and application of action research include:

A number of other pages and sections in this site provide information on related areas. There are, for example, a number of research approaches that support participatory and learning-based initiatives. Other specific pages look at how to manage integration in applied research settings and new thinking on managing participation and engagement.