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Action research involves utilizing a systematic cyclical method of planning, taking action, observing, evaluating (including self-evaluation) and critical reflecting prior to planning the next cycle (O'Brien, 2001; McNiff, 2002). The actions have a set goal of addressing an identified problem in the workplace, for example, reducing the illiteracy of students through use of new strategies (Quigley, 2000) or improving communication and efficiency in a hospital emergency room (Eisenberg, Baglia, Pyrnes, 2006). It is a collaborative method to test new ideas and implement action for change. It involves direct participation in a dynamic research process, while monitoring and evaluating the effects of the researcher's actions with the aim of improving practice (Dick, 2002; Checkland & Holwell, 1998; Hult & Lennung, 1980). At its core, action research is a way to increase understanding of how change in one's actions or practices can mutually benefit a community of practitioners (McNiff, 2002; Reason & Bradburym, 2001; Carr & Kemmis 1986; Masters, 1995). Understanding action research.
"Essentially Participatory Action Research (PAR) is research which involves all relevant parties in actively examining together current action (which they experience as problematic) in order to change and improve it. They do this by critically reflecting on the historical, political, cultural, economic, geographic and other contexts which make sense of it. … Participatory action research is not just research which is hoped that will be followed by action. It is action which is researched, changed and re-researched, within the research process by participants. Nor is it simply an exotic variant of consultation. Instead, it aims to be active co-research, by and for those to be helped. Nor can it be used by one group of people to get another group of people to do what is thought best for them - whether that is to implement a central policy or an organizational or service change. Instead it tries to be a genuinely democratic or non-coercive process whereby those to be helped, determine the purposes and outcomes of their own inquiry." - Wadsworth, Y. (1998) What is Participatory Action Research?
The "research" aspects of PAR attempt to avoid the traditional “extractive” research carried out by universities and governments where “experts” go to a community, study their subjects, and take away their data to write their papers, reports and theses. Research in PAR is ideally BY the local people and FOR the local people. Research is designed to address specific issues identified by local people, and the results are directly applied to the problems at hand.
PAR proceeds through repeated cycles, in which researchers and the community start with the identification of major issues, concerns and problems, initiate research, originate action, learn about this action and proceed to a new research and action cycle. This process is a continuous one. Participants in Action Research projects continuously reflect on their learning from the actions and proceed to initiate new actions on the spot. Outcomes are very difficult to predict from the outset, challenges are sizeable and achievements depend to a very large extent on researcher’s commitment, creativity and imagination.
Examples of action research projects dissertations and masters thesis can be easily found by searching the internet. Some universities host sites where the best example of this form of research in corporate and university organizations, and school communities.