Action Research

Action Research Sociology Definition


Action research is a form of study where sociologists intentionally alter people’s behavior to evaluate the results. It often appears in classroom research as modifications are made to improve student achievement. It refers to a study that attempts to alter social behavior while simultaneously evaluating it after it has changed. The research participants are encouraged to participate at different points throughout a quick-moving study-action sequence. In this study, the researcher also acts as a change agent.


Action research is a term used to explain democratic, participatory procedures in which action is conducted in a social context that results in changes while facilitating social research regarding action for improvement via participation and supporting social research in general.

Improved performance in a commercial company, a better knowledge of how people affect the environment, adult education programs, the preservation of finite natural resources like fish populations or oil, and a myriad of other issues can be the focus of action.

Formative and Summative Action Research

There is a need for action whenever there is a social problem. Therefore, both formative and summative research is conducted in action research.

Stakeholders participate in formative research by defining significant concerns, identifying potential areas for improvement, selecting what to change and how to improve it, and creating methods for determining whether progress has been made or not.

Summative research comprises the consolidation of information gained via the action phase. This knowledge includes the ideas and models created, the instruments and procedures used, and even the methodology made or used to guide the action process. It’s the contemplative practice in action.

Summative research offers a practical experience that the larger research community and upcoming action researchers may use. Action, as well as the formative and summative cycles, are continuing in the majority of social environments, including organizations.

Democratizing social action

Meaningful involvement of all stakeholders in the research process and action for change, to the extent that this is realistically possible, is one of the core concepts of action research. Stakeholders are individuals engaged in and impacted by a process, such as judgments on what constitutes progress and, therefore, what course of action to pursue. Thus, action research can democratize social action and social research methods. Additionally, some action researchers present their work as a way to do emancipatory social research and emancipatory social activities.

Knowledge acquisition – Natural sciences vs. Social Sciences

The acquisition of knowledge in the social sciences differs from that in the natural sciences. Because they believe that the natural world is consistent throughout time and that it is feasible to agree about natural occurrences, natural scientists emphasize the reproducibility of experimental findings.

On the other hand, action researchers in social sciences highlight the constantly shifting and subjective nature of social reality and the fact that intersubjective dialogue is the only way researchers can help others acquire knowledge.

Validity of social knowledge

“Practical reasoning engaged in via action is the source of valid social knowledge in action research.” The context from which information is produced is thus referred to as the validity of social knowledge acquired via action research. It depends on the setting. As a result, even though information gained via an action research approach may be helpful in other social situations, knowledge is not considered concrete enough to apply to all social circumstances.

Checkland and Holwell

Although Checkland and Holwell acknowledge that action research results cannot be replicated in the same way they can in the natural sciences, they assert that the results can and should be retrieved by interested third parties.

Recoverability entails that the process’ formative steps and summative results are made visible and, as a result, more reliable. As a result, it is crucial to specify the concepts and the methodological procedure through which action researchers will interpret their work and determine what qualifies as gained knowledge. This results in a “truth claim” greater than simple “plausibility” but weaker than laboratory testing.

Without a means of “recoverability” embedded into the design, action research can only claim “plausibility,” according to Checkland and Holwell. There are many methods and approaches that may be used in the action research process.

They include various qualitative and quantitative methodologies from several social science fields. The methodology guides the process and interprets the results to determine whether an improvement process is considered action research, not the tools and techniques used.

Discussion and Dialogue

Instead of just “discussion,” “dialogue” is the primary motivator in action research approaches. In discussions, there are victors and losers because ideas are presented and defended. This is not appropriate for action research.

Action researchers must suspend their opinions during dialogue to examine the mental models of other stakeholders and participants.

Only until individuals begin to “see through others’ eyes” to get a proper grasp of the many views and values that permeate all social circumstances can learning and comprehension begin.

In this approach, dialogue encourages active engagement, helps participants understand one another better, and produces results like adjustments that consider all participants’ requirements.

What defines appropriate dialogical methods for development and learning in social environments is a topic of lively discussion in action research.

Methodological Approaches

The principal methodological approaches are outlined here.

A. Action inquiry

Action inquiry provides research in the first, second, and third person that individuals perform in the middle of their own continuous activities at home or work.

B. Action Science

The goal of action science is to close the gap between social research and social practice by developing theories that explain social phenomena, guide activity, and uphold the basic principles of science.

C. Appreciative Inquiry

Positive action research techniques like appreciative inquiry enable groups and communities of people to realize their full creative and constructive potential.

D. Clinical Inquiry

In order to get deeper and more accurate information, clinical inquiry encourages researchers to base their study on the requirements of the client system and seek to build a healthy connection with that system.

E. Community Action

A notion of learning communities that integrate research, capacity development, and practice, as well as a shared understanding of why such integration is both vital and challenging, form the foundation of the cooperative approach offered by community action research.

F. Cooperative inquiry

By using a thoughtful method of bridging the gap between research and how we live and collaborate, cooperative inquiry is a technique of doing collaborative research with people on issues of practical significance to them.

G. Participatory research

Participatory research is a philosophy of life, a political decision, or both supporting groups often left out of or disenfranchised from the dominant knowledge discourses.

Origin of action research – Kurt Lewin

Action research is based on Kurt Lewin’s social research from the 1940s. In the 1943 publication, Lewin reported on the training of homemakers in cooking and the effects on their daily cooking habits in their families. Lewin took a significant stride by studying in a real-world social context instead of the “laboratory science” that had previously dominated the research process.

With Lewin’s strategy, organizations were intentionally and methodically changed to encourage participation.

Lewin’s work impacted both researches on team processes and experiential education regarding interpersonal communication in career development.

Tavistock Institute of Human Relations

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, which applied Lewin’s concept of study in actual social situations, advanced this legacy of social inquiry.

Their socio-technical philosophy was defined by psychoanalytic study and an emphasis on action. The most well-known Tavistock study was carried out in the British coal mining sector. This was the first genuine socio-technical study that opened the door for action research, not an action research study per se.

The issue was that technological innovation did not result in more efficiency, and the sector was curious as to why.

According to Trist and Bamforth, production technology and work organization are intimately related. However, the incompatibility between demands imposed by modern technology and what benefits miners as a community of interdependent humans led to inefficiency.

Trist and Bamforth’s discoveries moved social science away from Tayloristic reductionist techniques that promote specialization via restricted work groups and towards more comprehensive real-world social research, which in turn impacted the development of the industrial democracy movement.

Industrial Democracy

Many significant firms, like Volvo, Saab Scania, and Alfa Laval, had their production methods and work habits changed by the later emergence of industrial democracy, which supported semi-autonomous work groups.

The quality management movement rapidly brought socio-technical ideas to North America and later to Japan.

The concept of comprehensive research in actual social contexts has permeated industrial practices worldwide by the 1980s.

 Hilary Bradbury and Peter Reason

While acknowledging the Lewin and Tavistock tradition’s influence on action research, Reason and Bradbury also point out significant intellectual advancements that gave birth to a core theoretical framework that would serve as the foundation for action research.

They highlight the criticism of scientism and positivist science that gave birth to fresh approaches to practice-based epistemology. They are aware of the Marxist maxim that improving the world is more essential than just comprehending it.

Reason and Bradbury highlight Freire’s work in education, the participatory research techniques used by activists fighting for the liberation of oppressed and disadvantaged people, and participatory rural assessment techniques as examples of this.

A traditional and systemic way

The systemic, or holistic, understanding of action research may be its most important foundation.

Action researchers understand that although human cognition cannot know everything, it can “know that we don’t know.” This is a significant advance in human knowledge.

Such knowledge emphasizes the pointlessness—let alone the hostility—of conventional modes of activity based on scientific prediction and management, which rule today’s social and organizational structures. Such methods are useless since social dynamics will always be beyond individual control.

Such methods are antagonistic because they target a person’s spiritual health by separating them from one another and treating individuals like things rather than understanding the patterns of interaction that bring them together in a single dynamic.

The use of systems thinking broadens and enriches research. Put another way, action research conducted with a systemic viewpoint can provide meaning that powerfully relates to individual experiences in a fundamentally systemic world.

Example of Action Research

In this kind of study, the researcher not only examines a social phenomenon but also helps to alter it, often in an experimental way. Examples might include evaluations of new criminal justice plans requiring criminals to meet their victims and hear their testimonies of how the crimes affected them.

Such strategies align with the fact that many organizations and groups commission social research to comprehend an issue and find a solution.

Another example is the British community development initiatives of the 1970s.


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