What is action research? There is a sense in which the very essence of AR is encapsulated within its name: it represents a juxtaposition of action and research, or in other words, of practice and theory. Thus, as an approach to research, AR is committed to the production of new knowledge through the seeking of solutions or improvements to ``real-life’’ practical problem situations (Elden and Chisholm, 1993; Shanks et al., 1993). However, it is more than just another approach to problem solving, for the action researcher is working from within a conceptual framework (Checkland, 1991; Baskerville and Wood-Harper, 1996) and actions taken to ameliorate a situation perceived as problematic should form part of and stem from strategies for developing, testing, and refining theories about aspects of the particular problem context (Avison, 1993; Susman and Evered, 1978). One distinguishing feature of AR is, therefore, the active and deliberate self-involvement of the researcher in the context of his/her investigation. Unlike the methods of objectivist science where the researcher is argued to be an impartial spectator on the research context (Chalmers, 1982), the action researcher is viewed as a key participant in the research process, working collaboratively with other concerned and/or affected actors to bring about change in the problem context (Checkland, 1991; Hult and Lennung, 1980). Collaboration between researcher and what may be described as the ``problem owner’’ is essential to the success of the AR process. A mutual dependence exists in that both researcher and problem owner are reliant on the other’s skill, experiences, and competencies in order for the research process to achieve its dual aim of practical problem solving and the generation of new knowledge and understanding (Hult and Lennung, 1980). In particular, the researcher brings an intellectual framework and knowledge of process to the research context: by contrast, the problem owner brings knowledge of context (Burns, 1994). Thus AR evolves, in part at least, as a function of the needs and competencies of all involved (Susman and Evered, 1978), with a key feature of this research approach being a willingness to share and thus learn, a result of which is enhanced competencies of all concerned (Hult and Lennung, 1980).
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