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Action Research

Action research

Action research is first and foremost a way of doing research with people, with ourselves. It is a way of stepping over the fatally flawed notion that research on people by disinterested ‘objective’ observers, ie without their full consenting participation in the research agenda, can ever be ethical.

I learned to do cooperative inquiry, as it was then often called, in the early 1980's with John Heron and Peter Reason, and led several cooperative inquiries, some tacit, as in Power and Intimacy co-led with Mary Corr, 1982, The Nuclear State, a filmed inquiry broadcast on C4 in 1985, and From Survival and Recovery to Flourishing co-led with Annie Spencer, 1998, and others implicit, in facilitator training, client work, and more recently, with the group to which I belong in the Independent Practitioners Network.

All of this has been outside the academic culture of Action research, which I tend to feel leans too strongly towards PhD theses while neglecting grassroots implementation.

Action research comes in three related varieties, first person inquiry in which I look into some topic that interests or challenges me; second person inquiry in which you and I or a small group look into some matter of mutual interest; and third person inquiry in which a community inquires into some aspect of its live. These are not mutually exclusive, and an action research inquiry, as with livingfromlove often moves between all three, though for reasons of confidentiality, most of what you'll find here is first person inquiry.

What then is action research? I'm a practitioner, not a philosopher and I have come to think of it in terms of recipes, with cooking as a generic image.

This inquiry starts out with the topics ‘Facilitating the power of love’, and 'Confronting the love of power. I have approached this through a cyclic process of:

  1. Devising propositions about each of these topics

  2. Putting these proposals into action (and gathering data, evidence as I went on)

  3. Reviewing the outcome of the action

  4. Modifying the original propositions and/or coming up with new propositions

You could think of this process as consisting of a Proposition phase, ‘let's have lasagne for lunch’; an Action phase, make the lasagne; then a Review phase, did we like it? Could it have been made more tasty, or satisfying? All this is followed by another Proposition phase ‘let's try it with less oregano and more garlic’, and so on.

A second layer of Validity checks helps keep the inquiry on track.

Action inquiry is a lightly formalized version of the ‘learning from experience’ that we do more or less unconsciously in everyday life. It provides a very effective way of contradicting the coercive agenda setting of institutions, since the task of cooperatively setting the research agenda itself opens up institutional bias to inspection. The outcomes of the research may not be publishable ‘results’, so much as changes of attitude, reorientation, and refocused intentions.

This pdf document, (Postle) Cultures of cooperation gives a detailed recipe for implementing Action Research.

This paper, (Reason & McArdle) gives a brief outline of Action research methods

This pdf document (Heron & Reason) gives an eloquent philosophical account of the Action Research paradigm

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This document was last modified on 2005-10-25 06:40:39.