McNiff and Whitehead (2005:1) describe action research as ‘a common-sense approach to personal and professional development that enables practitioners everywhere to investigate and evaluate their work, and to create their own theories of practice’.
Reason and Bradbury (2001:2) outline that action research is about ‘working towards practical outcomes, and also about creating new forms of understanding, since action without understanding is blind, just as theory without action is meaningless’.
There are two fundamental reasons why people undertake action research: ‘to improve practice and to generate new theory’ (McNiff & Whitehead, 2005:3). If we consider that ‘theory generation is at the heart of all policy’ (ibid), we suddenly come to realise the importance of practitioners’ contributions to theory.
Consequently, action research is very valuable. On the one hand, it allows practitioners to study themselves and their own practice by asking how both could be improved, and on the other, it enables practitioners to generate their own, (new) theories from evidence-based practice.
Finding a suitable action research mode
The ‘Plan – Act – Observe – Reflect’ cycle is perhaps the most well-known of the models and owes its origins to the 1981 Kemmis and McTaggart model.
Figure 1 The Plan – Act – Observe – Reflect cycle (McAteer, 2013:29)
It is important to note that the model above should not be taken as a linear approach. It has been recognised for some time that action research is not a neat and tidy process, and that practitioners will often move backwards and forwards between the different stages of the cycle as the research naturally unfolds. It is perhaps better to see the action research process as an indicative one, portrayed as a series of cycles; each one feeding into and informing the next.
Suggested further reading:
McAteer, M. (2013) Action Research in Education. London: Sage
McNiff, J. (2013) Action Research: Principles and Practice. (3rd ed). Oxon: Routledge
McNiff, J. (2014) Writing and Doing Action Research. London: Sage
McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2005) Action Research for Teachers. Oxford: David Fulton.
McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. 2011) All You Need to Know About Action Research. (2nd ed). London: Sage
Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (2001) Handbook of Action Research: Participative Enquiry and Practice. London: Sage.
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2013) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. (2nd ed). London: Sage