We have heard a lot about the term action research in the academic world. But till date very few researchers have discussed the meaning of action research. From an academic point of view, the exact definition of action research is not clear, as researchers have used different conceptualizations for the same construct.The term action research was coined by a social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the year 1944, with an aim to link the theory of social science and practice.
Since social scientists and the real world practitioners were working in isolation and there was no meaningful linkage between researcher’s world and practitioner’s world. While most of the social science researchers built theories without taking into consideration of the real world applicability, practitioners were also engaged in implementing different action plans without being informed about the theoretical research findings. Lewin gave a clear picture of what is meant by action research and how it differed from traditional positivist science (Marrow, 1969). Lewin (1948) characterized action research as a comparative research on the circumstances and possessions of a range of forms of social action and research leading to social action. The propinquity of critical social issues forms an essential ingredient of action research (Greenwood & Levin, 2006; McKernan, 1991). Therefore, Lewin argued that in order to comprehend and change certain social practices, social scientists have to include practitioners from the practitioner’s world in all phases of inquiry. Bringing these two worlds together and combining the social science research with strategic action resulted in a new area of action research (Andronic, 2010). Lewin also stated that social researchers should work closely with practitioners of a real world to understand and change particular social practices.
Any organizations or institutions, along with trained professional researchers, can use the action research as a strategic tool to diagnose and improve their current organizational problems. Therefore, after reading this chapter, one would be able to understand the following:· Meaning of action research· Important characteristics of action research· Difference between traditional research and action research · Different stages of conducting an action research. · Benefits of conducting an action research.
· Major issues related to action research· Methods of conducting an action ResearchABOUT: UNDERSTANDING ACTION RESEARCHThe term ‘action research’ is a combination and the linkages between the two words ‘action’ and ‘research’. The term ‘action’ refers to researcher’s plan of action for a stated real-time problem and the term ‘research’ refers to the analysis, understanding, and the effectiveness of such implemented action (McNiff, 2016). It is quite possible for a researcher to take certain action without doing any research or to do research without implementing any kind of action, but the unique combination of the two concepts discriminates action research from other traditional research.
According to Baskerville (1999) action research has the potential to generate an actionable solution for a complex problem in a given situation. Unlike any other conventional social science research, the ultimate goal of action research is to solve the current practical problem (Altrichter, Feldman, Posch, & Somekh, 2013; Rapoport, 1970) by implementing desired changes and to create a new set of knowledge in the organization through a scientific process. Action research also aids in creating and sharing of the advancements in academic and social curriculum in the context of research and teaching. Specifically it deals with the real-life problems of the practitioners and is considered to be a collaborative process between the researcher and the practitioner. For example in case of educational institutions which are implementing action research has helped faculties to become more familiar with the new developments of their domain knowledge and different educational theories, which in turn had lead to understanding of themselves and others (Rearick & Feldman, 1999). Qualitative data analysis techniques such as: hermeneutics, deconstruction, and theoretical sampling are the most commonly used technique in action research (Baskerville & Pries-Heje, 1999)Most of the researchers spend their valuable time in implementing very rigorous methodological tools to suit their research requirements for a given situation and follow the process of data collection and analysis. Theories are then developed based on the research findings which follows the specification of generalizability.
However such kind of theory development process does not add much value to the practitioner’s real-time problems. Since, many of the academic researchers work for years in isolation to create new theories. Therefore, such kind of epistemological issues can be addressed through this action research procedure and distinguishes it from other forms of research investigation. Action research has other nomenclatures such as; collaborative inquiry, participatory action research (Baum, MacDougall & Smith, 2006; Khanlou & Peter, 2005; Kindon, Pain & Kesby, 2007; McTaggart, 1991; Whyte, 1991), praxis research, participatory inquiry, collaborative inquiry, action inquiry, cooperative inquiry (Bennett, 2004; Whyte, 1991), emancipatory research, action learning, and contextual action research.
But all the nomenclatures are different from each other only regarding the variations on a theme. It is also simply termed as, “learning by doing”, which means identify a key problem of the organization, plan for the actions to resolve the issue, evaluate how successful their efforts were, and if the results are not satisfied then, repeat the whole process till the desired results are achieved. Therefore, action research always deals with the real world situations which have ultimate aims to find out an actionable solution for real problems (O’Brien, 1998). The importance of the action research has been acknowledged across many fields such as: education, nursing, medicine, social work and so on. However, education field has used the action research more frequently than others. For example many educators have witnessed a wide gap between the academic research relevance while using the established theory and daily academic practices. That is because theories are created and tested in isolation (without considering the real-life practitioners’ problems). Hence action research tries to narrow down the gap between the research and practitioners.
Information is collected from the students by the field workers/teachers/administrators/supervisors and are used to explore the effectiveness of the new teaching methodology and curriculum development interventions (O’Brien, 1998). By creating a situation in which practitioners/academicians define their research problems and conduct research in such a way that the outcomes of the experiments are directly useful to a classroom or other educational situations.