Action Research Part 1

Action research is a topic that is spoken of a great deal in education and even other fields. However, this term is often used without people knowing exactly what action research is. Therefore, in this post, we will look at the following about action research.

  • What action research is.
  • Types of action research
  • Levels of participation in action research

Defining Action Research

Action research is research performed for the purpose of solving local problems or obtaining local information to make local decisions. This is important. According to this definition, action research does at least two things

  1. Solves a local problem through research
  2. Provides local data through research to make a local decision

In addition, two unique characteristics of action research is a local of generalizability or external validity, and lack of use of rigorous research approaches.

Action researchers are only concern with dealing with local problems in the local context. Therefore it is often difficult to try to apply the local approaches broadly. For example, the sample and the population in action research are often the same. This rarely happens in larger research projects. This means that excellent action research needs to be replicated in several contexts before it is generalizable.

Action research follows any of the most common research methodologies but not at the same level of mastery. Action researchers are normally practitioners in their respective field and not necessarily thoroughly trained scholar-researchers. The purpose of this research is to solve a local problem and not develop dense theories defendable theories.

Action Research Types

There are at least two types of action research. They are practical action research and participatory action research.

Practical action research involves dealing with a local problem by providing solutions to improve short-term performance and or provide information for making decisions. One result of this type of action research is an action plan which is plan that is developed based on research for the purpose of change

Participatory action research is the same as practical action research in that it deals with local problems and provides solutions or data. The main difference between these two forms of action research is philosophical. Participatory action research focuses on empowering individuals and bringing social change through research.

Participatory action research is about the participation of as many stakeholders as possible in the research process. This is one reason why participatory action research is referred to as collaborative research

Levels of Participation

Some believe that there are nine levels of participation in action research. Rarely, does one individual participate in all nine levels in a particular project. The table below provides the nine levels, with a description of what happens at that level, as well as who commonly participates at that level. Please keep in mind that this is not the steps of an action research project but a map of how people participate.

Level Participation Who Participates
9 Initiates a study Administrators, teachers, parents
8 Helps with developing research problems Administrators, teachers, parents
7 Designing the project Administrators, teachers, parents
6 Interpretation of results Administrators, teachers, parents
5 Review results Administrators, teachers, parents
4 Data collection Administrators, teachers, parents
3 Receive findings Administrators, teachers, parents, students
2 Know purpose of study Administrators, teachers, parents, students
1 Provide information for the study Administrators, teachers, parents, students

From the table, it shows that adults can participate at all levels in action research. Students normally do not participate beyond level 3 with exceptions being as they grow older such as high school and university students.


Action research is about change. Looking at a local issue and developing local solutions and or information for developing a local plan of action is the focus of action research. For this reason, action research skills are an important tool for people in the field.

6 thoughts on “Action Research Part 1

  1. Adventor Trye Jr

    Very useful. Thank you very much. If I may ask, what do you think of writing an action research dissertation?. Does the process look like the nine levels presented above?

    1. Dr. Darrin

      Every school has different traditions and opinions on what is appropriate for a dissertation. In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that an action research topic would be accepted for a dissertation. Action research is research that is highly specific and not very rigorous. For this reason, there is a lack of external validity or generalizability. This means that the results of an action research project cannot be applied to different context and situations.

      Dissertations, on the other hand, are focused on generating results that have high external validity. At many schools, you are expected to develop a theory during your dissertation. Theory develop is a the goal of basic research and action research does not meet this criteria.

      If you are considering doing action research I would recommend looking at your topic and problem and see if you can develop some sort of theory to test from it. This would naturally shift your methodology to something stronger and ensure you satisfy your committee.

      The levels of participation are completely separate. They only show how people can participate in action research.

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