Two audiences and five aims of action researchers

By Hilary Bradbury

Hilary Bradbury (biography)

Do action researchers have something to offer to the contemporary and urgent question of how to respond to complex real-world problems? I think so.

Action researchers, often working in inter-disciplinary settings, hold in mind that technical, practical and emancipatory goals of action research require us to develop facility in communicating with two audiences: the ‘local’ practitioners and the ‘cosmopolitan’ community of scholars.

Let’s start with the latter. The cosmopolitans are motivated by the question of what, if anything, can be contributed to what scholars already know. As a result these academic colleagues usually privilege the written medium exclusively. The local audience, however, is not served when action researchers write a manuscript intended for scholarly peers!

Communicating with practitioners involved in the nitty gritty of real world problems will be shaped by their professional or cultural expectations. As a rule of thumb, I find that practitioners are more readily engaged by story and multimedia reports to which their reaction may then be invited.

Generally speaking, action researchers ought to find ways to communicate with the local community first, using this as an opportunity for validating and disseminating local learning.

In some early public musings on what constitutes quality in action research (Bradbury 2010), I suggested that quality:

  1. develops from action research praxis of participation with practitioners;
  2. is guided by locals’ concerns for practical results;
  3. is inclusive of stakeholders’ ways of knowing, which means letting go the conventional over-emphasis of rational frameworks;
  4. helps to build capacity for ongoing change efforts; and,
  5. results from choosing to engage with those issues people might consider significant; from asking “how do we accomplish more good together?“.

Good action research is very time consuming, so I suggest that we should not waste time on trifling matters.

Furthermore, action researchers do not pretend to be value neutral. This moment in history asks us to authentically respond to the huge need to seed more learning processes.

What has your experience been with action research? What would you recommend to achieve quality action research?

Bradbury Huang, H. (2010). What is good action research? Why the resurgent interest?” Action Research, 8, 1: 93-109.

Biography: Hilary Bradbury Ph.D. is Founding Principal of AR+ | Action Research Plus: a network for Action Research worldwide. She has edited or co-edited three editions of the ‘Handbook of Action Research’ and is Editor-in-Chief of the journal ‘Action Research’. She is Jubilee Professor at Chalmers Institute for Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

AR+ has recently released two volumes of Cooking with Action Research One volume covers stories and resources and the other is a resources guide.

5 thoughts on “Two audiences and five aims of action researchers”

  1. My issues with quantitative research had always been after adding to knowledge, what next? Action research gave me an opportunity to go beyond “the what next” while working on my Masters thesis as it provided an opportunity to engage the community that the research was conducted on, involving them in the study was inspiring to them. Responses during the action research engagement were indeed valuable and made it easier for us to work together on a lasting solution. Action research works for me any day!

    • “Action research works for me any day!” – Yay I want to quote you Busola 🙂

      The project you describe sounds interesting. I look forward to the day when Action Research will be seen as a necessary part of social science students’ training. It’s neither for everyone nor for every circumstance – but it does seem to make sense to encourage people to consider how to help (and I don’t mean reactively as in “rescue”) when learning about issues through observing and describing.

  2. Hi Charles. Great idea! Posters bring a consciously clear message as we have to choose words sparingly and well. But more than that they bring our artistry – color, images…the arts feels like a key bridge between communities.

  3. Engaging and involving communication is vital for collaboration. A collaboration looking to improve the quality of life of people living in one of the poorer districts of a well-known Scottish town shared their finding and invited contributions from the local community via posters that were jointly created by the project and local people. The posters were created by teams of two that paired a project worker with a local community member. Engagement and outcomes were enhanced as a result. This demonstrates that it is not only the mode but also the process of communication that is important.


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