Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Action-Oriented Research: Strategies for Engaged Scholarship

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Action-Oriented Research: Strategies for Engaged Scholarship

Article excerpt

Action-oriented research is a methodological approach for doing collaborative research with practitioners and community partners that can inform practice, programs, community development, and policy while contributing to the scientific knowledge base. This article discusses how family scholars can use action-oriented research to work together with community partners to address their need for useful information about their practices and programs. We present some practical strategies that can help guide the action-oriented research process including how to develop collaborative relationships with community partners; suggestions for determining sound, action-oriented research questions; guidelines for selecting and implementing appropriate research designs; and considerations regarding data collection and the dissemination of findings.

Key Words: action-oriented research, action research, applied research, community-based research, engaged university, university-community partnerships.

Over the past decade, interest has increased on the part of social science scholars, including those in the family sciences, to conduct research that can be directly applied to social problems and issues faced by individuals, local communities, organizations, practitioners, and policymakers (Lerner, Fisher, & Weinberg, 2000). This interest grows not only from a desire by scholars to conduct research that has greater applicability and responsiveness to contemporary social issues but also results from external pressures from funders, university administrators, and taxpayers for institutions of higher education to become more accountable to the needs of the local communities in which they are located (Lerner & Simon, 1998). Because of differences between the research that academic faculty usually conduct and train their graduate students to do, and the research and information needs of communities and practitioners, developing collaborative, productive research relationships between academic and community partners can often be challenging. In response to the conventional view of basic research in the social and behavioral sciences that has dominated academia over the past half century (Boyer, 1990), a growing group of scholars is asking how they can engage in research that both has value to local communities and legitimacy within the academic arena (Cancian, 1993).

In this article, we provide a brief overview of the common principles of action-oriented research and discuss strategies for developing and maintaining productive, action-oriented research projects between academic and community partners. Academic partners typically come from an institution of higher education and might include faculty, extension specialists, academic staff, and graduate students. Community partners may be representatives from a community agency, program, or center who are advocating for or providing programs or services to (or both) a particular group or clientele, as well as members of a community who might be directly affected by the collaborative project. We frame the ideas in this article from the perspective of the academic partner and suggest strategies that might be useful to university-based family scientists as they engage in collaborative partnerships to do locally applicable research.


Delanty (1997) argued that the current crisis in the social sciences "is no longer one of methodology nor one that can be conducted as a critique of positivism: it is one of the very social relevance of social science" (p. 1). Action-oriented research is one way to address this crisis by making a connection between social science knowledge production and its potential public role. Boyer's (1990) seminal report on the state of higher education in the United States criticized universities and colleges for having become too narrow in their definition of scholarship, focusing primarily on basic research to the exclusion of other scholarly activities. …

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