General Reflections on How to Practice and Train for Action Research

By Fricke, Werner | International Journal of Action Research, December 31, 2006 | Go to article overview

General Reflections on How to Practice and Train for Action Research


Fricke, Werner, International Journal of Action Research


There is much uncertainly about action research (AR) in the academic social science debate; that's why critical comments on AR are often uninformed. One of the main reasons for these deficits is the lack of training opportunities at universities.

The following article is general in style, though based on broad action research experience. It is not my intention to present the great variety of AR concepts and practices or my experiences in detail, but to draw some general lines about the possibilities and difficulties to train students in AR in academic contexts. On this ground the need for action research training is demonstrated, and some opportunities in university contexts are pointed out. I conclude enumerating some criteria for writing action research and elaborating the difficulties to write AR in academic and in action research contexts.

Key words: action research training, democratic dialogue, action research values, action research culture, writing action research

Action research is not based on the separation, but on connecting theory and action, both understood as social praxis, i.e. embedded into social contexts. That's why action research cannot be taught like any academic discipline; it may be trained and has to be experienced.

The topic raises several questions:

- Who is to be trained?

- Who are possible trainers?

- How is training action research connected with self learning and practicing AR?

- What are the dimensions of the training process? Is it just knowledge?

- Which is the context of training for action research?

As action research takes place to a great extent outside the usual academic context, training for action research has to follow a logic that in important respects is very different from academic training with its traditional institutional context, methods, contents and fields.

There is much uncertainty about action research in the academic social science debate; moreover many research concepts and findings, claiming to be action research, are characterized by an unclear understanding of action research and its epistemological foundations. One of the main reasons for these deficits is the lack of AR training opportunities at universities and during the research career of young social scientists. To clarify this point, I will start by presenting the main elements of action research, pointing out the differences to academic social science.

Action Research is based on dialogues between researcher and practitioners. This is not an accidental characteristic, but one of its basic elements with a lot of both theoretical (epistemological) and practical implications.

1) Practitioners, people in the field, are regarded as subjects, not as objects of research or research questions. The field talks back. The researcher meets and respects "the other" as an independent subject, as a person with his/her values, knowledge, interests, experiences, personal history etc. The only adequate relationship between the researcher and the practitioner is characterized by listening to each other, by entering a dialogue about research questions and methods, by joint reflection and learning. The result is a democratic dialogue (Gustavsen 1992), based on joint reflection.

2) Democratic dialogue is characterized by certain criteria:

- it must be possible for all concerned to participate

- all participants are equal as contributors to the dialogue

- work experience is the basis for participation

- the work role, authority etc of a 11 participants can be made subject to discussion - no participant is exempt in this respect.

These criteria sound easy, but in fact they imply a radical research approach, difficult to be realized, which anybody with some research experience will be aware of.

This concept of democratic dialogue is not simply a theoretical concept like e.g. Habermas' "ideal speech situation"; the mentioned criteria have been developed in Scandinavian action research and are based on experience. …

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