By Gillian Hayes, University of California, Irvine, FitBaby Principal Investigator.
“The best way to understand something is to try to change it.” – Kurt LewinMy research projects tend to focus on the creation of local,
sustainable, social change. To me, it is impossible to develop
feasible solutions to real problems without intense, and sometimes
very messy, engagement with the people and problems that lie at the
heart of these projects. Action Research (AR) offers a systematic
collaborative approach to research that satisfies both the need for
scientific rigor and promotion of sustainable social change.
AR is explicitly democratic, collaborative, and interdisciplinary.
The focus when conducting AR is to create research efforts “with”
people experiencing real problems in their everyday lives not “for,”
“about,” or “focused on” them. AR is cyclical in nature, with an
emphasis on problem formulation, design of an intervention, action,
observation of the effects of the action, reflection, and then
redefinition of the problem to start the cycle again. The goal is not
to arrive at the solution but to attempt to create a solution that is
in some way “better” than previous solutions and helps the actors to
learn through the action they take.
The steps we take in my lab usually fit the model for AR:
(1) Find a community partner. We always try to remember, we are
research facilitators and partners not observers outside the realities
of the situation.
(2) Develop problem statements and research questions together with
(3) Design sociotechnical interventions with our community partners
not for them.
(4) Evaluate our interventions while considering outcomes that are
important to community stakeholders and to our research team.
(5) Write with our community partners…. Not just by adding their
names to our papers or getting casual feedback, but really writing
(6) Celebrate the things that have gone well regularly.
(7) When we leave, make sure we created sustainable change, which
means they don’t need us anymore.
(8) Act ethically, which for AR means ensuring community partners
have a lot of power as both participants in the research and
co-creators of the research design.