Action research is a form of research that aims to solve the problems of a community through social action

What is action research?

The action research is a research methodology to investigate, within a community and the problems it suffers, but in an active way. The members of the community, through certain strategies, study the situations that need to be improved and propose various solutions to the problems posed.

The social psychologist Kurt Lewin was the one who coined the term “action research” in 1944. The concept was developed later (in the postwar period) by various Anglo-Saxon educators and researchers to improve the social and educational situations of different socially marginalized communities, such as gangs. streets, or communities where it was difficult to access job opportunities, etc.

Since the 1970s, at least in third world and developing countries, action research is a powerful tool to identify the different problems of different social groups, and that the possible resolution arises within these same groups.

In the educational field, on the other hand, action research has served to put together the curricular fabric and establish study areas in, for example, indigenous communities, more in keeping with their daily realities.

Characteristics of action research

It is participatory

All research participants become themselves active researchers of the issues that plague their community. Action research requires high participation from the entire community.

It’s situational

One of the strategies to identify problems is participatory diagnoses, in which a large part of the community or its representatives intervenes. As everyone knows the circumstances, they are able to detect less favorable situations.

On the other hand, the fact that the community itself identifies its problems means that it is also the community that establishes the solutions to the specific situations raised.

It is collaborative

In the proposed project, both the researchers and the assistants acquire a collaborative role to solve conflicts or deficient situations. Everyone knows the situation in the community and everyone collaborates in the project to make it effective.

Without hierarchies, democratic

This feature is derived from the previous one. Since everyone, researchers and assistants, participate in the identification and resolution of problems, there are no directors or managers: all equally assume an active, democratic and egalitarian role, based on their ability to detect problems and solutions.

Self appraisal

Incorporated innovations or changes are continually evaluated to see if they actually improve the situation. If not, other proposals are studied depending on the needs.

In this sense, it generates in the participants a greater awareness of the different problems of the community and the resources and strengths it has to get ahead.

Does not produce general knowledge

It is a research method whose objective is not to produce general knowledge but to solve specific problems of specific communities.

Educational action research

Action research in education has been widely used, especially from the interpretive approach that the British researcher John Elliott contributed since the 1970s. His approach is notably different from that proposed by Kurt Lewin and others, which is part of the rational empiricism, and therefore inscribed in the positivist paradigm.

On the contrary, Elliott strove to achieve a major change in curricular content, the result of which should be that the teacher, through their professional training and their teaching practice within the school, transform the educational paradigm. This researcher is one of the main promoters of ethnosociology in the framework of educational research.

In Latin America, followers of the critical and participatory action research trend conducted their research in other directions, such as Paulo Freire and Fals Borda, whose research was based on the vision of critical-emancipatory action research, thesis based on theory. Criticism of the Frankfurt School.

This line departs from Elliott in the sense that his approach is directed to popular education – not formal – in communities with few resources and traditionally considered as excluded. His approach is therefore humanistic.

Examples of educational action research

  • With educational action research it has been possible to transform the curricular mesh of indigenous schools in Venezuela, providing themes and subjects that have to do with the daily reality of students. For example, adapt the letter templates to the different languages ​​spoken, or the animals represented: instead of putting elephants or giraffes –which are not seen in America–, put palm bears, tapirs, jaguars, etc.
  • Curricular transformation for teachers: it is achieved through meetings between the different educational sectors, university teachers, teachers of secondary education and of initial and primary education, as well as school directors and parents and representatives of the students. With educational action research, training guidelines are established for the different levels and adapted according to the regions where the schools are located (rural, urban, indigenous, etc.).
  • Adequacy of education in excluded schools, located in the marginal belts of large cities (Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, etc.): through meetings with educators, students and parents, the main problems they suffer are diagnosed students when going to school: insecurity, lack of supplies, level of support at home, teacher support, etc. Depending on the problem, all sectors propose solutions.
  • Combat bullying: in a school where bullying levels are high, teachers, principals and parents of students meet. Problems are identified and both teachers and parents are prepared to recognize the signs of bullying. Then the students join and it is explained to them that teasing and mistreatment diminish everyone’s self-esteem, and that silence is a form of complicity.

Participatory action research

Participatory action research has focused above all on communities, where both community participation and action to solve the problems identified are emphasized.

As we have said throughout this article, action research, especially participatory research, seeks to understand the world and transform it through concrete actions and reflection.

This branch of action research draws on the experience and social history of the community. The diagnosis identifies personal and collective history, how the community was formed, its antecedents, even a mental map of its location in the social fabric.

Then the problems that afflict it are identified: lack of schools, social insecurity, levels of crime, how many families without income, how many available or missing homes, etc.

Based on the data provided by the community, actions are taken for social change, which is the ultimate objective of participatory action research: change the reality of being excluded from a community and actively and positively incorporate it into the social and economic exercise through empowerment of its members.

One of its main characteristics is that it does not remain only in the situational and problematic identification, but it tries to establish lines of action to change reality. The purpose is social action as a tool for transformation.

Examples of participatory action research

  • Improving nutrition in a low-income school in Medellín: teachers, students and parents meet to improve nutrition in the school. Among the strengths, a sufficient external space is recognized to install a school garden. Through the diagnosis, the food tastes of the entire community are known and based on that and on the empirical knowledge of teachers and parents, it is established which vegetables will be cultivated, according to the climatic and soil conditions.
  • Protection of street children in a marginalized neighborhood in Caracas: the community meets and identifies one of its problems: many children under the age of 10 living on the streets. The community decides to use an abandoned shed and transform it into a shelter for these children. Through donations, you get food, beds, toys, and various people from the community volunteer as caregivers.
  • Soup kitchens for low-income people: in a community where a significant number of low-income families have been identified, the members decide to undertake a social action to alleviate the difficult situation of access to food. In this sense, a popular dining room is installed in the most central part of the neighborhood, which allows these people to have access to three meals a day.
  • Adult literacy: a problem has been identified in one community that many older people cannot read or write. The local church and lay organizations that make life in the community offer their facilities and their knowledge to teach these people.

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