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Resource Methods Toolkit CO:RE at TUNI Published: 12 May 2022

Action research

Action research originated in sociology in the 1930’s. The term was coined by Kurt Lewin in developing working life. Since then, it has become an approach of interest in several fields of science. This approach is based on action as making a) participatory practice with participants (PAR) or as b) researcher-led project from a socio-technical perspective (Reason and Bradbury, 2006). Participatory action research is most applied with children and youth when the objective is empowering them as minors in society. With empowerment as a focus, it is transformative, critical research with the objective for change in society or institutions, for example, in hearing the voice of youth (e.g., Morris, 2016).

In this research approach, methods are always mixed based on the nature of action. Some examples of this are concept mapping and deliberative dialogue with participants, diaries, questionnaires, and youth productions during a workshop (Pienimäki and Kotilainen, 2021).  

Action research is usually conducted in four cycles: planning, acting, observing, and reflecting. In practice, acting and observing intertwine with each other. (Kemmis, McTaggart, Nixon, 2014).

The Planning Phase is the first cycle for problematisation, conceptualisation, design, and preparation of the study.

The Acting Phase is about implementing the actions of the study.

The Observing Phase is done by the researcher throughout the actions through notes (written, audio, visual) while collecting the data.

The Reflecting Phase is for monitoring, evaluating with re-conceptualising, and re-problematising for the next round of cycles.


Action research offers provides mixed data which details the experiences of young people and their communities. This approach intertwines theoretical and everyday knowledge to create greater understanding of the studied phenomenon. Action research can empower individuals and communities towards greater self-determination and advocacy. This results in greater inclusion practices for children and the youth (Bailey et. al., 2019).


Action research does result in radical changes, and rarely culminates in any societal changes beyond the actual research setting. Thus, it is a qualitative case study as it draws upon a variety of sources. Regrettably, this does not culminate in the ability to scale.  Moreover, it is complex to evaluate the soundness of this type of study. As youth and children are frequently used, there is a need for careful considerations to ensure ethical behavior, procedures are followed (Morris, 2016).

  1. Bailey, J., Steeves, V., Burkell, J., Shade, L. R., Ruparelia, R., & Regan, P. (2019). “Getting at Equality: Research Methods Informed by the Lessons of Intersectionality.”

  2. Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., Nixon, R. (2014) Action Research Planner. Doing Critical Participatory Action Research. Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-981-4560-67-2.

  3. Morris, M. (2016). “Inuit involvement in developing a participatory action research project on youth, violence prevention, and health promotion.”

  4. Pienimäki, M., Kotilainen, S. (2021) “Media education for the Inclusion of At-Risk Youth: Shades of democracy 2.0 from Finland.” Hoechsmann, M., Thesee, G., Carr, P.R. (Eds) Education for Democracy 2.0: Changing Frames of Media Literacy. BRILL SENSE, pp. 64-82.

  5. Reason, P., Bradbury, H. (eds.) (2006). Handbook of Action Research, London: SAGE.

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Team co-Leader, CO:RE at TUNI

Sirkku Kotilainen

Sirkku Kotilainen, PhD, is a professor in Communication Sciences at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences of Tampere University (FI). She has over 20 years of experience in research topics mainly covering digital literacies and media education among children and youth, teacher’s media competencies and media education in youth work. More recently, her research has focused on promoting media education among at-risk youth and, methodological developments in co-research with young people as empirical experts in their uses of online media.

Tampere University
Tampere University

The team at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication of TUNI identifies, develops and provides access to resources on qualitative, quantitative and mixed research methods together with evaluating their validity in research practice. These resources are collated in the CO:RE methods toolkit that cross-references resources from the evidence base, the compass for research ethics, and the theory toolkit, to give users tools to apply to their individual research contexts.

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