LECTURE 20, March 05, 2020



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i) Community Based Research

ii) Social Policy Research

Pragmatic:  produces practical knowledge that addresses issues of concern in personal and professional life.

  Action research opens  communicative spaces where people can come together in open dialogue to address issues of concern and to engage in cycles of action and reflection.  

Action research is a participative   process that seeks to do research with, for, and by people.

Action research draws on a wide range of ways of knowing

  • appreciative inquiry, cooperative inquiry, participatory action research, and others.


 In Change Research social scientists attempt to advance sociological knowledge through planned social change projects, in which they participate as change agents, though for some of its practitioners the success of the change is more important than its possible contribution to theory.

-- action researchers to date have implicitly subscribed to the possibility of planned social amelioration

-- in change research persons are studied in their usual, everyday setting.  


focus on turning the people involved into researchers
- people learn best, and more willingly apply what they have learned, when they do it themselves.

The Action Research Process

Stephen Kemmis has developed a simple model of the cyclical nature of the typical action research process (Figure 1).  Each cycle has four steps: plan, act, observe, reflect.



Simple Action Research Model




Principles of Action Research

   Winter (1989) provides a comprehensive overview of six key principles.

1) Reflexive critique
2) Dialectical critique
3) Collaborative Resource
4) Risk
5) Plural Structure
6) Theory, Practice, Transformation

 Paradigm of Praxis

Evolution of Action Research

Origins in late 1940s

Current Types of Action Research

Traditional Action Research

Contextural Action Research (Action Learning)

Radical Action Research

Educational Action Research

Action Research Tools

Action Research is more of a holistic approach to problem-solving, rather than a single method for collecting and analyzing data.  

The Search Conference

Role of the Action Researcher

planner leader
catalyzer           facilitator
teacher             designer
listener              observer
synthesizer        reporter


 Another characteristic of the reciprocal relationship  between  research and improved practice is that one does not just understand practice in  order to  improve it  in  action research, one  also  gains  an  improved understanding  of routine practice through improving it, so improvement is the context, means and main end of understanding.

-- four  different ways  in which people can participate  in an action research project:


How effective is action research?



-- participatory action research faces

several new dilemmas ---  how to:

  • inform those who are confused about what action research actually is;
  • prevent the technologlsation and cooption of action research;
  • contest casual dismissals of action research by people who ought to know

the action research literature better;

  • engage with the proliferation of discourses about discourses which seem

to be supplanting finding out what action researchers do, where they do it

and how they do it;

  • participate


Fundamental Principles of Participatory Research

 --  Democracy as a precondition for participatory research

  -- The need for a "safe space"

  Who participates?

Social policies are public services that govern the well-being of citizens  

By implementing social policies, governments strive to improve the quality of life for citizens and correct societal maladies.

 “Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAps)


Social  policy  is  related  to  economic,  social  and  political influences.

Social policy primarily refers to guidelines and interventions for the changing, maintenance or creation of living  conditions  that  are  conducive  to  human  welfare.    Social policy is part of public policy but public policy is more than that, it is economic policy, industrial policy, and also social policy



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  • interest groups

  Both  academic and  applied policy analysis contribute to the  prediction of the impact and  effects  of policy through empirical study, theory, and  evaluation.  

Policy archeology analyses the  construction of social  problems and  the  nexus of regularities stemming from the  “assumptions, conditions, and  forces”  that underlie  it (Scheurich, 1994).

 Though research findings may  inform policy  at the  federal level,  lack  of  staff  may  prevent implementation locally.  Policymakers also  tend to privilege  studies conducted or sponsored by government or state agencies over academic research.  

Two emerging methodologies include interpretive and narrative policy

analysis and  critical policy analysis (Marshall, 1997, p. 8).  

  Methodological strands  include stratification research, equality  research, critical  theory, and  interpretive research.


Framework analysis is a qualitative method that is aptly suited for applied policy research.  Framework analysis  is better adapted to research that has specific questions, a limited time  frame,  a  pre-designed   sample  (e.g.  professional   participants)   and  a  priori  issues  (e.g. organizational and integration issues) that need attention (Ritchie & Spencer, 1994).

Applied policy research is not limited to one particular stream of data collection and methodology.   four categories of applied policy research:  contextual,  diagnostic, evaluative and strategic.  

Thematic framework  

  • involves making judgments about meaning, about the relevance and importance of issues, and about implicit connections between  
  • deemed appropriate for the following reasons:
  • Primarily based on the observation and accounts of the participants.
  • It is a dynamic that allows the change or addition or amendment throughout the process
  • It is systematic in that it allows a methodical treatment of the data.
  • Comprehensive in nature.
  • The access to original textual data demonstrates its transparency, which allows others to formulate  judgments
  • key features of the framework analysis
  • It is grounded or generative: it is heavily based in, and driven by, the original accounts and observations of the people it is about.
  • It is dynamic: it is open to change, addition and amendment throughout the analytical process.
  • It is systematic: allowing methodological treatment of all similar units of analysis.
  • It  is  comprehensive:  allowing  a full  rather  than  partial  or  selective,  review  of  the material collected.
  • It  enables  easy  retrieval:  allowing  access  to,  and  retrieval  of,  the  original  textual material.
  • It allows within-case and between-case analysis: it enables comparisons between, and associations within, cases to be made.
  • It is accessible to others: the analytical process and interpretations derived from it can be viewed and judged by people other than the primary analyst.

  Framework analysis provides an excellent tool to assess policies and procedures.


  Linking research with policy.

Evidence-based ( “evidence-aware)

“Evidence” is “information selected from the available stock and introduced at a specific point in the argument in order to persuade a particular audience of the truth or falsity of a statement” (Majone, 1989:10)

Research conceptualisation is key to achieving policy relevance.  

The “Relevance” Problem

To strike a balance between strong information with no theory behind it and strong theory with no information behind it  (“realist synthesis” strategy)


Summary of “Mechanism” Focus in Five Strategies

Strategy Mechanism Focus
1. Seek "abductive" insights through heightened attention to the possibility of their emergence when using specific research designs and questions 1. Generates possible ideas about "what works" and/or understanding of policy-relevant effects
2. Balance information and theory by developing middle0range theories 2. Accrues ideas about the way mechanisms work, "for whom" and "in which circumstances"
3. Avoid leaps of faith in working with policy hypotheses by using intervention logic to query assumptions. 3. Accrues understanding about why and how a mechanism works
4. Avoid artificially segmenting reality, using systems approaches 4. Reveals indirect mechanisms in policy
5. Seek to balance "good enough" research rigour and "good enough" information for timely, acceptable action 5. Reinforces pragmatism - one need not be certain to act well

Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Flowchart 2: Meeting Consumers’ Expectations: The Information Dimension

Together, the five suggested strategies amount to a shift in focal length, more than a shift to “new” research designs altogether.

Policy research is more than “applied” research. It is designed to answer questions about what actions will or will not be effective in dealing with the problem studied, not just to understand the antecedents or consequences of development.  


According to one definition, policy research  is: “research on, or analysis of, a fundamental social prob- lem in order to provide policymakers with pragmatic, action-oriented recommendations  for alleviating the problem” (Majchrzak, 1984, p. 12).

Policy research often involves some reasonably direct assessment of one or more policies or programs.  

Costs and relative benefits. 

Policy analysts are interested in the effects of a change from some existing condition rather  than a conclusion about the underlying process.

Thresholds rather than continua.   Thresholds for  “outcomes” are also useful.   Is there a minimum level  that defines effectiveness?


  1.  Don’t re-invent the wheel.
  2.  Know your stuff.
  3.  Context matters. .
  4.  Timing is key.
  5.  Share the Vision.
  6.  Values.
  7.  Working Horizontally
  8.  Community Involvement & Public Engagement.
  9.  Make it work [policy] designers.
  10.  Longevity.
  11.  Honesty is the best policy


General features of good research




New directions in research: a critical analysis of evidence-based policy(EBP)

Considerable theoretical work has gone into producing taxonomies of factors influencing the utilisation of evidence, e.g.,    that the main factors affecting use of evidence are (a) access to relevant and clear information and (b) good relationships between researchers and research users.   

Need to focus on three such assumptions:

1) that the policy-evidence ‘gap’ needs ‘bridging’;
2) that policy is usually not based on any data, and policy requires research evidence, preferably evaluative intervention research; and
3) that greater use of evidence in policy-making will produce better outcomes at a population level.

Research that advocates for change (for example, via policy and practice recommendations) without evaluating the (likely) impact of these changes may have a limited effect at best.



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