Action Research as a PhD project

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    LeRoy Hill

    How do others feel about Action research (AR)? Do you think its acceptable as part of a PhD Study?

    What are your views on the idea of validity in AR

    Bob Dick

    Hello LeRoy (and others)
    I’ve supervised a number of AR PhDs.  Most of them were done by people researching their own practice as managers or practitioner.  It improved their practice, they got their PhD, and many of them did good things for their organisation.
    The biggest difficulty, I think, is that some examiners judge action research using criteria that are not appropriate (though they may be appropriate criteria for some other research approaches).
    On the issue of validity, see here.
    Cheers    —  Bob

    LeRoy Hill

    Hi Bob
    This seems to be a good way to get further understanding on the issue of validity. Good to see you on this forum. I am thinking seriously of joining the July AR course offered by Southern Cross University. I have done a number of readings but think the training will give me a more hands on approach.

    Hopefully the dialogue will continue here with some added benefit to others in the network.




    You have and continue to be a great source of inspiration; hosting and contributing to a vast repository of AR materials that I used in my own dissertation work as well as my on-going AR, Bob.

    Action Research Electronic Reader:

    These are invaluable and heavily used and referenced bookmarks in my own professional correspondence.

    Thank you and Ian Hughes for your good work and your invaluable presence in this world which more and ever more commodifies all things human, including The Human Being…

    Rick Parkany


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    Ken Rossi

    I am new to this group but have been supervising masters students doing Action Research for some time. I do thinkk that AR can be acceptable for PhD students if the projects they do are of sufficient scope and detail to warrant a PhD. In this I mean, how much are they actually doing on the assessment and problem definition part? If they are deeply involved in all areas of assessing and defining the problem, then taking a major role in the development of solutions then i should be a good project for PhDs. My own students are MS in Information Systems and they have a tendency to think that just developing a website or a software solution fits the bill and this is a flawed assumption To be sufficient for the thesis research then they must take an active part in all phases not just the solution phase. It goes withut saying that the project must also be of sufficient scope, beyond a simple quick fix. I have also done AR projects with MEd students. The education guys use action research as a component of improving the classroom. We teach them AR as a tool to continuously improve theirs and their student’s performance and they can also do large scale school-wide or district-wide projects to satisfy their masters thesis requirements. So, to make a long story short, if we can make it work at the masters level we should be able to make it work at the PhD level.


    Alice MacGillivray

    Hello LeRoy. My personal view is “absolutely” if done well.

    I’m not clear from your question what your context is (your studies? others’? at a particular institution?…)

    As Bob mentioned, AR is often [mis-]judged through other lenses. In addition to the validity and rigour questions, I’ve seen researchers run into trouble with ethical review processes. I believe the reasons are similar to those in Bob’s validity link. In a complex system, one cannot predict who will be participants and how their engagement will unfold with the degree of accuracy possible with some other methodologies.

    If I were starting with a clean slate, I would look at a university’s/program’s track record with action research (and qualitative research), including whether the key profs are still there. I would also learn everything I could about how to communicate well in that context to build a good fit between my research interests and institutional processes.

    If we had more good action research in PhD programs, we might start to erode the scholar-practitioner divide and do a better job of tackling some of the globe’s messiest issues.

    Dr Jim Byrne

    Hi, I based much of my doctoral research on an Action Research approach. I have posted my thesis online at Jim’s Doctoral Thesis. I was greatly helped by participating in Bob Dick’s AREOL course at the Southern Cross Univeristy.
    Best wishes,

    Dr Jim Byrne


    Hello LeRoy and others

    I am very pleased to see this forum and encouraged by your comments. I am intending to put forward a case next year to complete a PhD in Education using AR method. I have been advised that I may have a difficult time of it and might be advised against putting up such a proposal. At the moment, I am thinking this may be due to lack of surety examiners may have in the process of judging validity – rather than any inherent shortcomings of the method.
    Any advice welcome and thanks for the informative posts.
    I really do think that this is a most powerful and relevant research method for teachers….



    I’m doing my thesis is a confirmatory factor analysis of competency research of Thai secondary school teachers.

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