Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Action Research Definition & Triangulation

Action research was defined by Hult and Lennung in 1980 as an approach that "simultaneously assists in practical problem-solving and expands scientific knowledge, as well as enhances the competencies of the respective actors, being performed collaboratively in an immediate situation using data feedback in a cyclical process aiming at an increased understanding of a given social situation, primarily applicable for the understanding of change processes in social systems and undertaken within a mutually acceptable ethical framework" (p. 247).

Hult and Lennung's definition, while 35 years old, still appears to be drawn on as being the 'most' valid definition of this type of research design.

According to Hult and Lennung (1980), there are six key aspects to action research that we need to be aware of. They are:
  1. Understanding an immediate, and complex, social situation
  2. "Simultaneously assisting in practical problem-solving AND expanding scientific knowledge" which allows for both interpretive observation assumptions and active researcher participation as a collection instrument (Hult & Lennung, 1980, p. 247; Baskerville, 1999)
  3. Collaboration with and through participants
  4. Cyclical process
  5. Seeks to unpick the process of change
  6. Ethical framework
Because action research is a unique and different approach, allowing the researcher to take a dual role of both observer and process participant, planning for action research is a little different to normal.  It is harder, when being an active participant, to ensure that the data collected is reliable, generalisable and has validity.

Ensuring sound data triangulation is, according to Dick (2005), the accepted method for covering reliability, generalisability and validity when undertaking action research.
Dick proposed that there are three aspects to ensuring triangulation in action research: that of the planning itself, the action we take, and in reflecting after the action. These three things help embed the cyclic nature of action research that Hult and Lennung (1980) specify in their definition. 

Further, Dick (2005) suggests that these three aspects break down into seven component parts, which will help to ensure that data is well triangulated:
  1. PLAN: Decide which questions you wish to have answered;  if this is the first step in the process, it may be a very broad question (eg,  "How does this system work?").
  2. PLAN: Decide who to ask, and how to ask them
  3. ACTION: Ask
  4. REFLECTION: Check the information you collected, and devise ways of testing it in the next cycle.
  5. REFLECTION: Interpret the information. What does it mean?  Devise ways of testing your interpretation in the next cycle.
  6. REFLECTION: Check the adequacy of your choice of participants and way of collecting information.  Amend them for the next cycle if desirable.
  7. REFLECTION: Check your data and interpretation against the relevant literature;  you may not do this for every step, but may limit it to every few cycles.
We then use this seven step check-list to hone our methodology, questions, and participant sampling for our next cycle.


  • Baskerville, Richard L. (1999). Investigating Information Systems with Action Research. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, October 1999, Volume 2, article 19 (pp. 2-31)
  • Dick, Bob (2005). Approaching an action research thesis:  an overview. Retrieved 30 December 2015 from
  • Hult, Margareta & Lennung, Sven‐Åke (1980). Towards a definition of action research: a note and bibliography. Journal of Management Studies, May 1980, Volume 17, issue 2 (pp. 241-250).

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