Monday, 7 January 2019

The Cycle of Action Research

There are two main elements to action research: firstly that it is cyclic; and secondly that it is participatory (Drummond & Themessl-Huber, 2007).

The participatory element is fairly easy to define: research which is being undertaken by the researcher in partnership with the research participants. All involved move forward together, in a democratic research process.

The cyclic element is fairly easy to sort out as well. Similar to Kolb, since the early 1980s, Kemmis and McTaggart's (1990) iterative and virtuous model of Plan | Action | Observe | Reflect has been used as a learning spiral for conducting action research. The aim is to learn from each cycle, helping all participants to get closer to 'knowing' what will work and to discard that which will not.

Planning is all about method, and the actions we take must follow our plan. We then observe the results of our actions - with our participants - then collectively reflect on how that went. Our next cycle builds on and eliminates the failings of the first cycle.

However, how this model is represented bugs me: it looks 'untidy'. Kemmis & McTaggart had a go at using a spiral (2014, p. 19), but it is a bit ugly. 

It almost looks as if our research is plumbing the deeps, or is going down the toilet. Not a great metaphor.

The University of Pretoria (2009, p. 1) had a go at portraying Kemmis & McTaggart's model in a different way, with a curving arrowed lines rather than trying to write the step names into a ribbon. While this seems more constructive, it becomes harder to read. 

While these diagrams are not perfect, I do think that they both better illustrate the iterative nature of the action research cycle than the original one - at the top of the page - developed by Kemmis & McTaggart (1990).

There is a real talent in portraying models as graphics, which I don't have. In looking at the models out there, I suspect that many researchers don't have it either. I am sure there is a better, and simpler way, created by someone who has graphic design absolutely nailed. So I am looking for a better example.

If anyone has such a diagram, I would love to see it.


  • Drummond, J. S., & Themessl-Huber, M. (2007). The cyclical process of action research: The contribution of Gilles Deleuze. Action Research, 5(4), 430-448.
  • Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., & Nixon, R. (2014). The action research planner: Doing critical participatory action research. Singapore: Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (1990). The Action Research Planner. Australia: Deakin University
  • University of Pretoria (2009). Chapter 3: Research methods. Retrieved from

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