Action design research
Source: adapted from Brjørnson (2007)
Kurt Levin (1946) defined the term ”action research“. A
social research is a combination of theory and practice, and
purpose is to change a social system through researcher
acting as an observer or as an active participant.
In Britain a group of researchers (later at the Tavistock
Institute of Human Relations) developed independent
action research method.
John Collier (1945) developed approach to action-oriented
Rapoport (1970) defined “Action research aims to contribute
both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate
problematic situation and to the goals of social science by
joint collaboration within a mutually acceptable ethical
Arguris et al. (1987) defined action research as an action
practical solution in
in studying reality and
Action research area
integrated to research setting
and participant researcher
According to Baskerville (1999), action research is two stage process. Diagnostic
Source: Baskerville (1999)
Action research stages
2. Action planning
3. Action taking
5. Specifying learning
Iterative action research types
Canonical Action research
Collaborative practice research
Cyclical Process model
Diagnosing, action planning action
taking, evaluating and learning
Cyclical spiral process
Reflective action research
Action science research
Dialogical action research
(used other dicipline)
Linear action research
Clinical field work (laboratory
Premises Decision Contributions
Research is real-world
Method(s) of problem-solving
Research is based on
theoretical questions of
based on theory,
Methods of problem-solving
Source: Mathiassen, Chiasson and Germonprez, 2012
Järvinen Pertti: review, 2012
Type Description Epistemological
Positivist AR The research is based on predifined hypotheses and thus testing
theory using by multiple methods.
Action science The goal of the research is to solve problems in a client
organization by exposing differences between espoused theory
and theory in use.
Canonical AR Theory provides the general basis on which action planning take
place. Attention is paid to theory assessment and refinement.
Theory emerges through the research. Research client participate
actively in the data analysis and respective learning processes.
Multiview The goal is to identify and improve a client situation through the
use of a joint information systems development methodology.
The goal is to diagnose and solve a problem in a client
organization through a well defined and structured process-
Critical AR Research is motivated by power imbalances and is aimed at
having a liberating effect, wheryby power imbalances are
reduced or eliminated.
Source: DeLuca and Kock (2007)
Ontology The beliefs of the social reality, how social reality is
constructed. Action research is value laden, morally
committed. A researcher perceive themselves their social
Epistemology The epistemological position is mainly anti-positivist.
Researches can search for regualarities and causal
relationships. Knowledge is uncertain, knowledge creation is
Methodology The methodology is open-ended and developmental.
Ethics Means-ends oriented and may be interpretive.
Its focus is real-world problems to trying to find out solutions.
Its ethical framework is mutually acceptable with researches
and practitioners. (Client-problem solving approach).
Iivari and Venable (2009), Whitehead and McNiff (2006), Järvinen P. (2005)
1. Purpose of action The action research must explicate the theoretical
purpose underline the action. Theory must be
explicit before action is taken.
2. Practical action in
It is necessary to reveal the relative truth-value of the
theoretical concepts underlying the action.
3. Practical action must
The theory must be adjusted according to the
practical outcome of the action. Theory must be
validated by its practical outcome.
4. Reasoning and action
must be socially
The social situation means that the action
researchers must be participant observers.
Source: Baskerville and Mayers (2004)
Dewey (1938), common elements of inquiry: An indeterminate situation, formulation of
problem, determination of a solution, reasoning, and operationalization of facts.
Research setting Methodological principles Critical assumptions
Interaction of action and participation.
Context specific understanding and ways of
Developing of agential learning capabilities.
Conceptualizing critical action
research based on the
assumption that the truth of
social reality resides otuside the
contexts of participants until
they receive emansipatory
Establishment of collective vision of social
change and sustainability.
Incorporation of high level of reflexity.
Gaining broader perspective of social change
Enhancement of diversity.
Researchers and practitioners
are closely working and regular
meetings are organized.
Collaborative inquiry into Client-System
Critical data gathered and
discussions recorded. Collected
information is shared including
Action research team
Source: Mårtensson and Lee (2004)
Research start state Time Research end state
Source: Mårtensson and Lee (2004)
Research start at time=1 Research end at time=2
Key features Description
1. PAR is social process It explores the relationships between the realms of the individual and the
2. PAR is participatory It engages people in examining their knowledge (understanding, skills
and values) and interpretive categories and their action in the social and
3. PAR is practical and
It engages people in examining the social practices that link them with
others in social interaction.
4.PAR is emansipatory It aims to help people recover, and release themselfs from the constraints
of irrational, unproductive, unjust and unsatisfying social structures that
limit their self-development and self-determination.
5. PAR is critical It aims people to help recover, and release themselfes from the
constraints embedded in the social media through which they interact.
6. PAR is recursive
(reflective and dialectical)
It aims to help people to investigate reality in order to change it.
7. PAR aims to tranform
both theory and practice
It aims to help people to articulate and develop each in relation to the
other through critical reasoning about both theory and practice and their
Source: Denzin and Lincoln (2000)
A spiral process of action researech Skills and values
Basic assumptions Descriptions
Teachers and principals work best on
problems they have identified for
Action research is deliberate, solution-oriented
investigation. It is characterized by spiraling
cycles of problem identification,m analysis, data-
driven action taken, and finally problem
Teachers and principals become more
effectice when encouraged to examine
and assess their own work and then
consider ways of working differently.
Purpose of action research in education can be to
develop curriculum, professional skills, systems
planning, school restructuring and to develop
Teachers and principals help each
other by working collaboratively.
Working with colleagues helps
teachers and prinicipals in their
In order to do action research it needs that time,
and other resources are available for teachers.
Source: Eileen Ferrance (2000) and Watts (1985, p.118)
inquirer and the known)
Research is carried out in a natural environment, and
it is based on the constructivist ideas.
(ethical, aesthetic and
Research practice is improved, and learning has
taken place. Practitioners' and researchers’
collaborative work may benefit research processes
(nature of reality/people)
Research purpose is intentional and collaborative,
and phenomenon of interest is chancing (it is not
Generation of theory Results of research process is often contex-based.
Some generalization with or across research projects
may be possible.
Methods Research methods are qualitative (positive thoughts
to the grounded theory).
Source: adapted from Papas et al. (2012
Data collection and
Action and results
A general findings
Focal theory is the intellectual
basis for action research.
(e.g. TAM, IS-success)
Instrumental theories are
used for diagnosis and
planning, and to organize
thoughts. Source: Davison(2003) and Järvinen (2011)
Analysis of problem
model of real-
Action to improve
desirable changesReal wolrd
Root definition of
Comparison of the
model with real-world
Intensive or comparative
1. select cases
2. data collection
3. analyzing data
4. shaping hypothesis
5. comparison with literature
4. Types of research
Source: Eisehardt (1989), Cunningham (1997), Järvinen P. (2012)
Germonprez M. and Mathiassen L. (2009)
Foundatation Epistemology and action research types: CAR,PAR,NAR, AL, CFW.
Formal/non-formal argreement, Client commitment
Data collection and analysis
Degree of opennes
Decision criteria for proceed/exit
Theory Relevance and theory usage
Cause, intervention, client approval
organizational assessment, document
Reporting style, Collaborative reflection
Project success, implication to practice and theory
Source: De Vries (2007)
Descriptions The world that
Sequential Methods are applied in a sequence with
results from one method feeding into the
1. Material world
2. Personal world
3. Social world
Parallel Methods are executed simultaneusly with
results being tranferred between methods.
Dominant One method is adopted as the main approach
supplemented by other methods.
Different methods embodying different
paradigms are combined and tailored to a
Multi-level The research project simultaneusly addresses
different organizational levels using different
Source: Mingers (2001)
Design principles Design outcomes Socio-technical implications
(How to switch
Better ease of use
Various individual use
Wider and easier user
(How to recognize
situtation at work?)
rules and ease settings
Integration of services
relying on different
(What are typical
situation at work?)
No need specific user-guides.
Source: modified from Henfridsson (2003)
Evaluation objects Evaluation criteria are based on the following:
Socially situated The role of action researchers (degree of participant and role of observer).
Problem relevance Research problem is relevant and problem is based on practical
phenomenon and actual for the company or the society.
Purpose of research The purpose of the research is to produce problem-solving proposals and
proposals are based on collected data and analysis.
Practical action in the
All research actions are described, and clearly articulated in a way that it is
possible to carry out research using by similar actions.
The applied research method is clearly described, and it is based on
generally accepted action research method. It is possible to apply more than
one method during the research process.
Research actions are based on theoretical framework, and these actions can
Research activities and
All research activities are described and are based on applied research
method, so that other researchers or readers can follow the research
Theoretical contribution The theoretical contributions are articulated in a way that can be used other
Practical contribution Results of research includes problem-solving proposals that are accepted by
Source: adapted from Papas et al. (2012)
Schön’s reflection question of problem-solving:
Can I solve the problem I have set?
Do I like what I get when I solve this problem?
Have I made the situation coherent?
Have I made it congruent with my
fundamental values and theories?
Have I kept inquiry moving?
Typical role of
An action researcher is planning a research project. A researcher
can lead the research project. A researcher designs the whole action
During the action research process, the researcher can activate
other participants, organize meetings and discussions. The role of
teacher is essential to conform with that research process is carried
Listener, observer Both roles, listener and observer are fundamental. The researcher
can collect relevant information by listening and observing.
The role of synthesizer means that the researcher during the
research process actively collects data and analyses it. The role of a
reporter means that the researcher arranges continuous reporting
during the research process. After the process, the researcher
finalizes and publishes the results of action research taken both
theoretical and practical reasoning into account.
Source: modified from O´Brien (1998)
Research object Criteria to select Action research approach
The artefact and
The design process of an artifact can improve organization
practices, and this is the primary goal of the inquiry. The
design of an artifact may need to apply design science
method. This must be taken into account.
The process and
Practical problem is explicit and diagnosis may be time
consuming. Canonical action research method is suitable or
possible. Research project is based on agreement between
researcher(s) and practioners.
The focus of
The evaluation steps are part of the research cycle.
The role of
Practical actions and outcomes dominate the research
project. Collaborative working style is dominative. The one
objective is to enhance knowledge during the research
The role of
Shared actions between researcher(s) and practitioners will
lead to learn.
Action research Design science research
Action research emphasizes the utility aspect of
the future system from the people’s point of
Design science’s products are assessed against criteria
of valua or utility.
Action research produces knowledge to guide
practice in modification.
Design science produces design knowledge (concepts,
constructs, models, and methods.)
Action research means both action taking and
Buildin and evaluation are the two main activities of
Action researc is carried out in collaboration
between action researcher and and the client
Design science research is initiated by the researcher(s)
interest in developing technological rules for a certain
type of issue. (Each individual case is primarily oriented at solvin
the local problem in close collaboration wtih the local people.)
Action research modifies a given reality or
develops new system.
Design science solves construction problems (producing
new innovations) and improvement problems (improving the
performance of existing entities).
The researcher intervenes in the problem setting. Design science research is initiated by the researcher
(s) interest in developing technological rules for certain
type of issue.
Knowledge is generated, used, tested adn
modified in the course of the action research
Knowledge is generated, used and evaluated through
the building action.
Source: Järvinen p: (2005)
Phases Field experiment canonical action research
At start of reserch Researcher’s role is dominant
Practitioner’s role is non-dominant
Researcher’s role is non-dominant
Practitioner’s role is dominant
Researcher’s role is dominant
Practitioner’s role is non-dominant
Both roles are collaborative
At end of research
Researcher’s role is dominant in
Practitioner’s role is domnant in
Researcher’s role is dominant in scientific
Practitioner’s role is domnant in practical
Purpose of research Testing hypotheses and
relationship between independed
and depended variables.
The purpose is to solve real-world
problem with practitioners.
The relationship in the research
model is supported or not
supported by the evidence of field
Possible practical implications can
be also achieved.
The relevant outcome is to solve
pratitioner’s problem and in the intended
The scientific result is to the theoretical
framework studying by assumed
relationship between variables.
The concept of
Manipulating isolated single
variable and at same time being
other variable constant.
The cyclical research process includes
diagnosing, action planning, action taking,
evaluating and specifying learning
Action research Design science research
Purpose Understanding reality in an
Solving a purely technical problem by
developing and evaluating a new
Suggestion Action planning. Considering
alternative courses of action
for solving a problem.
Defining needed requirements and
main features of a solution. Specifying
research process by applying research
Development Action taking. Selecting a
course of action. Data
collection and analysis.
Developing a solution that meets
requirements and features and start the
building process. Evaluation is
included to the building as an activity.
Evaluation Studying concequences of an
Demontrating, simulating developed
solution using by specified evaluation
Conclusion Specifying learning and
identifying general findings.
Publishing theoretical and practical
consequences and future research
(Action research Client-System
Stakeholders, goals, criteria
Phenomena and evaluation
Research problem investigation
Unit of study
Research questions and Current knowledge
Stakeholders, goals, criteria
Features of the artefact
Criteria of evaluation
Plan of development process
Agree on improvement goals
Agree treatment and measurement
Specify treatment using artefact
Agree on implementation plan
Expected effect in context
Research design validation
Effective for question-answering
Expected effect in client-systems
Transfer to the economy
Perform the research project
Implementation of artefact in client-
Stakeholders, goals, criteria
Achieved effects in conctext
Achieved evaluation results
Analysis of results
Contribution to knowledge
Consequences for improvement
Stakeholders, goals, criteria
Achieved effects in client-system
Achieved evaluation results.
Source: modified from Wieringa and Morali (2012)
in the Client-
Idealizing assumptions Realistic assumptions
o o o o
Framework for IS design science
IS design sccience
Area – of
of area of
Source: based on Mathiassen L., Chiasson M., and Germonprez M. (2009)
Risk factors A researcher’s role and
responsiblity in Action research
100% 75% 50% 25%
Time consuming research projects High High Medium Low
Loosing control of research agenda High Medium Medium Medium
Need for nursing research projects High High Medium Low
Concern with progress and success High High Medium Low
Facing conficting situations High High Medium Low
Fearful of not being succesful project High High Medium Low
Simonsen proposes that junior researchers should participate in collaborative research projects that
are managed by senior researchers. Having the supervisor co-operation in the action research can
lead to the better results and lower to risks.
Focus on the practical problem-
solving contribution and/or specific
Action research results
R = f(A,P,F, M,C), where A is
area of concern, P is real-world
problem setting, F is conceptual
framing of investigation, M is
method(s), and C is contributions
to practice and theory.
Area- of concern
Contribution to A or F(a) withing a
particular research setting.
Contribution to F(i) with new
knowledge on frameworks
independet of A for studying IS
Contribution to M(ps) with new
knowledge about problem-solving
Contribution to M(r) with new
knowledge on action research
Source: adapted from Mathiassen L., Chiasson M., and Germonprez M. (2009
Intoduction Introduce and motivate objective of the study.
Background Provide a review of the relevant literature. Include the
motivation for the study by evaluating what we know and
what we do not know.
Framing Introduce and argue how the structure of data and data
gathering has been organized. Give premises how data is
analyzed based on the principle of theory.
Methods Describe and argue why the selected method(s) is applied to
Results Present results of the problem-solving cycle based research
method(s) and data-analysis.
Discuss and draw conclusions based on research questions
and the objective of the research. Show research results in
relation to literature. Provide possible explanations, explicate
conclusions with evidence for each conclusion. State
theoretical and practical implications.
Source: modified from Mathiassen, Chiasson and Germonprez (2009)
Researchers explicitly clarify the research objectives, which they believe to be
relevant to their work. Researchers describe choices they have made during
the research process.
Researcher extent the means of partnership and how they participate during
the research process. Researchers concern all relevant relational components
of the action research process. The role of researchers is essentially described
on the research paper (passive observer, active observer, consultation or
Contribution to action
research theory and
A researcher describes and communicates how results of action research can
be linked to the wider body of knowledge, and how results can be utilized in
practice in the future.
Methods and process A researcher clearly articulates what was done to whom so that a reader can
see the choices to enhance quality that were made.
Actionability A researcher articulates how new ideas guided research activities and how
ideas can be utilized next research projects.
Reflexivity A researcher how the role of the researcher has been active as a change agent.
Significance A researcher explicitly clarifies the significance of the content and research
process so that a reader can see how results and process extent both research
knowledge in theory and practice.
Source: modified from Huang (2010)
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