Action Research

A Write-Up
Reynaldo O. Joson, MD

Action research as defined by Cohen and Manion (1) is a "small scale intervention in the functioning of the real world and a close examination of the effects of such intervention."

Action research is situational - it is concerned with diagnosing a problem in a specific context and attempting to solve it in that context.

It is usually (though not inevitably) colloborative - teams of researchers and practitioners work together on a project.

It is participatory - team members themselves take part directly or indirectly by implementing the research.

It is self-evaluative - modifications are continually evaluated within the ongoing situation, the ultimate objective being to improve practice in some way or another.

While experimental research is concerned mainly with establishing relationships and testing theories, action research has as a focus a specific problem in a specific setting. It makes no attempt to identify one particular factor and study it in isolation divorced from the context giving it meaning.

As Margules (2) points out, "in combining action processes (planning, implementation, and evaluation) with research processes (problem identification, hypothesis formation, and testing), the result is a sequence of steps and activities that identify the relevant events that must happen in the initiation and implementation of change."

The essential steps in action research are the following:

1. Analysis of the problems

2. Research designs on how to solve the problems

3. Implementation of action plan

4. Evaluation of results of implementation


The following is an excerpt from a journal article entitled: The struggle for relevance in medical education: Experience at the University of Gezira by Magzoub and Hamad (3):

We are a group of ten medical students, posted to village 27, some 35 kilometers from the University of Gezira. Our task was to identify health as well as other problems; to identify a priority problem; and to implement a project with community participation to resolve that problem. Our research revealed that scabies affected 17% of the population, mainly due to poor hygiene as a result of the unaffordably high cost of soap. With the involvement of the community, we decided to establish a small-scale soap factory, with the aim of making soap available at a reasonable price and as an income generating project. We succeeded in raising funds to establish the soap factory. Our evaluation has revealed that the project accomplished its objectives of decreasing the prevalence of scabies to 7% and a remarkable outcome was the conspicuous satisfaction for the students and the community. For us, it was a spectacular experience which we will never forget and we learned a lot from it.

The excerpt gives an idea of what action research is.

1. Analysis of problem

Scabies - 17% due to poor hygiene due to unaffordable soap

2. Research design on how to solve the problem

Community-based soap factory

Other strategies

3. Implementation of action plan

4. Evaluation of results of implementation

Scabies - 7%

The excerpt also gives an idea of what the Community Health Management courses of an innovative medical curriculum expect the students to accomplish.



1. Cohen L, Manion L: Research Methods in Education. London, Croom Helm, 1980.

2. Marguiles N: Managing change in health care organization. Medical Care 15:693-704, 1977.

3. Magzoub MEMA, Hamad B: The struggle for relevance in medical education: Experience at the University of Gezira. Education for Health 9(2):179-188, July, 1996.