Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research: Elaboration and Useful Tools

Elaboration on the Aspects of Action Research
in the Cycles and Epicycles framework.  Tools useful in the different aspects of Action research are described through the links further down in the post.

Evaluation is the systematic study of the effects of actions. You use the results of evaluations — of actions taken before you got involved or in another setting as well as actions you implement — to design new or revised actions and to convince others to implement equivalent actions in other settings. To establish the specific effect of a specific action a comparison is needed of a situation in which the action is taken with one in which it is not, with nothing else varying systematically between the two situations. Such a comparison may be hard to find or achieve. In any case, tightly focused evaluations need to be complemented by broader Inquiry to clarify what warrants change and action in view of what is known about this situation and others like it and to clarify what a potential constituency is.

Constituency building involves getting others to adopt or adapt your action proposals, or, better still, enlisting others to become part of the “you” that shapes, evaluates, and revises any proposals. Adoption/adapatation is helped by succinct presentations to a potential constituency of action proposals and the evaluations and inquiry that supports them. Enlistment is helped by facilitation of “stakeholder” participation in the initial evaluation and inquiry, in formulation of action proposals, and in planning so as to bring about their investment in implementing the proposals. If the actions are personal changes and the constituency is yourself, you can still facilitate your own evaluation and planning process to ensure your investment in the actions. Indeed, constituency building begins with yourself. In order to contribute effectively to change, you need to be engaged—to have your head and heart together. You need to pay attention to what help you need to get engaged and stay so.

Reflection and dialogue are valuable for: ongoing revision of your ideas about the current situation; for generating action proposals; and for drawing more people into your constituency. Through reflection and dialogue you can check that the evaluation and inquiry you undertake about the current situation and past actions relate well to possible actions you are considering and constituencies you intend to build. You can check that the results of your evaluations and inquiry support the actions and constituency building you pursue. You can review what actually happens when an action is implemented and it effects are evaluated and then generate ideas for the next cycle of action research.

Planning involves looking ahead at what may be involved before you settle on what actions to pursue. Planning is strategic when action proposals respect the resources—possibly limited—that you and others in your constituency have and elicit investment in implementation of those actions.


Tools useful in the different aspects of Action Research

  • RD = Reflection and Dialogue
  • CB = Constituency building
  • EI = Evaluation and Inquiry
  • P = Planning
…….. …….. …….. ……..
CheckIn RD CB
ClosingCircle (CheckOut) RD CB
Critical Incident Questionnaire EI
Dialogue Process RD CB
Evaluation Clock (review of past evals) EI
Evaluation Clock (planning future evals) EI P
Focused Conversation RD CB
Gallery Walk RD CB EI
Guided Freewriting RD
Historical scan RD CB
Jig-saw discussion of texts RD EI
KAQF RD EI P
One-on-one consultations in a large group RD CB
+Δ Feedback RD CB EI
Small group roles RD CB
Statistical Thinking EI
Strategic Participatory Planning RD CB P
Strategic Personal Planning RD P
Supportive listening RD
Think-pair-share RD

Extracted from Taking Yourself Seriously: A Fieldbook of Processes of Research and Engagement

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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