Action Research: Keeping Research Real and Relevant to Practice

by Karim Tharani
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

I recently took an online course on Research Methods as part of my postgraduate studies in educational technology. I was delighted to discover the title of the required text for the course: Research in Education: Evidence-Based Inquiry! At that moment I remember thinking that I might finally be able to make some headway in making evidence-based inquiry real and relevant to my profession as an academic librarian. Allow me to elaborate. As a member of the C-EBLIP, I have been on an on-going quest to internalize the notion of evidence-based research and practice to the extent that when asked, I should be able to explain it unhesitatingly based on my own experience, and not just by repeating someone else’s definition. Now being a member of the C-EBLIP for couple of years, I feel a bit embarrassed to still be on this quest, but at moments like these, I typically seek comfort in aspirational and motivational sayings such as: It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default (J.K. Rowling).

Education and librarianship are both practice-based professions where the tradition of research to inform practice is relatively new. In my opinion this dual responsibility of being practitioner-researchers makes us more open to finding new ways of researching and transcending the traditional and binary world of qualitative and quantitative research. And as I have learned in this course that the notion of evidence-based inquiry is a fundamental enabler for practitioner-researchers to continue to inform their practice through innovative research approaches:

The term evidence-based does not refer to ritualization and using narrow forms of investigation, nor does it necessarily refer to following formal procedures. A study is evidence-based when investigators have anticipated the traditional questions that are pertinent and instituted techniques to avoid bias at each step of data collection and reasoning. (McMillan & Schumacher, 2010)

It was not until I learned about the concept of action research in this course that I truly started connecting the dots and questioning why and how I do research. I also realized that my initial understanding of research (as an intellectual exercise that is undertaken to identify, investigate, and analyze issues that matter to as many people as possible) was very narrow. With action research, it seems possible for me to integrate my research and practice as a practitioner-researcher within the profession of academic librarianship.

[A]ction research is a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, grounded in a participatory worldview which we believe is emerging at this historical moment. It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities. (Reason & Bradbury, 2010)

Personally, the notion of action research came as a great relief to me as a practitioner-researcher. Since I am more comfortable working on projects to resolve practical issues, I find the notion of action research to be more compatible with the principle of evidence-based inquiry. The action research paradigm also embraces local context as a perfectly valid and acceptable setting for research as long as the underlying research design is valid. In other words, I can focus on the impact of my research on a single community, organization or department without the burden of justifying my research’s applicability or extensibility to other more broader or generic contexts. And last but not least, I find that action research welcomes research collaborations and partnerships, which I greatly appreciate.

While, my quest may not be over yet, this course has helped me internalize the notion of evidence-based inquiry. I remain curious about how others have come to apply the notion of evidence-based inquiry in their research and practice. This is where you (the readers of this blog) come in. Yes, you! The Brain-Work blog is a way for us to learn from each other, so please drop in a line or two and share your thoughts on this or other ideas with your fellow practitioner-researchers. 🙂

Rowling, J.K. (n.d.) In Famous Quotes and Quotations at BrainyQuote. Retrieved from

McMillan, J. H., & Schumacher, S. (2014). Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry. Boston: Pearson Higher Ed.

Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. London: Sage Publications.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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