1.3.3 Action research

Action research describes a process by which an EAR Researcher uses research to help the initiative better serve its target communities. In the context of EAR, it describes a process by which EAR researchers continually develop an understanding of these target communities, and then feed these understandings into the initiative's program. In this way, the action research component of EAR can help make an initiative responsive to the dynamics of the local context.

In order to undertake action research, an EAR researcher will first need to know something of the community's needs, and to have thought about how the initiative can meet these some of these needs. Secondly, along with other initiative staff, the EAR researcher needs to consider, reflect upon and respond to research continuously, and not just at the beginning or end of a period. By encouraging continual reflection upon research data, an EAR researcher can promote a research culture, whereby as many people as possible involved in the initiative contribute to and learn from research. To achieve this is must be discussed at meetings, and staff and volunteers must be encouraged to think about research when planning any activities.

People generate large amounts of knowledge in the process of doing their work. We generally call this 'experience', or 'instinct' or 'knowing the ropes'. But if this knowledge is gathered, documented and reflected upon it is also good research data. For participants, being part of the research process may simply involve taking a different attitude to what they already know and sharing this knowledge with others. They can be encouraged to reflect on what they and their colleagues are learning. All of this knowledge and data can be fed back into the activities and plans of an initiative - good research data is data that is used in this way. Research can be used to bring about activities in direct response to researched needs.

In EAR, the action research process links research into the ongoing development of an initiative's programme by:

  1. Encouraging active participation: whereby the people who should benefit from the research participate in defining the aims and direction of the research and in interpreting and drawing conclusions from it. Participatory techniques can help to achieve this.
  2. Encouraging action-based methods: research should be aimed at developing an ICT initiative's programme - the reason for building understandings of target communities is to improve the ways in which ICT initiatives can serve them.
  3. Generating action: whereby research is directly aimed at generating short, medium and long-term plans, including business plans; ideas for new initiatives; solving problems; targeting particular kinds of users; finding new resources or partners.