With or against us? Action research’s interface with policy and politics

Date 15 Jul, 2021

other transition

see all publications

In a recently published special issue on ‘Action Research, Policy and Politics’ in the International Journal of Action Research, DRIFTer Julia Wittmayer with colleagues Miren Larrea (Orkestra, University of Deusto) and Koen Bartels (INLOGOV, University of Birmingham) explore advantages, issues and tensions of action research that takes place ‘inside’ the policy process.

Action research involves stakeholders and communities in the research process to produce knowledge and action that addresses societal challenges – think of forced eviction of Roma communities (Málovics et al) or issues related to biowaste and water (De Muynck & Nalpas). There are a wide range of approaches that qualify as action research, including participatory action research, collaborative research appreciative inquiry, reconstruction clinics and others. What they have in common is that they have a counter-hegemonic agenda and often are pursued with communities and social groups to put pressure on decision making.

Action research ‘inside’ policy

A current special issue by the International Journal of Action Research, edited by Julia Wittmayer, Miren Larrea and Koen Bartels takes a different avenue. It explores action research as part of the policy making process: where action researchers collaborate with policy actors to address societal challenges. Doing so means that action research is not running in parallel with decision-making but is part of it. The possible benefit of doing so is a higher potential for policy and research impact. However, it also raises questions about power dynamics and asymmetries as well as possible instrumentalization and co-optation of research(ers).

Exploring power and co-optation

The different contributions to the special issue provide insights on power, legitimacy, emotions, learning and systems change arising from action research in Belgium, Hungary, Spain, the Netherlands and in an international context. They address questions such as the following:

  • Who is considered to have power and legitimacy to influence policy change?
  • How can action researchers collaborate with and challenge those in positions of power?
  • How can action researchers support learning and reflexivity about societal challenges?
  • How to address power differentials in working with disempowered groups?
  • How to embed action research processes and outcomes in policy systems?

Overall, fundamental questions are discussed about the ways that action researchers can play a role in the policy process – combining fruitful relations with policy actors with a counter-hegemonic role.

Julia Wittmayer, Koen Bartels, Miren Larrea

Download the publication
Click here to download the article
And here for an overview of the complete special issue