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About the Authors

In Search of Meaningful Methodology

The practices presented in this book emerged from extensive experience “in the field,” each of us engaging in research activities in a wide variety of contexts for extended periods. Ernie’s experience began with his search for more effective approaches to education for Australia’s Indigenous people. Alfredo’s experiences “in the field” employed for nine years in a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Latin America eventually led him to question the effect of the organizational capacity building services for which he was responsible. Below each of our images is a more developed back story that we hope will resonate with you in your own action research journey!

Introduction to the book

A few highlights!

Thanks for coming!


Dr. Ernie Stringer

Action Researcher and Professor

Ernie’s experience initially focused on his search for more effective approaches to education for Australia’s Indigenous people. As he has indicated elsewhere (Stringer, 2015), after he had experienced years of fruitless search for ways for Aboriginal people to gain entry to Australia’s universities, he became involved in a community-led action by Aboriginal people:

“The situation eventually resolved itself when I was asked by two Aboriginal men to help them set up a Centre for Aboriginal Studies at the university at which I worked. Almost no Aboriginal people, at that stage, were employed in any academic capacity in any University in my state and Aboriginal people rarely entered a university program. In the following years, working within a set of principles eventually defined as “Aboriginal Terms of Reference” and learning practices defined within what was then known as community development, I worked under the leadership of Aboriginal people to institute university programs and services specifically designed for the personal, social, cultural, and educational needs of the people.


In that wonderfully rich and collaborative environment, I experienced the joy and satisfaction of assisting Aboriginal people to achieve wonderfully effective results that transformed their place in the academic life of the nation. Aboriginal faculty worked in partnership with non-Aboriginal faculty to present unique and demanding programs derived from extensive consultation with Aboriginal communities. In following years, the number of Aboriginal graduates soared exponentially and the number employed in senior agency and organizational positions likewise increased dramatically.


The processes, practices, and theory developed in this context extended the depth and extent of my own capacities, eventually becoming encapsulated in the family of methods known initially as “community based research” and became the basis for the action research that I have now practiced and taught in a variety of contexts for many years. The principles and practices that worked so well with Aboriginal people, I discovered, were at least as effective in other contexts, including developmental work in East Timor, middle-class schools in Australia, a variety of health and welfare projects in other states of Australia, and community projects in Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, and New York in the United States.


Although I have occasionally been prevented from achieving my goals by the obstinacy of rigidly fixed bureaucratic procedures, the overall view as I look back is one of great satisfaction. Many of the friendships I have developed help sustain me, but fundamentally I receive regular feedback that gives me a sense that I have made a significant difference to the lives of the people I have served. It is a feeling that reflects the words of my Aboriginal friend Darryl Kickett: “I take my hat off to them! THEY’RE the ones who did it. THEY did it. No-one else did it for them. To see them graduate and go out into the world and conquer the environment around them—in a good way—is so important.” Action research, for me, makes all things possible.


Dr. Alfredo Ortiz Aragón

Action Researcher, Associate Professor and aspiring adult educator

Although Alfredo’s pathway has been somewhat different, his experiences “in the field” employed for nine years in a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Latin America eventually led him to question the effect of the organizational capacity building services for which he was responsible:

“Over time I became a frustrated capacity building facilitator, believing that I was engaging in change processes that were only scratching the surface. This frustration was a major motivator behind my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in search of a more meaningful and impactful capacity building methodology, which led me to action research.


I first learned of action research during my Ph.D. process at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), in large part because many members of the Participation, Power and Social Change research team to which I was assigned were action research (AR) proponents. As I became more familiar with AR concepts early in my research design, it became clear to me that AR was my only pathway to get a Ph.D., primarily because I had not really done formal research before as a practitioner. I had a lot of work experience and had produced a lot of written materials along the way, but my main strength was not going to be in learning formal “scientific” research methods and putting them to use for the first time as a Ph.D. researcher. Partly out of intimidation of who I wasn’t (scientific researcher), and partly in vindication of who I was (experienced capacity building practitioner), I decided that my research process had to build strongly on the things I knew how to do well—namely design and facilitate capacity building change processes but now using action research! My research ended up doing just that, although in a much more critical, reflective, and participatory way than I had done before.


Action research principles and practices have helped me to approach shared capacity building spaces such as workshops more slowly and emergently, engaging in more open questioning, reflection, active listening, and systematic documentation of the active stories in the room, which are found in the conversations, patterns of behavior, energy, and power relationships that emerge in real-life interactive drama of which I am a part. Action research has made me more aware of who participates, whose knowledge counts, and who calls the shots or decides what to do in different moments of the process. I am more aware of the deep connections between culture, identity, and methodology. And I am cognizant of the power of knowledge as an input into purposeful action and action as a powerful source of knowledge. Through this book I am excited to share more about how all practitioners can become action researchers and leverage action and knowledge in new and transformative ways”.

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