Spiralling up or spinning out: a guide for reflecting on action research practice



Publication Details

Sense, A. J. & Badham, R. (2006). Spiralling up or spinning out: a guide for reflecting on action research practice. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 9 (5), 367-377.


This paper offers a theoretical ‘action research spiral’ model to guide reflection on the dual client focus of action research. While theoretically exploring and highlighting the tensions and dilemmas created by this dual client focus, this paper will argue for a greater degree of reflection on action research practice and utilize vignettes from action research cases to illustrate those reflective processes. It is concluded that further discussion and reflection on the process of action research is an important component of social science’s contribution to phronetic knowledge.

I saw the University as helping us to reflect on what we are doing—they are the expert reflectors. This is particularly what I saw as X’s role. Sometimes his interjections go above their heads and his ‘nine words or less’ statements need to have some explanation, and I should feed this back to him. I also see the University as playing a visionary role, helping to show us new things about what is possible. I don’t see the University as helping to pull the team together—that is when it gets confusing. They are observing us, they are looking at us as the rats, and when they see something that they think needs to be addressed, they can feed this back to us—and this is where teaching and formal learning comes in. This is a difficult role for the University. I can see some of the University people just squirming—you can see it in their face that they want to intervene. They know something about what we are doing but are not imparting the knowledge. This can piss people off. They are withholding what they know and not helping. But it can also piss people off if they come in too early and tell us what is going on and what to do and not let us wallow around for a while, and learn. This is what I see as a major problem for the University. As you observe us, at what point do you reflect the learning and feedback, and yet not prostitute the learning or dirty the data. …We are the rats, the factory is your laboratory. But when we are looking at the role of the University, you are the rats. (Plant Manager and Industry Sponsor of an Action Research Project, 2000)

Please refer to publisher version or contact your library.



Link to publisher version (DOI)