Purpose of this paper: This paper seeks to raise for discussion and reflection some of the key dynamics of action research projects-in-practice. It focuses in particular on how action researchers broker academic and client interests, and how this brokering shifts over time. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is based on participant observation, drawing on the reflective and processual accounts of action researchers involved in a collaborative academic-industry-government project. Findings: The paper argues that the scope of action research projects to effectively address the needs of both audiences is compromised by managerialism in universities and organizations. However, the emergent and chaotic nature of action research provides opportunities for researchers to overcome some of these limitations. Research limitations/implications (if applicable): The paper provides a model and case analysis to support critical reflection amongst action researchers. Practical implications: If the argument of the paper is accepted, then action researchers are required to pay greater attention to the dangers of managerialism in universities, and explore how such dangers can be overcome. What is original / value of paper? The originality of the paper lies in its self-critical sociological reflexivity. Its value depends on whether or not this is found to be valuable by action researchers.