Action Research

Action research skills are of great importance to community organizers and leaders.  They need to be able to deepen their understanding of the realities they face daily – the community itself, a major issue it faces, the causes behind the issue, where power lies and how it can be countered.

Virtually every course offered by a CLP site includes some experience with community-based research as background for taking action. It is integral to a student developing his/her critical consciousness, understanding of organizing, ability to analyze power and how it’s exercised, and comprehension of regional issues and their social, economic and political background and organizing history.  Research skills are also central to being able to learn from field experience.  Thus courses on all these topics include some teaching on action research methods.

In addition, several programs offer full courses on Community-Based Action Research.  These draw from the traditions of “popular education”, which stresses developing the knowledge and skills of the volunteer leaders of social movements and organizations.  Popular educators are often wary of traditional “organizers” whom they feel wield too much influence and can undercut the development of the community’s own knowledge, skills and power.  These courses therefore include direct experience interviewing people, involving the community in studying policy issues and the institutions and interests behind them, and deciding on alternative policies and broad-based strategies for bringing about change.

Community-Based ResearchA course taught at CUNY by Professor Hillary Caldwell to introduce students to the methods and theory of community-based research. It covers how and why research in partnership with community-based organizing differs from more standard approaches to social science research.

Community-Based Research and Organizing Among “Roofless Women”: An example of how participatory action research, by Professor Marie Kennedy of UMass Boston, can be used to support organizing and leadership development among very poor people.

Community-Based Research to Analyze the Community Where You’re WorkingA course to help students deepen his or her understanding of the people, history, culture, issues and social and organizational fabric of the community they live and or work in.

Research for Organizing and EmpowermentCourse offered by Marie Kennedy that helps students learn how to obtain research studies on topics of interest; how to evaluate whether social research studies are well-designed and competently carried out; how to determine whether studies are conducted rigorously, responsibly and ethically; and how to evaluate whether media reports on social research are accurate and fair.

Senior Capstone in Community-Based ResearchCourse offered at the University of Michigan at Dearborn that is designed to involve students intellectually with the surrounding urban community in a rigorous research project. The specific research topic of the course changes from year to year.

Successful Nationwide Policy Change Through Community-Based Research and Organizing: Examples of grassroots community organizations, university-based researchers, and others who have experimented with ways of helping ordinary citizens understand and evaluate how they are affected by the policies of large public and private institutions

Strengthening Community Voices in Policy Reform: A report developed for the Annie E. Casey Foundation by Larry Parachini and Andy Mott on community-based monitoring, learning and action strategies.


Participatory Action Research Toolkit: An Introduction to Using PAR as an Approach to Learning, Research and Action: This toolkit is intended to provide guidance on what a PAR project commonly looks like, how to work together and some questions to ask as you go. It does not provide advice on methods, as these will vary depending on what the research is about. There are many sources available for methods to use within a PAR research approach.