What is Social Action Research?

Research is a human activity based on intellectual investigation and aimed at discovering, interpreting and revising human knowledge on different aspects of the world.

Social action research is participatory in that it seeks not only to discover meaning but to explore its properties with the people studied. Information is generated and verified with the people themselves. Those who might traditionally be considered ‘research subjects’ become research participants jointly with the researchers engaging in a process of gathering, refining and interpreting data. The notion of empowerment is closely aligned with this approach.

There are three key principles of Social Action research. First of all, Social Action research involves starting from the ideas and understanding of a range of stakeholders.

This does not mean only including users or patients, or service users, but all of the stakeholders who have an interest in a particular research process. Social Action research involves respecting and viewing positively stakeholders as ‘knowers’ - the experts in their lives. It involves a realisation that research, just as empowerment practice, is a process of learning, development and change and that the researcher is a practitioner, as much as a researcher, in facilitating that process.

So what do Social Action researchers do? They set in motion a process of participation with stakeholders. They work with those concerned to shape agendas, make decisions and control outcomes.

It involves a relationship between researchers and participants that is non-hierarchical, and involves recognising everybody as having an equal but different contribution to make to the research process. Social Action researchers are experienced in participative ways of working and to working in partnership with community members.

Social Action researchers also bring their analytical and data collection skills and other stakeholders bring their knowledge of the area to be researched. The researcher influences the process by being part of it - that was implicit in the notion and participatory research.

Data analysis and dissemination are undertaken jointly and stakeholders are helped to act on their new knowledge and understanding. Social Action research involves a responsibility not to leave the participants and the stakeholders high and dry at the end of the research process having learned a great deal but not knowing or having any ideas about what actions can be taken to change things.

Social Action research involves moving from understanding and knowledge into action. It is important to clarify that Social Action research does contrast with other ideas of user centred research. Social Action research is not based on user control, but on partnership.

Recent Research undertaken by the Centre for Social Action

Shaping our Age

Shaping our Age is a three-year, Big Lottery funded project and unique partnership between:

  • Royal Voluntary Service
  • The Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University
  • The Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University

The project aims to explore how older people define their well-being, and is developing participatory ways in which older people can help each other to achieve their well-being.

It will provide the tools and campaigning materials that could exert massive influence and transform how Royal Voluntary Service works with older people and the way we approach living well in old age. Shaping our Age will inform the entire sector of older people’s services including national and local government, health authorities and other partners to enable older people in their well-being to help themselves and each other and many have already signed up to it.

You can read more about the project in the Shaping our Age launch paper

Phase one of Shaping our Age was a national consultation. We held focus groups and qualitative research interviews to collect insights from a diverse range of older people throughout the UK on the subject of well-being.

We asked them to define their well-being; how they achieve well-being in their lives and to identify the barriers to achieving well-being. We also asked them about the impact of statutory and voluntary services on their well-being and the improvements that could be made to services to improve older people’s well-being.

The publication of Voices on Well-being marked the conclusion to phase one of Shaping our Age.

The final report of the project is Involving Older Age: The route to twenty-first century well-being.

Amplified Resilient Communities

Thilo Boeck is the Principal Investigator of “the Amplified Resilient Communities” (ARC) project, which is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The project is exploring the use of social media in order to connect communities, enhance social capital and build community resiliency.

This project stems out of our commitment to social justice through participation. ARC recognises that social mobility and moving out of poverty are an urgent priority within which personal resilience, as well as community resilience, will be needed to manage the difficulties associated with financial and social exclusion. We believe that the key to developing resilience is to become amplified.

Amplified individuals and communities use participatory digital media to expand and extend their capacities to sense, collaborate and generate new ideas and solutions.

DIEGO – (Disseminating Impact from Engagement with User Groups and Organisations) – a JISC/NCCPE funded project linking  the participatory research h of the CSA with an Impact Analyst at the University of Edinburgh to develop a case study looking at the analysis of the impact of our participatory research (2012 JISC £28K). 

Amplified Leicester

Amplified Leicester is a city-wide experiment funded by NESTA, designed to grow the innovation capacity of Leicester across the city's disparate and diverse communities, and to share new skills which are fast becoming essential in 21st century workplaces and communities.

The project was inspired by the potential of this unusual city to nurture a unique creative environment, and it was enhanced by the extensive use of social media for communication and collaboration. The Amplified Leicester project is an exemplar of the ways in which transdisciplinary academic research can impact on the wider community.

The Standards We Expect

The Centre for Social Action has been a member of a partnership which has been awarded a Joseph Rowntree Foundation research grant for a two year project entitled The Standards We Expect; participating approaches to developing person-centred solutions. The partnership included four organisations and eight individuals and is led by Shaping Our Lives, the independent, national service-user organisation.

The aim of the Project was to encourage and guide the development of systems and processes to support social care service users in eight local areas to determine how their rights/needs are met through a process of involvement and negotiation among key stakeholders, sharing and exchanging with a wider network.

Particular attention will be paid to supporting the involvement of service users and face-to-face practitioners, groups which continue to experience particular exclusions in this context.

The approach was based on enabling stakeholders to engage in the process of change through identifying existing forums and developing a range of new ones. This was particularly designed to ensure the involvement of practitioners and service users, enabling stakeholders to develop, share and negotiate their perspectives and contribute on as equal terms as possible to the change process. This will involve the provision of support, information and training by the project team.

Supporting people: Towards a person-centred approach is available to buy from The Policy Press, priced at £19.95 rrp (plus £2.75 p&p).

The Standards We Expect project team have also produced a collection of free guides and studies to accompany the project, including:

Supporting People: towards a person-centred approach (a Summary with easy words and picture)

Working towards person-centred support: A local case study

Person Centred Support - A Guide for Service Users

Person-centred support. What service users and practitioners say

Making a change: A guide to running successful and accessible workshops and training

The Standards We Expect - Choices for End of Life Care

For full list of research undertaken by the CSA – (PDF)

© Centre for Social Action, DMU

The Standard We Expect Project
Events target area image

At DMU there is always something to do or see, check out our events for yourself.

DMU research news target area image
DMU research news

Read about our latest research efforts.

De Montfort Open Research Archive (DORA) target area image
De Montfort Open Research Archive (DORA)

De Montfort University's research repository.