Action Research

Action research by Kurt Lewin - ToolsHero

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This article explains the concept of Action Research, developed by Kurt Lewin in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.


The German-American professor Kurt Lewin, was mainly concerned with child psychology. He became known for his contributions to “Gestalt psychology” and in 1951 he carried out ground breaking research into the way in which human behaviour could be changed towards democratic values and leadership. This is why he is considered to be the founder of Action Research.

What is Action Research?

Kurt Lewin ’s approach of Action Research is a research method in which the researcher intervenes in and during the research. This serves two purposes: firstly, according to Kurt Lewin, it will bring about positive change and secondly knowledge and theory will be generated. It is important that the researcher acts as a social change expert who helps and encourages employees to change their behaviour towards democratic values and leadership. A cooperation between fundamental and applied research is essential in this. According to Lewin ‘s scientific research is best achieved through cooperation between the researcher (academic) and the people in the work field (practitioners).


Besides the research of social systems, Action Research is all about solving problems in order to bring about social change. During the research method, the researcher does not merely observe and interpret information but he is also an active participant in the process. This allows him to intervene faster and better and bring about change. One major advantage is that he will have a better understanding of the problems. Close cooperation with the field will increase the perceptions of the researcher and the practitioners. During research method the focus can be centred on the activities or the research itself.

Action Research by Kurt Lewin - ToolsHero

Conditions for Action Research

For Action Research to be successful, Kurt Lewin established a number of conditions must meet:

  • the research must be problem-oriented
  • the employee (client) must be at the centre
  • the current situation (status quo) must be included in the discussion
  • the research must produce empirically demonstrable propositions (direct and indirect observations)
  • propositions and findings must systematically fit into a useful theory.

Cyclical approach

Changes in accordance with the Action Research approach have the nature of an exception, in which stability (Freeze) is the standard, change the deviation from that standard and behaviour modification (Unfreezing) a response. Action research is a cyclical process of change and is connected in his change model. During the Unfreezing stage a period of problem awareness takes places (Planning), during the change stage new forms of behaviour are tested (Action) and during the refreezing stage this new behaviour is reinforced and will become a habit over time (Results).

In practice

Action Research is a form of collective self-reflective enquiry, undertaken by participants in social situations such as employees within an organization. Because of the research they are able to analyze and improve their own social and/ or educational skills. Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice according to Kurt Lewin. It is about practice and a goal-oriented approach in which planning, action and fact-finding lead to good and satisfactory results and to understanding among the participants.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you conduct Action research? If so, what are your experiences? If not, which new insights did you get by reading this post? What are in your opinion success factors for conducting Action research?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Coghlan, D. &amo; Brannick, T. (2014). Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization. Sage Publications Ltd.
  2. Dickens, L., & Watkins, K. (1999). Action research: rethinking Lewin. Management Learning, 30(2), 127-140.
  3. Lewin, K., & Gold, M. E. (1999). Group decision and social change.
  4. Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems, in: G.W. Lewin (Ed) (1948) Resolving Social conflict. Harper & Row.

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