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Qualitative study design

Action research / Participatory Action Research


These methods focus on the emancipation, collaboration and empowerment of the participants. This methodology is appropriate for collaborative research with groups, especially marginalised groups, where there is more flexibility in how the research is conducted and considers feedback from the participants. 



Has three primary characteristics:  

  1. Action oriented, participants are actively involved in the research.

  1. involvement by participants in the research, collaborative process between participant and researcher - empowerment of participants. The participants have more of a say in what is being researched and how they want the research to be conducted.

  1. cycle is iterative so that it is flexible and responsive to a changing situation.  


  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Oral recordings
  • Workshops
  • Focus groups,
  • Photovoice (use of images or video to capture the local environment / community and to share with others)
  • Informal conversations 


strengths Strengths

  • Produces knowledge from marginalised people's point of view and can lead to more personalised interventions.  

  • Provides a voice for people to speak about their issues and the ability to improve their own lives. People take an active role in implementing any actions arising from the research. 

  • Transforms social reality by linking theory and practice.  


limitations Limitations

  • Open ended questions are mainly used, and these can be misinterpreted by researcher – data needs to be cross-checked with other sources.

  • Data ownership between researcher and research participants needs to be negotiated and clearly stated from the beginning of the project.

  • Ethical considerations with privacy and confidentiality.

  • This method is not considered scientific as it is more fluid in its gathering of information and is considered an unconventional research method – thus it may not attract much funding.


iconExample questions

  • What is the cultural significance of yarning amongst Aboriginal people? 

Macro Question:

  • “What would it take to improve the stability of young people’s living situations?” 

Micro Questions: 

  • “What can we do to better engage with accommodation service providers?” 
  • “What can we do to improve the service knowledge of young people?” 
  • “What can we do to measure stability outcomes for our clients?” 

(Department of Social Services) 


iconExample studies

  • Miller, A., Massey, P. D., Judd, J., Kelly, J., Durrheim, D. N., Clough, A. R., . . . Saggers, S. (2015). Using a participatory action research framework to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia about pandemic influenza. Rural and Remote Health, 15(3), 2923-2923.  
  • Spinney, A. (2013). Safe from the Start? An Action Research Project on Early Intervention Materials for Children Affected by Domestic and Family Violence. Children & Society, 27(5), 397-405. doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2012.00454.x 


  • Department of Social Services. (2019). On PAR - Using participatory action research to improve early intervention. 
  • Liamputtong, P. (2013). Qualitative research methods (4th ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford  University Press.