This guide is intended to assist practitioners in a wide range of public service organisations to extend their practical skills to design collaborative action research projects that engage a broad constituency and encourage the involvement of colleagues who are less familiar with collaborative action research approach.


This ‘how to’ draws on What Works Scotland’s previous work on facilitating and developing collaborative approaches to continuing professional development and collaborative action research (CAR).

Within the context of What Works Scotland we have developed a CAR approach that provides an overarching framework to allow the distinctiveness of each case study site to be investigated, therefore illuminating the nuance and context specificity of developments within each setting while providing an overarching structure and process to support the identification of key themes and trends across the wider What Works Scotland programme of research.

This document focuses specifically on designing CAR to engage a broader constituency beyond a committed band of enthusiasts. A common issue associated with CAR is the failure to recognise different approaches are needed to draw in other leaders and staff who have been less involved or appear less interested in the idea. This can result in a small group of activists who quickly become a marginalised clique rather than part of a purposeful widespread movement.

Therefore, those involved in developing CAR initiatives must make a clear distinction between the processes used in working with enthusiasts (micro-mobilisation) and those used to bring in other colleagues.

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How to Design Collaborative Action Research (PDF)

More details

Authors: Chris Chapman, What Works Scotland and the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (University of Glasgow) and Mark Hadfield, Professor of Education, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University and co-founder of the Urban Programmes Research Group.

Date of publication: March 2017

Publication type: Guide

Related publications from What Works Scotland

Supporting Collaborative Action Research: Developing a more systematic approach

This document describes the approach followed by the What Works Scotland team in carrying out a ‘mini-inquiry’ exercise to develop the What Works Scotland collaborative action research framework.

Supporting Collaborative Action Research: Developing a more systematic approach

July 2015

“Challenge current practice and assumptions! Make waves!!” – Findings from a Collaborative Action Research learning event

Report from the national retreat in February 2016  where What Works Scotland and Community Planning Partnerships shared their Collaborative Action Research experiences from across Scotland, and examined this way of working.

Read the blog post and access the report

July 2016