Qualitative research in health care

Using qualitative methods in health related action research

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7228.178 (Published 15 January 2000)
Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:178.1

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  1. Julienne Meyer, professor of adult nursing
  1. City University, St Bartholomew School of Nursing and Midwifery, London E1 2EA

    This is the last in a series of three articles

    Series editors: Catherine Pope and Nicholas Mays

    The barriers to the uptake of the findings of traditional quantitative biomedical research in clinical practice are increasingly being recognised. 1 2 Action research is particularly suited to identifying problems in clinical practice and helping develop potential solutions in order to improve practice.3 For this reason, action research is increasingly being used in health related settings. Although not synonymous with qualitative research, action research typically draws on qualitative methods such as interviews and observation.

    Summary points

    Action research is increasingly being used in healthcare settings

    It is a style of research rather than a specific method

    Three elements are important: the participatory character of action research; its democratic impulse; and its simultaneous contribution to social science and social change


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    (Credit: LIANE PAYNE)

    What is action research?

    Action research is not easily defined. It is a style of research rather than a specific method. First used in 1946 by Kurt Lewin, a social scientist concerned with intergroup relations and minority problems in the United States, the term is now identified with research in which the researchers work explicitly with and for people rather than undertake research on them.4 Its strength lies in its focus on generating solutions to practical problems and its ability to empower practitioners—getting them to engage with research and subsequent “development” or implementation activities. Practitioners can choose to research their own practice, or an outside researcher can be engaged to help them identify problems, seek and implement practical solutions, and systematically monitor and reflect on the process and outcomes of change.

    Most definitions of action research incorporate three important elements: its participatory character; its democratic impulse; and its simultaneous contribution to social science and social change.5

    Participation in action research

    Participation is fundamental to action research: it is …

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