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Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct and Review of Action Research

This webpage is an online version of the printed Action Research Guidelines (23 KB) Action Research Guidelines, and the titles, headings, and numbering reflect those of the printed document. 

Preamble: The Challenges Associated with Action Research

Action research is a form of self-inquiry designed to improve the understanding and conduct of one's practice in a human service profession such as education, social work, nursing, and the like. Although the goal of such research is often to enhance moral and ethical practice, there are some unique ethical challenges for those reviewing applications using this form of research. Specifically, researchers are typically in a power relationship with the prospective participants and are in the position of requesting data from individuals who may not feel entirely free to refuse permission given this unequal relationship. Thus, the TCPS 2 (Tri Council Policy Statement) principle of free and voluntary consent is somewhat difficult to achieve in this situation. Secondly, action research is necessarily fluid, typically beginning with identification of a problem to solve rather than a research question. Thus, both practice and research procedures evolve over the course of the project. This creates challenges for the TCPS 2 principle of fully-informed consent, as participants cannot be fully informed about the complete requirements of their participation at the beginning of a research project. A third issue is that, given the personally-situated nature of action research, the identity of participants is generally easy to deduce due to their relationship with the researcher, creating challenges for the TCPS 2 principle of confidentiality. Finally, given that action research, widely defined, should be a component of all professional practice, some guideline is needed for determining which such professional improvement projects require REB (Research Ethics Board) approval.

Guideline 1: Projects requiring REB approval

Action research projects that are intended for use beyond self-improvement will require REB approval. If a researcher intends to use the information obtained in an action research project for some purpose external to the study situation itself, such as for a graduate thesis, funded research, publication, or conference presentation, ethics review is required. Conversely, if the goal is solely improvement of practice, with no identified secondary use of the data, REB review is not required.

Guideline 2: On-going informed consent and participant consultation

Given the fluid, changing nature of action research projects, informed consent procedures should be an on-going part of the process. Specifically, consent should be renewed at each transition in the project. For vulnerable participants, such as children, parental consent also needs to be sought at each transition in the project requirements.

Guideline 3: On-going monitoring and reporting to the REB

Given the increased ethical challenge of action research caused by the on-going power relationship between researcher and participants and the fluid nature of the research, additional reports must be submitted to the REB either by the researcher or by a third party familiar with the research. Specifically, status reports, similar to those used for yearly monitoring, must be filed at key transition points in the project. For example, reports should be filed between implementation and evaluation and between evaluation and modification of practice. Status reports can be prepared by the researcher or by a supervisory third party such as a thesis supervisor or the project's (i.e., applicant's) 'critical friend'.