Title of ArticleRealising participation within an action research project on two care innovation units providing care for older people
Type of ArticleOriginal practice development and research
Author/sMiranda Snoeren and Donna Frost
ReferenceVolume 1, Issue 2, Article 3
Date of PublicationNovember 2011
Keywordsaction research, Arnsteins ladder, barriers, enabling factors, facilitation, participation


Background: On two care innovation units in the Netherlands, staff, students and lecturer practitioners work intensively together to provide care, create a rich learning environment, and to foster innovation and research. In striving to advance the quality of care and to develop person centred cultures, a preference is given to participative forms of research in which diverse experiences and different types of knowledge are valued.

Aims and objectives: The research described here had two overarching aims: the improvement of practice situations and the encouragement of the integration of work and learning. This article focuses on our actions and learning with respect to fostering participation during this project.

Design and methods: Within the action research methodology used, participative work-forms and research methods were chosen. For example, a responsive approach to evaluation of practice, use of narratives and the stimulation and use of creativity to help in exploring and sharing feelings, values and different forms of knowledge. In this article we use Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation to frame our reflection on enabling participation within this project.

Results: Participation took various forms and vacillated throughout the project. In addition to particular facilitation strategies, three factors emerged as influential in enabling or inhibiting aspects of participation among stakeholders: individual motivations and interests, the make-up of and atmosphere within the group, and the time made available to engage in research activities.

Conclusions: Participation in research is both more complex and dynamic than Arnstein’s (1969) typology suggests. Moving ‘up’ the ladder may not be appropriate as a goal in and of itself. Instead, meeting and responding to each other’s situations, as stakeholders, seems a more appropriate focus. Taking responsibility, as facilitator, for certain research activities, can free other participants to focus on elements which interest them and from which they derive satisfaction.

Implications for practice:

  • Laying groundwork and building relationships at all levels of an organisation is essential to enabling participation during an action research project.
  • Democratic, person-centred and creative work-forms are effective in enabling participation among stakeholders in both homogeneous and heterogeneous groups.
  • The forms and levels of participation within any one action research project are many and will vary during the life of the project.
  • Enabling participation for a particular group, or groups, of stakeholders may form a barrier to the participation of other stakeholder groups.

This article by Miranda Snoeren and Donna Frost is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 License.

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