Practice Based Action Research

Action research involves a cyclical approach of developing knowledge from practice. It was integral to the program design. Anglicare North Coast invited Southern Cross University and TAFE NSW to work with them from the outset to guide the incorporation of research that would identify evidence in practice. A Steering Committee provided a venue for collective critical reflection. The university partners documented the program as it developed. The views and reflections of the various people who participated in the program were captured as the program emerged. Program participants, staff and community were able to regularly examine, collectively reflect on and transform program design and success. A reciprocal research strategy was applied to ‘move beyond harm minimization as a standard for ethical research and … conduct research projects that aim to bring about reciprocal benefits for refugee participants and/or communities’ (Mackenzie, McDowell, & Pittaway, 2007, p.299). Thus, action research involved repeated cycles of designing and implementing aspects of the program, documenting critical reflections about that aspect of the program and revising and developing the program based on collective critical reflections.
A trauma-informed approach was adopted (Campbell, Goodman-Williams, & Javorka 2019). Trust was established in several ways. One member of the research team made multiple visits to program sites before gathering data. Informal interviews were undertaken in locations where participants felt comfortable after a period of participatory observation. This researcher also participated in and observed activities including swimming lessons, bike riding and social outings. Visual research methods, in particular audio visual recording, were used to document the program and capture the participants’ experiences. Interviewing the women participants on camera provided an authentic voice to narrate program development. On camera contributions from program facilitators and steering committee members also provided an important opportunity for reflection and analysis. The participatory approach allowed participants to have input into what was recorded, view filmed material and opt in or out at any time. Participants could choose to be anonymous or choose to be identified on camera.

Four unique research projects emerged.

  1. The nature of the networks that enable women from refugee backgrounds living in regional Australia to access sustainable employment from the perspective of the lived experience of women from refugee backgrounds was described (Whitaker, Hughes, & Rugendyke, 2018).
  2. The study which provided the foundation for this toolkit examined the practices of staff as a feature of program design (Whitaker, Hughes, & Rugendyke, 2021)
  3. Art exhibitions were documented in the book Stories to freedom: Women’s journeys of empowerment (Hughes, Rugendyke, & Whitaker, 2019) and the influence of community arts on well-being were examined further in a journal article (Hughes, Rugendyke, & Whitaker, 2021)
  4. Threads to Freedom: skills and connections for a better life (Rugendyke, Whitaker, & Hughes, 2020) examined the potential for social enterprises.

In brief, as the program manager said at the time:

“… the cross-institutional thing has been fantastic. … I think we often work in a very prescriptive way, we’re normally having to tailor our work to a contract or a funding agreement that we have with government and so we, the royal we, NGOs traditionally are very task based and we don’t do a lot of reflective practice, because sometimes we don’t have time and sometimes because we can’t really afford to go down different avenues. …”

This toolkit captures and shares the practice wisdom that emerged through this process.
To get started on your reflective journey, click on the Empowering Practices link below. Additionally, you can explore the practices by clicking on the relevant section of the diagram.