• English
  • Deutsch
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
Twitter icon
YouTube icon
Header image Ecologic

Action Research for Sustainability

Action Research for Sustainability

Reflections on Transition Management in Practice.
Current societal challenges and discussions on the relevancy of science increase the need and opportunity for action research

Action research is the collaborative production of scientifically and socially relevant knowledge through a participatory process. Real-life problems are addressed and new theoretical insights gained. This research brief introduces the concepts of action research, sustainability transitions, and transition management. It presents key issues for conducting action research and how these have been dealt with in the practice of the research teams in the three communities of the InContext project. Furthermore it reflects on the role of the action researcher. The research brief is available for download.

Current societal challenges and discussions on the relevancy of science increase the need and opportunity for action research. However, action researchers working in the pursuit of sustainability are not neutral analysts and should engage in self inquiry and reflection. The practical experience from InContext shows that transparency, trust building and adapting to the local context are crucial in opening up and maintaining communicative spaces.

These and further lessons are presented in the research brief. It is one of several papers which present the results of InContext. The InContext project has identified framework conditions that enable societal transitions towards an environmentally sound, economically successful, and culturally diverse future. Other publications of the project InContext include a policy brief on How the EU can support local transition processes, a policy brief on how local governments and initiatives can work together and a poster series which presents initiatives for a more sustainable lifestyle. The Key Messages [pdf, 1.8 MB, English] are available here.


Wittmayer, Julia et al. 2013: Action Research for Sustainability - Reflections on transition management in practice. [Research Brief]. Berlin: Ecologic Institute.

Julia Wittmayer
Niko Schäpke
Georg Feiner
Frank van Steenbergen
Stefanie Baasch
24 pp.
Table of Contents
  1.  Introduction
  2.  What is action research for sustainability transitions?
    2.1 What is action research?
    2.2 What are sustainability transitions and transition management?
  3. Key issues in action research processes-the theory
    3.1 Self-inquiry of the action researcher
    3.2 Ethics
    3.3 Role of the researcher
    3.4 Opening communicative space
    3.5 Dealing with communicative spaces
    3.6 Dealing with power differences
  4. Action research in InContext
    4.1 The action research approach of InContext
    4.2 Action Research within InContext: reflection on critical issues
    Self-Inquiry of the action researcher
    Role of the researcher
    Opening and maintaining communicative space
    Dealing with communicative spaces
    Dealing with power differences
  5. The action researcher in sustainability transitions
    5.1 Synthesis: action research in sustainability transitions
    5.2 Looking forward: the action researcher for sustainability transitions
action research, sustainability, sustainable communities, bottom-up initiatives, governance tools, local governments, participation,