Action research in the healthcare field: a scoping review

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This scoping review aimed to explore international literature related to the application of action research in studies in the healthcare context.


Action research is an approach that involves collaboration to develop a process through knowledge building and social change. Several viewpoints of action research have been introduced as the different traditions of developed action research. To develop a coherent process, researchers have to posit their worldviews and theoretical framework and align these with the research aims and procedures, and local transformation needs. This diversity leads to a variety of action research practices in healthcare. Particularly, in this review, we raised the need for examining participants’ experiences and changes related to the action research process.

Inclusion criteria:

This scoping review considered studies that included any professional healthcare provider, patient or recipient of healthcare products or services involved in action research. Studies that used the action research methodology in the healthcare context were included. All quantitative and qualitative studies were considered. The quantitative component considered experimental and epidemiological studies, whereas the qualitative component considered studies that focused on qualitative data.


A three-step search strategy was used in this review. MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, Social Sciences, ERIC, PsycINFO, Health Source, ScienceDirect, Wiley and SciELO databases were searched with no publication date limitation. Studies published in English, Portuguese and Spanish were included. The data were extracted using a charting table, which was developed to record key information from sources relevant to the review question. The findings were descriptively presented, with tables and figures to support the data when appropriate.


We included 124 studies with different aims and procedures. The levels of participation ranged from no real input into or influence on the research process to democratic knowledge sharing and collective understanding. The action research processes occurred in diverse settings in the healthcare context, and participants with different objectives and demands took part in the research.


From study objectives, knowledge building, and social change data, we developed three domains and categorized the studies. In general, Europe and Australia published more studies in the organizational domain and mainly had healthcare stakeholders as participants. North America published more studies in the individual domain, and Latin America, the continent with a higher percentage of publications, published studies that were more frequently related to the collective domain. Asia and Africa did not have a consistent number of publications. There was a major repercussion on the health promotion perspective in North America and Latin America.


There are several ways of conducting action research in healthcare that consider the researcher's aims and theoretical assumptions. Further qualitative systematic review questions may arise from the results and conclusions of this scoping review.

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