Starting a Project

Why engage in Practitioner research?

Practitioner-researchers have reported one or more outcomes as a result of their efforts.

Being a practitioner-researcher:

  • Improves your professional career knowledge, skills, and identity
    • Better understanding of the “bigger picture” of your practice
    • Changes your identity as a learner, expert, and leader
    • Encourages you to question work practices, seeing possibilities where others see challenges or limits
    • Makes your work more joyful as you are learning new skills and developing your understanding
  • Changes relationships in your workplace community
    • You observe community issues more effectively and share these insights with your community
    • You encourage new patterns of interaction with co-workers
    • Others come to expect that you will listen to them and lead in actions to resolve group issues
    • The culture of the group shifts to more active learning and innovation
  • Develops your identity as researcher within the research community
    • Encourages you to read other research and to seek information
    • Helps you develop a voice of expertise and practice wisdom as one who reasons from and with data
    • Encourages the sharing of ideas with other researchers to evolve new knowledge


Most practitioner-researchers will have begun their inquiries in an informal way well in advance of designing a research project and submitting it to the Foundation.

Basically, practitioner research, participatory research, and action research all begin with …

  • Having some thoughts about changes you might want to make in your practice and/or organization
  • Wondering how things might work better in your practice if you promoted a change
  • Thinking about how to better practice your core values in your workplace
  • Observing and reflecting on your practice and your goals
  • Reading about what others have done to improve their practices and to create innovative changes in workplaces similar to yours

Here are some ways to identify issues/topics for research.


Problem Identification in Practitioner Research1

Getting Started

Practitioner researchers begin their inquiries in an informal way long before they design an actual research project. Practitioner research begins when:

  • Reflection on your core values and the way they do or could influence your practice
  • Examination of practices in your work setting
  • Search for new ways to meet work site or community challenges
  • Formation of predictions about why things happen the way they do
  • Discussion with others regarding practices at your site
  • Development of ideas you want to explore or changes you want to make

Generating questions

Here are some reflective prompts that many practitioner-researchers have found useful in getting started:

  • Lately, I’ve noticed . . .
  • What would happen if . . .
  • It’s funny how my students . . .
  • I’ve always wondered . . .
  • I worry about . . .
  • How can I improve . . .

1Adapted and modified by L. Rowell and M. Riel (2019) from Field-Based Research: A Working Guide (1992). Published by the Province of British Columbia Ministry of Education and Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Human Rights.



To move to the next step, practitioner-researchers then develop an overall inquiry focus for their project. This is the question that will be general enough to guide you through your process of change.  It is often stated as a question:

  • How can I improve the way I teach the students who are currently failing?
  • How can I increase the number of volunteers in our organization?
  • How can I help change the collaborative spirit of our work team?
  • How can I foster innovation?

To come up with your own inquiry question consider the following:

  1. What question, problem, or issue is causing the most concern?
  2. What do you want to accomplish…
    • For yourself (e.g., as a teacher, a nurse practitioner, a youth/community leader, a social worker, an activist citizen)?
    • For your participants (e.g., your students, the members of a community-based organization, your community)?
    • For the research community (e.g., those who you will share your research with)?
  3. How would you state the problem or issue you are most concerned with as a question that can be researched?

Here is an example of a worksheet for developing a focus.


Worksheet: Developing Specific Research Questions2

  1. What drives you?
  2. What challenges you?
  3. What keeps you up at night or appears as the most critical issue when you think about going to work?
  4. What are you deeply curious about?
  5. What new skill do you want to develop?
  6. How would you like to change?
  7. What are the changes that you would be most proud of?
  8. If you could be more of an expert in one area, what would that area be and why?


Finding the first cycle question

Once you have an inquiry question you are well on your way to your first cycle question. A cycle question provides your best guess at a first answer to your question. It specifies the action you will take and the expected outcome that you will assess. To create a first cycle question you might try using this format (this format is most relevant and useful for action research and participatory research):

If I/we take this action (specify the action) what effect will it have on (the outcome you are hoping for).

Values Approach as an Example for Locating First Cycle Question!3

Identify an area of change that is possible for you to make that will move you in the direction of your visions and values. What do you imagine will be the outcome of the action? How might it move toward a different future?

Value: Select a core value

Value Translated to Context: Identify where values do not align with practice [area of concern]. Example: My [area of concern] is not working as well as it could or should.

Nature of the Problem: Identify a problem you want to explore. Example: The problem or situation I want to improve is...

Inquiry Research Question: What is your overall Inquiry research question? What skill or practice do you personally want to improve?

Action to Address the Problem - Consider a specific intervention small in scope that will address the general problem. Example: My first idea about how to approach this concern will be to...

Anticipated Results: Identify an immediate outcome from the action you can assess. Example: I will be watching for a change in the way...

Cycle 1 Research Question: Compose your research question by describing:

  • the action you will take and
  • the outcome you plan to measure or observe or document in some way.

Example 1:  Creating a more inclusive learning environment in an after school tech club

Value: I care about problems of equity and social justice and I want to increase access to learning resources

Value in Context: If there are only boys in the tech club, have I done everything I can to assure equal access?

Nature of the Problem: How could I change the tech club to increase the diversity of participation? Overall Research Question: How do I improve the way I support all students to gain computer skills?

Action: Change the curriculum of tech club to activities that have been found to appeal more to girls and special needs students.

Anticipated Results: More equity in participation by gender and special needs students

Cycle 1 Research Question: If I shift the activities of the tech club to start with digital photography (action), how will this affect the participation of girls and special education students (Outcome)?

Example 2:  Supporting teaching and learning in a hospital setting

Value: I value innovative and participatory learning

Value in Context: I want the nurses and doctors I work with to be motivated to learn how to use new media tools

Nature of the Problem: To increase the use of streaming media in training sessions at the hospital

Overall Research Question: How do I improve my support of nurses and doctors in using video technology in their teaching?

Action to be taken: Increase the use of streaming media technologies among my colleagues; Increase innovation in teaching

Cycle 1 Research Question: If I encourage department leaders to create their first streaming media presentation with my support, how will this affect the use of streaming media in their future training sessions?

2 Taken from Action Research Tutorials (Tutorial 3- Activities),
3 Taken from Action Research Tutorials (Tutorial 6)


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