Action Research Issues Association
Action Research Centre


This is the homepage of the
Action Research Issues Association Incorporated (ARIA Inc), based in Melbourne

Look at Our history to know what happened in the 34 years exciting lead-up to this point in time!

This website currently provides:

  1. A case study of how a small active organisation has worked so we need "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead.
    We think such a small thoughtful committed group may be necessary but not sufficient, and if you are interested, please read on here: How we have worked together

  2. An archive of published Work by ARIA members accessible online – with additional links to that of other people in our International networks around the world. 

    This is a Work-In-Progress and will be added to over the coming years.

  3. News about our current publication – the culminating book by Yoland Wadsworth is Building in Research and Evaluation: Human Inquiry for Living Systems, first published by ARIA in 2010, and now published by Routledge worldwide; it sets out to demystify systems thinking.  The other two are Do It Yourself Social Research 1e 1984, 2e 1997, 3e 2011, which sets out to demystify research, and Everyday Evaluation on the Run 1e 1991, 2e 1997, 3e 2011, which aims to demystify evaluation. 

    If you would like a copy of this third path-breaking book about a radical integrating transdisciplinary theory of inquiry as the dynamic of living systems, go to Writing-Publishing

About Us

The Action Research Issues Association is an Australian not-for-profit community-of-interest organisation of around 30 dedicated members who have been meeting since 1986 to promote and resource the development of participative action research methods by-and-with those wanting to inquire into their own issues, puzzles and better futures.

We became incorporated on 28 April 1988 at the Yamato café in Melbourne city, where in 2018 we celebrated our 30th anniversary (sadly Yamato closed in coronavirus times in 2020).  We have for 35 years organised around the following set of Constitutional purposes:


Incorporated 28 April 1988 | Inc. No.: A001 6248Z | ABN: 81942946105



1. To develop, support, promote and popularise a participatory action or critical theoretical research methodology; that is, a research methodology which assists groups to develop their own action-oriented understanding in order to overcome situations identified by them as problematic

(e.g. situations which are a result of disadvantage, discrimination or disability).

2. To apply such a research methodology in order to:

 - assist users and providers of field services to make better sense of community needs and the services required to meet these needs;

- maximise people's control over their own services, their participation in decision-making, and their own self-management.

3. To support the development of participatory research methods that are self-conscious, reflexive, rigorous, comprehensive and sceptical.

4. In order to fulfil these objects, the Association shall:

(a) Provide a forum, or encourage the development of other forums, for discussion of the development of this research methodology;

(b) Provide a forum for discussion and critical evaluation of members' own research work;

(c) Develop models of practice, accessible written materials, and mutual group-learning experiences useful to a large number of people and services;

(d) Assist, or ensure there are others to assist, critical reference groups to design and carry out their own participatory action research; and,

(e) Develop, or ensure the availability of, a network of other specialised research resources.

To these ends, ARIA has worked with critical reference group/critical inquiry group stakeowners who experience such disadvantage, discrimination, and other injustice stemming from class, gender and racial forms of oppression, or from physical and mental disability and ill-health and who want change to bring improvement in their lives.  We have always worked inclusively at the same time with all other relevant stakeholders who share in this quest.  ARIA’s work has differed in this way from conventional academic, private and some public research agencies, and has led to needing to innovate dialogic and collaborative methodologies.

ARIA is a small, active, co-operative community-of-interest, kept smallish with a wide variety of interests and involvements in action-oriented research.  It has always had a strong values-driven and practice-based epistemological agenda, and its approach has been at the cutting (or bleeding) edge of contemporary change in social science paradigms.

Members support the Constitutional Objectives of the Association and are nominated by four existing members and accepted by a General Meeting of the Association.

We are interested in a scale of community organisation where we can 'know and be known' and not lose touch with each other and what is going on.  We have never been keen to generate a large organisation where there is a great division of labour.  To these ends (as well as reflecting our philosophy of science), we have structured ARIA as a legal collective so that all members are committee of management members, as have been all workers whether paid or unpaid.

The Association also attempts to maintain a balance of social research facilitators, practitioners, members with consumer/ community interests and academics. In the past we have been very active.  Not so much now.  Although we continue to meet enthusiastically over a meal to present our work and ideas to each other, for discussion, and to monitor the work of the Projects Sub Committee. For many years we ran our own formal registered Institutional Ethics Committee.

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Our history – of participatory research resourcing and action research centres over four decades

1982-1986 the DIY Social Research project was initiated by Diane Sisely of the Melbourne Family Care Organisation (MFCO) in association with the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) who auspiced and housed it in Collingwood with funds from the Victorian State Government Department of Community Services. Yoland Wadsworth, who at that time had had ten years experience in state and local government social research and evaluation, and had helped pioneer community-based participation in human services R&D, became the project officer and in 1984 wrote a 'guide to small groups doing their own research', titled Do It Yourself Social Research. This unexpectedly became Australia’s runaway best-selling introductory textbook on social research, and has never been out of print to this day.

After the demise of this first project at VCOSS (when VCOSS required the funds raised by the sales of Do It Yourself Social Research to meet a shortfall elsewhere in their budget), ARIA came together as a small independent community-based not-for-profit group of people committed to the ongoing doing and popularising of social research driven by those whose problematic or desired situations give rise to the research questions.

The initial fifteen people who came together for this decided it would be good to provide a more permanent physical 'home' for activities devoted specifically to these participatory social research objectives than they were able to address properly in their employed work or other communities-of-interest.

1986-2002 The Action Research Issues Centre (ARIC) began and then operated for 17 years as a not-for-profit project of the Action Research Issues Association from Ross House in Flinders Lane in the Melbourne central Degraves Street precinct.

We were a founding member of the Ross House Association and one of the earliest tenant groups in the Ross House building in recognition of our shared social justice and environmental interests with the around 60 small community-based groups who find a home there.

We set up an office with three workstations and an unusual-at-that-time modular conversation sitting lounge space on the 4th floor of this unique and beautiful building in the central Melbourne business district.  We were an active participating member in the building community and advocate of a self-organising inquiry culture, some of which survives to this day - along with the friendships we formed.  Two of us ran the critical 'open space technology' event that determined that the building remain in the hands of tenant members of the Ross House community according to their informed wishes.

Those who worked from the Centre were responsible for seeking out and developing projects consistent with ARIA objectives. In each project, they were then responsible, in collaboration with the relevant critical inquiry group, for facilitating it, within budget and to timeline.  ARIC worked to assist thousands of health and human services, community, and self help groups carry out their own everyday research and evaluation.

In 1989 with funds from three private trusts and the Victorian Government, the Action Research Issues Association commenced through ARIC a large 3-year evaluation community resourcing project as part of the government’s Social Justice Strategy. With this ARIC, the 'small centre with a big agenda", became well-known nationally and internationally, and in 1991 produced Australia's best-selling evaluation book 'Everyday Evaluation on the Run' (see Writing–Publishing), also never out of print.

In 1992 with the change from the Cain Government to the Kennett government, we were the second of the first two groups to lose their core administration funding from the Community Support Development Grants.  First was one of the groups we worked with in Ross House – a brave, competent and compassionate self help group of people living with extreme low income, the Poverty Action Program.  This was a very bittersweet badge of honour as both groups had spent years establishing work systems and producing quality outputs after decent seed grants.  ARIC was then only able to operate as a free service where members could offer their voluntary time for this.

Whoever then had the ability, energy and time to take on projects comprised the ARIA Projects Sub Committee, which ran the Centre collectively.  Most of us probably contributed at least half of our time unpaid as the issues were just too pressing and funds too starved during this long phase when neoliberal economic rationalism was systematically winding-back all support for anything with the word ‘community’ in it, and was only funding radically reduced individual casework and remediation.

ARIC spent this difficult decade working mostly in consultancies to support community health services and for a large VicHealth medical research-funded collaborative systemic evaluation project in acute psychiatric services for the peak consumer organisation, the VMIAC. This involved a very productive decade of consumers in dialogic collaboration with staff of the Royal Park Hospital and its area Mental Health service , through an iterative sequence of projects (known as the U&I project or 'Understanding & Involvement') until ultimately its results were 'built in' systemically to Area MH services statewide e.g. quality improvement Consumer Consultants. We then began looking for a new firmer base for continuing ARIA's work.

1999-2001 the Action Research Issues Unit (ARIU) at the Victoria University of Technology (VUT) sought a more stable base across two settings, Ross House and an academic partnership. Between 1997 and 1998, ARIA member and ARIC convenor Yoland Wadsworth, who had been appointed to work at VUT to assist academic staff carry out research and evaluation, established an association between ARIA and the Department of Social Inquiry & Community Studies (SIAC) at Victoria University, where the Head of SIAC, Michael Hamel-Green encouraged the setting up of ARIU with a group of four experienced staff between 1999 and 2001 (Yoland Wadsworth, Kelley Johnson, Merinda Epstein and Sarah Russell).

Seminar on Action Research Issues held at the launch of ARIC@VU at Ross House, 16 February 2000

Some of the Ross House ARIC core group, ARIC associates at Victoria University (VU), VU’s action research interest network, and ARIA interested members in 2001 at the launch of the ARIU@VU in St Albans

Left to right: Kath McKay, ARIC associate—David Green, ARIA member—Bev Campbell, Education at VU—Jacques Boulet, Joint Co-ordinator ARIC—Michael Hamel-Green, Head of Social Inquiry & Community Studies at VU—the late Helen Lee, then ARIC associate—Merinda Epstein, core group—(behind Helen) Leesa Doughney (front) Centre for Educational Development and Support (CEDS) at VU—Lesley Hoatson (behind Leesa), SIACS rep. to ARIC at VU—Maureen Ryan (front), Head of Education at VU—Yoland Wadsworth, Joint Co-ordinator ARIC—Richard Carter, Head TAFE Human Services at VU. ABSENT: Sally Cowden,Hon. ARIC Publications Manager—Robbie Guevara, Centre for Asia Pacific Studies at VU, later an ARIA member—Linette Hawkins, ARIA member—Kelley Johnson & Meg Montague, ARIA members—Allan Pinches, Staff-Consumer Practice Consortium & ARIC associate—Jill Sanguinetti, ARIA member and Senior Lecturer in Education at VU.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at VU – a physicist with a strong grasp of the philosophy of science and appreciative insight into what we were doing and who had championed us – then unfortunately left the university, and an engineer without a social science background took his place. This combined with academic opposition (during a time of extreme economic rationalisation) on the grounds we were 'displacing paid staff' (despite being fully self-funded), and we were informed there would no longer be small research units at VU.

In 2001 the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology appointed Yoland Wadsworth as Adjunct Professor to establish a self-funded national action research program to include graduate courses, consultancy and a practice-based research program.  Given Swinburne’s formal commitment to community/industry-university collaboration, a critical mass of like-minded research groups and championing by the then Director of ISR, this seemed a good choice for a new partnership. When the ISR was not able to support the Ross House location we closed the Action Research Issues Centre in 2003 and focused on helping establish the new national PAR progam at Swinburne.

In 2002 Yoland became convenor of the interim national Action Research Program (ARP) at the ISR at Swinburne in association with the Action Research Issues Association and its network S.P.I.R.A.L; and alongside several like-minded programs in the ISR who shared practice-based commitments to community, gender and class justice and equality values, and national well-being economic indices.

2002-2007 the national Action Research Program (ARP) was formally established at Swinburne University of Technology in the Life Sciences Faculty after three years of very hard work to attract external funds from philanthropic trusts (incl. ANZ Trustees and Perpetual Trustees). These trusts shared a strong interest in resourcing the community sector to carry out the projects that they were funding. Accreditation was then received for Australia's first postgraduate course in Collaborative and Action Research, bringing together a group of four experienced staff (Yoland Wadsworth, Elizabeth Branigan, Jose Ramos and Sally Cowden). ARP set up a centre of four well-equipped offices from which to operate on the Prahran campus, including an attractive state-of-the-art teaching space in collaboration with the Business Faculty there.

2005-2006 saw a university restructure, and an influential academic along with a new Faculty Dean both thought there was ‘no need’ for action research, and the ARP at Swinburne was terminated without notice within months of its formal opening, while still holding a large research grant, and in the middle of advertising and taking enrolments for its new postgraduate course. 

In 2006 Yoland Wadsworth was offered an adjunct Professorial position by one of the four partners in the still-continuing funded ARP research project – the University of Melbourne – to complete the large and popular Narrative Evaluation Action Research (NEAR) project in health promotion.  And in 2007 an Adjunct professorial position was also offered in the Centre for Applied Social Research (CASR) at RMIT University, and the NEAR Project was transferred there for its evaluation phase until 2009.

2008-(ongoing) the Action Research Centre (ARC) –  'ARC by name, ark by nature'  – was our response to this exhausting process to establish and maintain resources for practice-based participatory research, when we created a virtual Action Research Centre website with some remaining funds returned to the ANZ philanthropic trust by Swinburne that were promptly reallocated to the Action Research Issues Association.  We decided we needed a vehicle that would not be subject to any further storms or sinkings, as both we and the philanthropic trusts who had expended their scarce philanthropic funds in good faith and lost them, still needed community services to be resourced to ‘build in’ the carrying out of their own routine, small-scale, participatory, practice-based research and evaluation projects.

The Action Research Centre (ARC) was established to continue the work of ARP with the remaining start-up assistance from the ANZ Philanthropic Trust Services Ruth Watchorn Estate as an education resource:

"to assist communities and organisations continually seek new and better answers to their most pressing questions".

In 2010 the Action Research Press was established as a registered wholly-owned imprint of the ARIA Inc., and ARIA returned to its role as a publisher to bring out Yoland Wadsworth’s monumental culminating volume of her methodological trilogy comprising the earlier two best-sellers DIY Social Research and Everyday Evaluation on the Run that demystified research and evaluation – this time, titled Building in Research and Evaluation: Human Inquiry for Living Systems, setting out to demystify systems thinking.  The first copies came straight from being printed just prior to it being launched to a standing ovation at the World Congress of Participatory Action Research & Action Learning after Yoland's keynote speech about the book's radical new theory.  It sold 91 copies on the spot and was a high point of a very dispiriting decade for the Action Research Issues Association.  In 2011, 2012, and 2014 Yoland spoke about the book and the theory and ran workshops on its content in Europe, the UK, and the US.

In April 2018 we celebrated our 30th anniversary at the same Yamato Japanese café in the city at the same table at which we had held our incorporation meeting in 1988. We produced for members a small photo history entitled Small Centre Big Agenda.

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How we have worked together

As mentioned at the outset, we are in many ways a case study of how a small organisation has worked with a big agenda, along the lines of the popular saying:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.

And, even though we do not have all the data to say what Margaret Mead did or did not do, we agree with this group's general (and especially their final) more systemic conclusions about what really works complexly at scale:

So we'd like to tweak the saying somewhat to:

"ARIA has set out to help very large numbers of people across whole systems – while always staying in the up-close-and-personal – to resource people to question their way to realising their own groups’ hopes of life.  To this end, we have been a small group of around 30 committed individuals who have worked in association like this with a shared vision of 'inquiring for life' in order to do what ARIA has done for more than three decades consistent with what the large numbers with whom we have worked, have wanted to achieve."

Perhaps we can also convey ARIA’s modus operandi, as a case study of a deliberately-small purposeful organisation, by telling this story.

Around 1988 when we began, we received permission from Lilla Watson, a friend and colleague of one of our members (the late Wendy Weeks), to adopt a saying of Lilla’s that Wendy had reported back to us, as our Association’s signature phrase:

‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’

This saying also formed part of the basis for the concept of the ‘Critical Reference Group’ (Wadsworth 1991, revised as the ‘Critical Inquiry Group’, Wadsworth 2010).

However, if you are interested in this saying – which subsequently travelled all round the world (we’d say these days it ‘went viral’) – then further cycles of inquiry have resulted in, as usual! a far more nuanced view of the origins of this saying, nuances that Lilla, a Murri-Gangulu First Peoples social worker and epistemologist, would like us to know about:

We wonder now when Wendy heard Lilla say it. But we do recall another memorable saying from that momentous UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi in 1985:

"It’s not over until all the stories have been told."

This is our story.

The first thing to say is that we are friends. Good friends. And the friendships have developed out of working alongside each other and also working together on many collaborative inquiry projects, mostly over long periods of time. 

Our co-working projects and 'deep thought' together has taken place both formally and informally and at small and large scales, and many are listed under the names of members below.

The second thing to say is that this web of interrelationships and continuing conversations is more like an active ecosystem, or a web of life, or a network of human relationality that is alive and recursive, than a sociometric chart or network analysis that would only capture a frozen snapshot.

These two properties -- friendship and continuous conversation over time -- mirror what most of us found our way to as the modus operandi of our collaborative research, evaluation and systemic/systems change projects.

It is how the sum comes to be greater than what look like unrelated parts.

The third thing to say is perhaps how important 'coming to the table' turned out to be as a metaphor and reality in our lives and our work.  It is a central image of Yoland Wadsworth's 1984 invention of ' kitchen table conversation' - based on her Knox Project work - where naturalistic settings were where the deepest truths emerged, and later also of Merinda Epstein and Yoland's U&I ('you and I') staff-consumer dialogue in acute psychiatric hospital settings project. 

Conviviality always important – ARIA members 'come to the table' at a monthly dinner meeting 6 March 2002

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Work by ARIA members

ARIA Members operated as a collective of experienced people with a range of qualifications and areas of experience who  came together around ARIC’s philosophy and modus operandi and collaborated together on many projects.

If we were to draw the sociometric connections between us and our projects, it would be quite a dense network of multiply-joined-up lines and clusters of dots. 

We haven’t got time quite yet to draw that, but here are just some of us over the years (eventually more entries will be added) to illustrate the kind of work our members have done:

Marie Brennan

Marie has a background in education, mostly the schooling sector and teacher education. She has a particular interest in practitioner and democratic research approaches, including student participation and co-research work. Her publications include School Self-Evaluation (with Ruth Hoadley 1984), New Generation High Schools for the ACT, Year 9 Pilot Exhibitions project (ACT Department of Education and Community Services), reporting work of teacher research circles, and a range of publications on action research with the late Susan Noffke.  She is currently publishing a wealth of journal articles.

Marie currently works closely with ARIA member Jacques Boulet on the Borderlands Co-operative venture in Footscray.

More about Marie and some of her online written resources can be found here

Merinda Epstein

Dip. Teach, B.Ed. (Melbourne)—with experience as a teacher, a story-author, and in consumer evaluation/research and policy (Area MH services, State and Federal) in mental health (incl. the U&I – Consumer Evaluation of Acute Psychiatric Hospital Practice project with Yoland Wadsworth over three years, and the Lemon Tree consumer-staff participation and learning project with Julie Shaw, and as an NCAG representative).  Merinda has worked in research, evaluation and policy development, using interviewing, innovative experiential & interactive dialogue and story-telling, and worked at the Action Research Issues Centre on the Everyday Evaluation Social Justice Project with Yoland and Sally Cowden 1989-1992.

Some of her online written resources can be found here

There is also an extensive amount of consumer perspective material in mental health services throughout this resources site that she curated here

Kelley Johnson

B.A. (Melbourne). Ph.D (Melbourne)—with more than 30 years’ experience as a researcher, educator, manager and academic for a wide range of government and nongovernment organisations on issues affecting change and evaluation, including working extensively with people with disabilities on issues affecting their lives for example an Ethnographic Study of Deinstitutionalising Women (Cambridge University Press, 1998).  Kelley now works as a consultant in project management, workshop design & implementation and guest lecturing, and for many years was an academic head of disability studies in Ireland, and Director of the Social Welfare Research Centre at UNSW.

Kelley was part of the ARIU@VU unit with ARIAians Yoland, Merinda and Sarah Russell of Research Matters.

See her online written resources here and more about Kelley here

Kath McKay (an early member of ARIA, and 2nd ARIA Public Officer)

Dip. Admin. (Riverina College Advanced Education), B.A. (Deakin University), M.A. (Monash University)

Kath has a wide background in social justice projects across women's rights and services, indigenous issues, human rights. She worked and researched at senior levels in all sectors (local, regional, State and Federal Government, non-government organisations, private enterprise).  She has extensive experience in community development, social action, adult education and rural affairs.

Her online written resources include this terrific bio piece that perhaps speaks to many ARIAians’ lives at this stage of mature careers and independence post-work ,

and an account of an historical injustice of a deeply personal nature with highly societal-wide implications to the current day ‘My Grandmother’s Secret’.

Anitra Nelson

Associate Professor Anitra Nelson (now at the University of Melbourne, and formerly of the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Melbourne where she and Yoland both worked on RMIT's AR courses), has taught action research methods and strategies to students of architecture and design, urban and regional sustainability, urban planning, environmental policymaking and the social sciences more broadly.  Her work integrated action research and action learning techniques into a range of research projects in which she drew on applied action research skills in collective natural resource management projects, such as community forestry; participatory design and collaborative tools for collective discussion and decision-making; and evaluations of social and environmental sustainability programs (for organisations such as Australian Conservation Foundation and Village Well).

Now at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, Anitra is now at the forefront of thinking about 'degrowth' and 'life without money' - see:

More about Anitra at - and

Sarah Russell (an early member of ARIA and VU@ARIU)

RN BA (Hons), Ph.D. (Melbourne)—with expertise is working in partnerships with health care practitioners, consumers, community groups and academic colleagues. Sarah especially works with commitment, energy and lateral thinking via consultancies, policy work and her influential company, Research Matters.  Most recently she has contributed powerfully to the Australian national debate on elder care, and was a local 'Voices of' candidate for Federal parliament in 2022.

Jill Sanguinetti

BA, Dip Ed, MA, PhD.—Jill spent most of her professional career as a teacher, project coordinator and researcher in adult education, adult literacy and English as a Second Language in Melbourne.  She led several action research projects documenting classroom pedagogies and issues in women's education and adult literacy.  In particular, she was interested in the impact of competency-based training on teachers' practice, and the ways in which teachers are working 'within and against' competency-based training.

Some of her online written resources can be found at

Since leaving Victoria University, Jill became an author of two well-received memoirs, an autobiography School Days of a Methodist Lady, and a biography Different Way of Seeing by and with Marie Younan.  Jill is active with ARIAian David Legge in the forests preservation moevement centring on the Great Dividing Range at Narbethong, Black Spur and Taggerty, after  both the massive fires and the continuous government logging to meet unsustainable overseas contracts for paper pulp.

Yoland Wadsworth (curator of ARC, Co-convenor of ARIA)

B.A. (Monash), Ph.D. (Monash)—Yoland has 48 years’ experience in health, community and human services R&D and evaluation, inquiry consultancy, workshop facilitation, and writing about complex methodological ideas in accessible ways (e.g. Do It Yourself Social Research) and acting as consultant/collaborator and scribe (e.g. the U&I – Consumer Evaluation of Acute Psychiatric Hospital Practice monographs with Merinda Epstein). The U&I work culminated in a theory of how to ‘build in' staff-consumer collaborative inquiry for systemic/culture change. She developed AR/PAR courses, and the concepts of dialogue-across-difference, kitchen table conversations, and the critical reference group/critical inquiry group.

Her final work of synthesis comprises a transdisciplinary correspondence theory of inquiry as the dynamic of all living systems, and meta-epistemology of ‘full cycle science’. It has its own website here

Her personal website is where you can find a link to her 2-page Bio/CV – and her online written resources so far.

Her most downloaded paper of all time is:

(1998) `What is Participatory Action Research?', Action Research International online journal, Paper 2

This is the first of three popular definitional papers originally published by ARIA in 1990-91 including What is Feminist Research? and How can Professionals help? - see below.

(2002) (with Kaye Hargreaves) `What is feminist research' paper, `Bridging the Gap - feminism and action research', 2001 Working Conference, Boston College, USA.

(2005) How can professionals help people to inquire using their own action research?, Action Research Case Study No 1, ALARA (formerly ALARPM - Action Learning Action Research & Process Management Association), Australia.
Subsequently expanded to include several full case studies:

(2007) (with Wierenga, A. and G. Wilson) (2nd ed.) Writing narrative action evaluation reports in health promotion – Manual of Guidelines, Resource Kit, Case Studies and QuickGuide, State of Victoria, Department of Human Services and the University of Melbourne, Australia
On open access through the Victorian Government Library Service:


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Our work

Every AR centre established by ARIA shared the same backbone work program which follows from our Constitutional goals. The material that follows describes the combined output and modus operandi of ARIA’s centres over 30 years.

Developing theory-in-practice

The central work for which ARIC became known was its original thinking about methodology in the areas of:

  • popularising social science;
  • how to carry out research 'with’ and 'for' people rather than ‘on’;
  • the ethical and methodological concept of the ‘critical reference group perspective’ - subsequently revised in 2010 as ‘critical inquiry group’ or the stakeowner group;
  • the Australian use of ‘fourth generation evaluation’ Guba & Lincoln, (also known in the USA as ‘developmental evaluation’ cf. MQ Patton) or ‘critical constructivist’ methodology, including ‘dialogue across difference’ designs;
  • the facilitation of multi stakeowner/stakeholder inquiry groups, especially those experiencing conflict;
  • the place and role of the researcher or evaluator as a facilitator working with a critical reference/inquiry group perspective; and
  • the ‘building in’ of research and evaluation to the culture of life of ‘whole systems’.

For our understanding of what is participatory action research – and a commentary on it

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We saw this as assisting and resourcing people:

  • to identify their deeper purposes,
  • and who therefore should be involved and how;
  • as well as incorporating current and past contexts,
  • identifying the pressing key and subsequent questions and how to ask them;
  • offering ideas for the best methods and techniques for people’s purposes,
  • how to provide for an effective voice by all those taking part,
  • how to make best sense of the material while keeping a spirit of critical scepticism,
  • how to keep good records in order to write-up and share,
  • and how to trial actions within the time available, providing for enough feedback loops and further implementation to enable unfolding reliable understandings and results.

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We ran up to 40 workshops a year, taught in tertiary education courses, and attended and presented at annual conferences. Our most popular workshop topics included:

  • ‘Participatory action research’
  • ‘Introduction to evaluation’
  • ‘Rethinking community needs assessments’
  • ‘Shifting the terrain from medical model to health promotion’
  • ‘Issues in disability research facilitation’
  • ‘Staff-consumer dialogue about consumer mental health experience’

We were also involved in organising the World Congresses of Action Research which came to Australia in September 2000 and again in 2010.

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We were one of Australia’s first registered publishers and distributors of Australian action research methodology books and papers prior to the advent of the online environment (see attached Book list).

We were among the first to stock and promote for example our NZ colleague Linda Tuihui-Smith’s Decolonising Methodologies, as well as all books written by Yoland Wadsworth. ARIA Inc. published the 1st editions of Everyday Evaluation on the Run and through its imprint Action Research Press, Building in Research and Evaluation: Human inquiry for living systems

cover of DO IT YOURSELF SOCIAL RESEARCH 2nd edition (1997)

Yoland Wadsworth’s Do It Yourself Social Research is one of the most remarkable products of Australian social science. Practical in its content, sophisticated in its ideas, the book shows a passion for making social science a tool of democracy. I know nothing else that is half as good. —RW Connell, Professor of Education, University of Sydney

…incredibly useful… —Elizabeth Reid, United Nations Development Programme, New York

No jargon, no mystification… not patronising. Experienced and new social researchers alike will certainly feel more secure and must do better research as a result of this publication.—Australian Journal of Social Issues

It raised my view of research from ‘something I have to do’ to ‘something I want to do’. —First year university student


cover of EVERYDAY EVALUATION ON THE RUN 2nd edition (1997)

Practical, useful counsel emanates throughout. Impressively grounded in real world experiences. —Michael Quinn Patton, author, Utilisation-Focused Evaluation

…contains a lot of commonsense down to earth ideas for evaluation. —James R. Sanders, The Evaluation Centre, Western Michigan University

Stimulating and well presented. —Elizabeth Sommerlad, Evaluation Development and Review Unit, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations



by Yoland Wadsworth (2010), Action Research Press & Allen & Unwin - now Routledge London

Launched at the 2010 World Congress of Participatory Action Research and Action Learning - this book has its own ARIA website:



ARIA has one more website, the result of a project to meet the requirements of the Will of our friend and longtime ARIA member, Cate Kyne (who died in 2009) to publish her writing and that of others:

The site is a beautiful (thanks Rachel) detailed account of a life of creativity devoted to the service of community development, social justice, vibrant peace and climate action.

This was Caty's teapot - a teapot being, as Michael Leunig can attest, the signifier of all things.  It also stars on the back cover of Yoland's building in research and evaluation for living systems book representing an oikos/home/world of 'all shapes' (cf. Wadsworth 2010 Appendix 3):


 teapot small

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There have been many networks of people initiated by ARIA and further afield:

  • those who were or are members of the Action Research Issues Association (ARIA) per se and who ran, worked in/  through, or around, or out of the Action Research Issues Centre;
  • those who were or are loosely connected as broader networks, such as the former Victoria University Action Research Network, the Victorian Friends of Participatory Action Research (FOPAR), and its subsequent Electronic Contact Group,  the Teachers of Participatory Action Research (TOPAR), and the state-wide network for Systemic•Participatory•Inquiry•Research•Action•Learning (SPIRAL)

Each of ARIA’s networks had a Membership Directory, a regular seminar program, and in FOPAR’s case, a journal.

Local or Statewide

FOPAR was a large Melbourne and regional network of Friends of Participatory Action Research - and our first and longest-lived network meeting for 15 years until it morphed into SPIRAL (see below). A notable memory was being requested to hand deliver one member’s copy to her new home when she became the Governor of the State of Victoria’s highly-qualified wife, starved of fellow researcher company!

TOPAR was a local network of Teachers of Participatory Action Research, many teaching on community development courses where Action Research was written in to the curriculum as the inquiry method or process of community development.

MERGe was a state-wide network titled the Melbourne Evaluation Research Group etc. It was a non-academic forum for practice-based researchers and evaluators of well-attended monthly seminars throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s it became part of the basis for the new AES (Australasian Evaluation Society) Victorian Branch when Richard (Dick) Elvin of AES and Yoland Wadsworth collaborated to achieve this.

RICH was a state-wide network of Researchers in Community Health in the early days of the national Community Health Program. It was funded as part of ARIC’s Victorian Government Social Justice Strategy grant.  Members met regularly and later looked to the Victorian Community Health Association, the Public Health Association, and the Health Issues Centre when these became better established.

SPIRAL For many years from around 2001, ARIA auspiced the state-wide Systemic• Participatory• Inquiry• Research• Action• Learning network. Jose Ramos created an electronic platform for it and co-convened with Yoland Wadsworth. A well-attended Research In Action Symposium was hosted by the Action Research Program at Swinburne in conjunction with ALARA in 2002.

This, like all ARIA networks, met regularly as a forum of speakers to discuss members work, had a membership directory for mutual contact, a regular e-newsletter, an annual program of seminars, workshops and dinner meetings. SPIRAL had around 300 members.


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ARIA is a reciprocal organisational member of the Action Learning Action Research Association (ALARA). See here for its history – and its local networks

One of ALARA's membership benefits is its journal. Copies are placed on open access after a year, here:

Read ALAR journal back copies

See here for other ALARA publications available on open access:

Read other ALARA publications


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ARIA is a Friend of Action Research Plus – ActionResearch+ is a US-based online platform of the monumental Sage Handbook of Action Research edited by Hilary Bradbury (previously with Peter Reason):

ARIA also has long-standing connections to the AR organisations and people associated with the numerous ALARA World Congresses - including CARN and its Journal and Jack Whitehead and his Journal in the UK, Participatory Research in Asia  PRIA and Rajesh Tandon in India, Bud Hall in Canada, Research Initiatives Bangladesh RIB and the legendary Cornell PARNET that built connections between the global north and south before we called it that and its inspiration Davydd Greenwood.

PRIA are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year -- see here founder Rajesh Tandon's story in delightful cartoon format - Episode 1. Then see Episode 2 for his collaboration with Canadian PAR old hand Bud Hall.

See about RIB for their history, approach and distinguished Board.

This is only a tiny glimpse of the extensive international AR/PAR network we have worked with over the past 30 or 40 years.


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Links & other written resources

An ARIA friend in the USA is Pat Maguire – a leader in the international feminist participatory action research world.
She has recently produced a terrific personal website rich with her published online writings and resources – a magnificent treasure trove. 
It can be found here:


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