Introduction to action-oriented research for social change

Methodology courses and philosophy of science

Course information

ECTS: 2.5
Number of sessions: 4
Hours per session: 3
Course fee:

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • €195,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information


Telephone: +31 (0)10 4082607 (Graduate School)

In the academic year 2021-2022 this course will take place online.

Session 1
May 17 (Tuesday) 2022

Session 2
May 24 (Tuesday) 2022

Session 3
May 31 (Tuesday) 2022

Session 4
June 7 (Tuesday) 2022


This workshop introduces action-oriented research approaches, such as Participatory Action Research (PAR), transdisciplinary research or transformative research. These are research approaches with which researchers not only aim to understand societal issues but also wish to contribute to social change. Such research approaches have a long history and have been applied in the global South (developing countries) and also have become relevant and useful for the global North.

Action-oriented research studies are participatory in their approach, i.e. they are designed and conducted in close collaboration with, or with participation from, participants of the research population and other relevant societal stakeholders. Simultaneously, they allow an in-depth understanding of the societal context as well as of the persistency of the problems through being closely involved in addressing these.

Often the aim of these studies is to rethink and reinterpret complex issues, synthesize different types of knowledge, and collectively develop new hypotheses and solutions. Researchers that use this approach aim their research questions and methodology to remain attuned to the real situation and experience of the research population, thereby providing points for further action.

Aims and working method

The workshop consists of a combination of presentations, interactive discussions and case-based learning. Amongst others, it covers the following issues:

  • Overview of different action-oriented research approaches
  • Discussion of degrees of participation in different parts of the research cycle
  • Relevance of action-oriented research for developing scientific insights and knowledge
  • Several examples of action-oriented research in practice
  • Reflection on how your PhD research could adopt a participatory approach
  • Future developments and challenges

Learning objectives

After completing the workshop, participants will:

  • Understand the principles of action-oriented research for social change
  • Understand why and for which research purposes action-oriented research is useful
  • Have a solid idea of the various ways in which action-oriented research may be conducted
  • Have reflected whether action-oriented research could possibly be adopted in their own PhD research, and if so, where in the research cycle

Required skills

This workshop is designed for those with no or limited experience with action-oriented research.

About the instructor

Julia Wittmayer

Dr. Julia Wittmayer is a sustainability transitions scholar with a background in social and cultural anthropology. She works as Assistant Professor at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) and as senior researcher at DRIFT, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Starting from the assumption that processes of societal change are continuous and ongoing processes of searching and learning from and with another, one of her foci is on creating spaces for collaboration, learning and exchange between policy, science and society. Throughout the last decade, Julia has developed and implemented many collaborative research formats that are generative of critical knowledge and action regarding societal challenges in urban areas and on local scale or within the context of energy system change. Using such research formats, amongst others, she investigates the changing roles and relations of actors (i.e. social innovation) and their meaning-making in sustainability transitions. Next to being involved in or leading a variety of research projects, Julia provides policy advice to local and national government bodies across Europe.