Action-oriented research for social change

Methodology courses and philosophy of science
people balling their fists


This course focuses on doing research with which researchers not only aim to understand societal issues but also wish to contribute to social change. It introduces action-oriented research approaches, such as Participatory Action Research (PAR), transdisciplinary research, transformative research or engaged research. Many of these research approaches have a long history and have been applied in diverse geographic, cultural and political contexts.

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 such approaches 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.

Course information 

ECTS: 2,5 
Number of sessions: 6
Hours per session: 2,5 


Key Facts & Figures

Instruction language
Mode of instruction

What will you achieve?

  • Through participating in this course, you will understand and learn how to appraise a variety of action-oriented research approaches.
  • In this course you will learn how to apply elements of action-oriented research to your own PhD research.
  • Through participating in this course, you will learn how to construct a narrative about your perspective on the role of (your) research in societal transformation.

Start dates

Session 1
June 11 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 2
June 18 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 3
June 25 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 4
July 2 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 5
July 9 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 6
July 15 (Monday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Aims and working method

The course consists of a combination of (guest) lectures, interactive discussions, group and individual work – it will include inviting experts working with different action-oriented research approaches. Amongst others, it covers the following issues:

  • Overview of different action-oriented research approaches in theory and practice
  • Discussion of issues around participation, power differentials and knowledge integration
  • Discussion of the value of action-oriented research for developing scientific insights and for fostering social change
  • Reflection on how your PhD research could adopt a participatory approach

The course has one assignment designed to help you develop your own thinking around how your research connects to social change by writing up a personal explorative narrative. It also involves preparatory work (e.g. reading) between the sessions.

Entry level

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

Session descriptions

Session 1: Introduction to action-oriented research
Session 2: Diversity of action-oriented research approaches & role of the researcher
Session 3: Participatory Action Research & issues of power
Session 4: Transdisciplinary Research & issues of knowledge integration
Session 5: Participatory Evaluation & Monitoring & issues of participation
Session 6: Creating your own action-oriented PhD


  • Portrait of 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.


Facts & Figures

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • € 575,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information
Not applicable
Offered by
Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities
Course type
Instruction language
Mode of instruction
External link
Register here

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes