Communities of Practice and Participatory Action Research: The Formation of a Synergy for the Development of Museum Programmes for Early Childhood

Feb. 25, 2013

Source: Educational Action Research, Volume 21, No. 1, p. 4-27. (2013)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Action research and communities of practice are working frameworks increasingly used in educational research to indicate the participants’ efforts to negotiate knowledge, improve situations and find effective solutions to issues and problems.
The purpose of this study was to integrate the ideas of community of practice and participatory action research.
This integration formed by the synergy between a natural history museum and a university department of pre-school education, which undertook participatory action research aimed at the creation of innovative museum programmes for young children.

The collaboration between the education team at the Natural History Museum of Crete, which belongs to the University of Crete, and the Department of Pre-school Education from the same university formed in spring 2010.
The purpose of this collaboration was to develop a new and inclusive museum practice for children of pre-school age.
The article describes the synergy between museum educators and academic researchers.


The study showed that the community of practice formed by the museum’s educational team had benefited greatly from a participatory research project organised in collaboration with academic researchers.
Data analysis and the evaluation of the research process show that the community was able to bring its situated knowledge into question and interrogate propositional knowledge by means of re-evaluating the learning targets, the nature of children’s activity, the nature of interaction between adults and learners, and the nature of resources used in existing and newly designed programmes offered to young children.

Participatory action research enabled the community to monitor the implementation of theory with scientific rigour and formulate a new ‘knowledge strategy’, which in theoretical terms will guide future developments.
Researchers helped the team devise the most suitable tools, collect appropriate data, and analyse and turn the findings into practice again.

In addition, action research enabled the community to relate the context of its work to broader traditions and debates.
Through the participation of external specialists, the community avoided developing a self-referential and context-bound position which could have been highly likely due to the particular characteristics that the museum had as a living organisation.
At the same time the community interrogated the different propositional knowledge sets that were applied to the design and implementation of programmes, testing the educational theories in the specific conditions of the museum.
This enabled the community to expand and enrich its domain of knowledge and experience in education.

Action research also helped the museum community realise its value.
Dealing with the schools, meeting a specialist professor and looking at different educational theories helped the community to start realising its value and the important role it was already playing in the wider educational community.
It also prompted the community to investigate further the museum’s potential for becoming a leading agent of educational change.
In addition, it enabled the community to realise the importance that nonformal education has in the education of young children and to increase quality control of the educational services of the museum.


The first conclusion the authors can draw from this study is that a community of practice can not only interrogate and transform its situated knowledge but also move beyond such specifics and deal with the generalities of propositional knowledge.
Action research is considered to be a powerful instrument of professional development.
It could become part of the community’s strategic plans and sustain the community’s organic growth.
It provides a community of practice with the conditions within which reconceptualising can take place: it enables educators to distance themselves from their practice and critically reflect on it so that theory and practice.

The authors conclude that both communities of educational practice and participatory action research can help participants develop the shared vision that is necessary for the development of a rigorous and better practice.

Updated: Dec. 29, 2014