NEARI visit CARN Conference


Some NEARI members attended the CARN (Collaborative Action Research Network) conference this year. Here are their thoughts:

Jane O’Connell says:

I became aware of the CARN (Collaborative Action Research Network) Annual Conference about 3 years ago when browsing the CARN website ( for action research literature. It sounded like a highly progressive, international and inclusive conference which piqued me interest. I was unable to attend in 2014 and 2015, so I was determined to get there this year. I was delighted to have an abstract accepted and also have the opportunity to present my own work to date.

A three-day conference, CARN 2016 boasted a jam-packed schedule with 3 keynote speakers and 8 sessions each with 6 concurrent events from presentations to symposia to workshops. There was also a pre-conference workshop hosted by ARNA & CARN the day prior to the commencement of the conference entitled

I attended the pre-conference workshop which was a great opportunity to learn about trust in action research. Alan Feldman presented virtually and group discussion was mediated by Joe Shosh and Lonnie Rowell locally. The content and discussion was rich and thought-provoking, and I was glad I had the opportunity to attend.

The conference proper kicked off the next day at noon, which thoughtfully considered anyone travelling that day. The first keynote speaker Professor Lin Norton posed some very questions and I enjoyed the discussion about AR from the perspective of the field of psychology. Indeed, the conference offered attendees multiple opportunities to learn about AR practice in various fields such as psychology, health, education etc.

One of the main challenges of the three days was trying to choose what presentation or talk or workshop to attend! I enjoyed catching up on the work of fellow NEARI members such as Dr. Máirín Glenn’s Pecha Kucha presentation called ‘Warning: Action Research may be for life- not just a project’ where Máirín passionately shared how action research is actually a way of life. Máirín also teamed up with Dr. Caitríona McDonagh who together conducted a symposium which reflected on the dialectical relationship that exists between theory and practice. Dr. Josephine Bleach and Dr. Pip Ferguson also gave a presentation which examined the importance of networks and introduced the work of NEARI to the wider audience. My own presentation examined the conference theme- the integration of the personal and political in professional practice in relation to my own school-based action research project. Overall there was a strong representation from NEARI at the conference and all presentations were received very well.

The CARN Conference boasted a very international line-up and I thoroughly enjoyed presentations by the Japanese delegation from the Japanese Association of Action Research which focussed on the use of rich picture as a catalyst for discussion. Another Japanese representative Ms. Tamiko Kondo, PhD student at York St. John University shared details of her action research project working with Japanese teachers of English in Japan.

Finally, presentations by leading members of CARN were of the highest standard and certainly offered me direction for reading and writing. Dr. Mary McAteer and Professor Lesley Wood reported on a school-based participatory action research project in South Africa, Dr. Tina Cook examined the politics and practice of disruption in conduction focus groups, and Dr. Ruth Balough and Dr. Carol Munn-Giddings led a workshop on how to get published in the CARN Bulletin and the Educational Action Research Journal. As an early stage researcher, I found all these presentations very informative, constructive and inspiring.

The numerous rounds of teas, coffees and pastries between sessions enabled attendees to mingle and chat informally which was very enjoyable. The operation of ‘Home Groups’ where attendees met up in assigned groups to discuss any issues, or indeed conference content, was a great idea and provided further opportunity for attendees to get to know one another in a small group. All social activities such as the Evening Meal on Friday and the Gala Dinner on Saturday were very enjoyable and one certainly was not left hungry! Or thirsty!

All in all, a very well organised conference with fantastic, thought-provoking and inspiring content, a very warm atmosphere conducive to enjoying many discussions and making new acquaintances and friends in the field. I would definitely attend again in the future!




Pip Bruce Ferguson says:

I am grateful to NEARI member Josephine Bleach for alerting us all via the NEARI Google list,
to this conference to be held in Lincoln, UK. With the support of my boss Mark Glynn, I was
able to attend, and to do two presentations, one on the importance of networks in action research, with Josephine.
I had long known of the Collaborative Action Research Network and indeed, Bridget Somekh,
one of the founders of that network who is currently working in New Zealand, helped a group
of academics to start an NZCARN. I presented at one of their early events.
Last year, when I was at the ALARA World Congress in Pretoria, South Africa, Jack Whitehead had helped to organise a Skype hook-up in one of his students’ presentation, which I attended at that conference. We talked with Prof. Lonnie Rowell, a US chap very involved with CARN, and it was a delight to meet him in the flesh and to hear of his Network, the Action  Research Network of the Americas, Which plans to run a big conference in conjunction with CARN in Cartagena, Colombia, next year. There were two other people I knew from the ALARA World Congress there – Lesley Wood and Bruce Damons who are both South Africans. Networks are a great way to make new friends, some of whom remain friends for life.
Jack Whitehead and Marie Huxtable were also at CARN. I Skype regularly with them so it was
great to catch up face to face again, despite my two presentations clashing on the timetable
with theirs (and, indeed, with most of the other NEARI members there). I was, however, able to get to Jane O’Connell’s lovely sharing of her work in promoting the Irish language. Well done on all counts, Jane! I know it’s really hard to get to conferences, especially in a different country, when you have a very young child.
So, for me, despite the frustration of not being able to get to some sessions I’d have liked to,
and the challenges of getting to and from Lincoln by public transport, I was thoroughly pleased to have gone. Links are being built between NEARI and CARN and I hope these result in many more fruitful examples of sharing.
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Caitríona McDonagh says:

How can NEARI help us to step up to a global challenge of ‘Integrating the personal and political in professional practice’ (CARN2016)?

You will have seen form your NEARI group emails that some members recently considered this challenge when presenting their work and ideas at the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) Conference in Lincoln in November 2016. CARN is an international network (see committed to ‘supporting and improving the quality of professional practice, through systematic, critical, creative inquiry into the goals, processes and contexts of professional work’.

In a seminar, Máirín Glenn and Caitriona McDonagh addressed the personal and political challenges of their practice, as both teachers and teacher educators of students up to Masters level, with the following questions: How strong is the connection between theory and practice in your context? In this current climate of accountability is there room for an effective dialectic relationship between theory and practice? How does practice influence education theory today? Let’s see what the NEARI members said about these questions during their presentations, symposia, seminars, PechaKucha, posters and workshops.


How strong is the connection between theory and practice in your context?

Máirín Glenn initially felt that theory had little relevance in her day to day work as a teacher and School Head. Jack Whitehead (University of Cumbria) showed how certain research methodologies can change this as he explained ‘How am I integrating the personal and political in improving professional practice with collaborative action research?’  Together with Marie Huxtable, he held a workshop where participants worked together to develop their understanding and practice of Living Educational Theory research, to help bridge the theory/practice divide.


In this current climate of accountability is there room for an effective dialectic relationship between theory and practice? Jane O’Connell (Trinity College School of Education) spoke of the dilemmas of ‘Integrating the Personal and Political in Professional Practice’ in a school-based action research project engaging the three key educational stakeholders – students, parents and teachers – with the Irish Language. Caitriona McDonagh cited the NEARI video of Kevin XXX as someone working within a climate of accountable towards a professional teaching qualification. He tells how he gained new understandings of theory and practice through a self-study research approach. Catriona was also investigating how do I supporting a dialectic relationship between theory and practice in my role as a teacher educator (see video).

How does practice influence education theory today? Mairin Glenn warned, in her PechaKucha, how, for her, ‘Action Research was for life ¬ not just a project.’ In her case, it encouraged her to initiate a network to support the ongoing professional curiosity of researchers by initiating NEARI.  In a reflective piece, Pip Bruce Ferguson  (Dublin City University) considered a lifetime in action research titled ‘Living, learning, leading.’  Together with Pip, Josephine Bleach (National College of Ireland) explained the importance of networks, such as NEARI, and spoke about using Community Action Research to Navigate Local, National and International Networks.

Over to you

In NEARI we have a minimal formal organisation, yet we are guided by our values. We rely on our members to actively provide the basis for the network to function. So I would now like to open the same questions to you.

I would love to hear how you would answer those questions, as you reflect on your own setting and research.



Máirín Glenn says:

My first visit to CARN for over ten years was a memorable and enjoyable experience.

It was memorable because I did my second PechaKucha ever – having decided after my first one some weeks ago that I could never do another, because it was so nerve-wrecking! I did  manage to do it at CARN, but I do think that that was probably my last one.

It was enjoyable because it was so nice to meet the CARN and ARNA people, who until now were just names of people about whom we have read. It was also lovely to meet new people who are passionate about action research. There was a warm and welcoming atmosphere at the conference and energy levels were fuelled by endless supplies of caffeine and treats.

Presentations were held concurrently and it was very difficult to decide which ones to choose. I enjoyed all the events I attended, but it was disappointing to have to miss what I suspect were some great inputs from other people. I loved Lin Norton’s keynote where she inviteded us to ask some difficult questions of ourselves. Lonnie Rowell and Joe Shosh gave an an interesting overview of the newly published International Handbook of Action Research (Palgrave 2016). I also attended the inspirational Jack Whitehead discussion with Marie Huxtable as we developed our understanding and practice of Living Educational Theory research. Tina Cook gave her audience some great insights into  focus groups. Jane O’Connell reminded us of her fabulous work engaging students and parents with the Irish Language (there is a little clip of her presentation below). Jill Wickham’s presentation on using an ‘Empathic Approach Using Films of Service Users to Facilitate Deep Learning Physiotherapy students’ tugged at everyone’s heartstrings. Bruce Damons brought his audience on a trip to South Africa and gave us some amazing (and humorous) insights into his project on supporting and sustaining community volunteerism in his community school. My final workshop was with Mary McAteer who, despite having a leg injury, managed to give a hugely informative presentation on her experiences of engaging with ‘Quality in Action Research’.

As a NEARI member, it was energising  to be able to establish strong links between our network at NEARI and our colleagues at CARN.


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