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Research &


For research and analysis to be useful, it needs to be framed and delivered in ways that feel relevant and useful. Everything we do is underpinned by action research principles. We take a highly collaborative approach and place a premium on bespoke design because we believe it leads to more meaningful change.

We work as a team, exploring literature, working on reviews and writing reports. We build in peer review, and develop our thinking and analysis collectively, transferring and sharing insight between practitioners and researchers.


One size does not fit all.


All of our research

is bespoke and




Action research: Approach and process - Ben Cairns


Talk to the team


What challenges are you facing? We may be able to share relevant research, insights or practice experience.

+44 (0)20 7921 2940

Being a ‘critical friend’ means three things



It means listening to people. Most of the organisations that we work with struggle to set aside time for any kind of reflection. Time is a precious commodity, so it needs to be used well and carefully. That means giving people the opportunity to say what is on their mind, and letting them lead the conversation.



It means responding and being more than a sponge that just soaks up people’s worries. Responding to the things that people worry about, to their fears and concerns, but also to their hopes and aspirations. And responding in a way that both reassures people and helps them see how things might be different or better. One of our mantras is ‘stand in the other place’. In other words, look at problems from different angles, different perspectives. If you’re a manager, imagine how trustees might see the organisation and what might be worrying them.


If you are a support worker, think yourself into the shoes of a client and see what the organisation looks like from there. If you’re a funder, think about what it feels like to be an anxious applicant. Part of our offer to organisations is helping them to assemble a multi-dimensional picture of themselves. You can’t do this with a toolkit, or a day’s training. It requires patience and engagement; it comes through forging relationships. Above all, it involves care and attention to detail.



It means helping people find their own solutions to their own problems and not ever just imposing something from outside. If solutions are bespoke, they are more likely to fit. Our roots – as staff, trustees and associates – are in practice. We all know what life is like in voluntary organisations – we’ve set them up, closed them down, funded and merged them, managed and used them. We have learned that, for an outsider to be useful and helpful, a bit of them has to become an insider, has to work alongside organisations, develop a relationship, stretch the brief, show that they care. That engagement provides the platform for the ‘critical’ bit of the ‘critical friend’.

Cairns, B., Harris, M. and Carroll, M. (2007) ‘Action research: professional researchers in the community’ in Eds. Cnaan, R. and Milofsky, C. (2007) Handbook of Community Movements and Local Organisations, Springer US

Burns, D. (2007) Systemic action research: a strategy for whole systems change, Bristol: Policy Press 

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