This article explores the characteristics of systemic action research. It looks at the conceptual underpinnings of systemic action research and explores some of the ways in which it differs from (builds on) other forms of action research. It then explores some of the issues and dilemmas faced by systemic action researchers. Systemic forms of action research are part of the wider family of action research and draw on other action research approaches in both theory and practise. SAR can be seen as a meta-learning architecture comprising of many strands, which interlock with each other. Some elements of inquiry may look similar to other forms of action research, but the focus of the inquiry is often different because SAR is rooted in a different set of assumptions; firstly that sustainable change is depend on system realignment not only problems solving (or even double loop challenges to underlying assumptions); secondly that participation flows not only from a deep belief that people who are stakeholders should be involved, but that stakeholders right across the system (often with very diverse perspectives) have to be involved in order to get sustainable solutions to entrenched problems; and that a flexible and emergent learning architecture has to be built to ‘hold’ this diversity.
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