Silvia Cont, Dr Karen Boardman  

When I first heard about the ‘Research Circle’ approach, I had no idea what it was.

I had not encountered these terms combined before beginning my Research Assistant (RA) post here at Edge Hill University. When I asked Dr Karen Boardman for information about the post, she explained that the Research Circle (RC) projects would be focused on language and communication, SEND and outdoor learning. I understood the range of topics researched but not how the methodology or approach of RC worked.

During my first day as a RA, Karen handed me a box full of questionnaires and focus group workshop qualitative data to be sorted, transcribed, and coded, highlighting that it “would be very messy data”. This was because everyone in the RC had their part to play and their own voices heard about their own EYE setting and considering the needs, wishes and agency of the children, practitioners, families, and communities. I, therefore, realised this was a different research approach.

The origins of the ‘Research Circle’ approach

Karen shared a couple of initial resources on RC (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller, 2014; Persson, 2009) that, combined with data processing and a literature review on the approach, which were useful steps to familiarise with the Department of EYE’s strategy for RCs. I understood that the RC originated in Sweden and was initially employed as a model with union representatives (Härnsten, 1994). Over time the application fields ranged from health (Löfqvist et al., 2019) to education research (Poulsen et al., 2017).

RC as an approach is a ‘mediating arena’ (Persson, 2009, p. 10) and a ‘negotiable space’ (McIntyre, 2008, p. 215) between the University and school/pre-school worlds guided by principles of democratisation and empowerment of participants. Therefore, RC in EYE is ‘doing research with each other not for or on others’ (Holmstrand et al., 2017, p. 3), meaning that academics’, educators’ and families’ practice-based knowledge are considered equals in contributing to the creation of new knowledge on an agreed research topic bridging the gap between the two worlds.

There are so many benefits to employing the RC approach in this way to ensure that our EHU vision for social justice remains at the heart of everything we do with our school partners, families, and communities:

  • Firstly, school partners, families, and communities are actively involved in selecting and defining the topic they are interested in researching with the collaboration of academics. This active involvement is particularly relevant for pupils’ development as influenced by factors such as low socioeconomic status, educational inequalities (Avineri et al., 2015) and post-pandemic diminished socialisation and experiences post-Covid-19 pandemic (Clarke et al., 2022).
  • Secondly, the RC collaboration happens democratically and in a long-lasting form through regular RC meetings (Persson, 2009) where all the parties can contribute, offering their professional, personal and academic knowledge to the research project planning and execution.
  • Lastly, the RC ‘new knowledge’ outcome (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller, 2014, p. 2) is returned to all stakeholders, including parents, families and communities through accessible and easy-to-understand formats (e.g., a report for the school and a leaflet for the parents).

We are very passionate about our RC in the Department and our presentations at ACRE were very well received. If you would like further information, please do get in touch with Dr Karen Boardman

Silvia Cont is a Research Assistant in the Department for Early Years Education, Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.

Dr Karen Boardman is the Head of Department for Early Years Education in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


Avineri, N., Johnson, E., Brice‐Heath, S., McCarty, T., Ochs, E., Kremer‐Sadlik, T., Blum, S., Zentella, A. C., Rosa, J., & Flores, N. (2015). Invited forum: Bridging the “language gap”. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 25(1), 66-86.

Clarke, V., Lvnch, P., & Bradshaw, P. (2022). Child speech delays increase following lockdowns.

Coghlan, D., & Brydon-Miller, M. (2014). Research Circles. In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Härnsten, G. (1994). The Research Circle – Building Knowledge on Equal Terms.

Holmstrand, L., Härnsten, G., & Lowstedt, J. (2017). The Research Circle Approach: A Democratic Form for Collaborative Research in Organizations. In A. Shani, Mohrman, S., Pasmore, W., Stymne, B., & Adler, N. (Ed.), Handbook of Collaborative Management Research. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Löfqvist, C., Månsson Lexell, E., Nilsson, M. H., & Iwarsson, S. (2019). Exploration of the Research Circle Methodology for User Involvement in Research on Home and Health Dynamics in Old Age. Journal of Housing For the Elderly, 33(2), 85-102.

McIntyre, J. (2008). Professional knowledge formation and organisational capacity-building in ACE: lessons from the Victorian Research Circles. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 48(2), 213-236.

Persson, S. (2009). Research Circles – A Guidebook. Centre for Diversity in Education, R&D.

Poulsen, B. K., Skovhus, R. B., & Thomsen, R. (2017). Widening Opportunities for Career Guidance

Research Circles and Social Justice. In T. Hooley, R. G. Sultana, & R. Thomsen (Eds.), Career Guidance for Social Justice: Contesting  Neoliberalism (pp. 211-225). Routledge.

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