Lights, Camera – Action Research! A different approach to health transformation research

8 January 2021

The importance of adapting research ‘at the coalface’ with practitioners is a key approach in helping unroll digital health projects faster a new study has found from a University of Queensland Business School PhD scholar.

Funded by the Digital Health CRC, Natalie Smith is working with Queensland Health doctors, nurses and staff who help shape her research as it’s conducted to action agile results quicker for digital health transformations.

Natalie’s recent study, published in the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, makes useful recommendations for universities to look at new research funding and industry engagement in a post-COVID world using a model called ‘action research’.

Researcher, Natalie Smith

“Action research is a more active involvement and collaboration between researchers and practitioners, allowing you to shape your research study ‘at the coalface’ and adapting it to new information – so what you develop theoretically works in practice,” says Smith.

Smith says the action research model can remove barriers between participants and researchers, leveraging theory to solve problems in industry.

She cites the field of project management as an example. “A third of economic activity in Western nations is project- based – but debate rages about the extent to which projects deliver value or waste money,” she says.

Smith says that the action research model (used effectively by practitioners in health and education) could solve some of the intractable problems in assessing the effectiveness of project management.

Her paper is an ‘autoethnography’ – in which she uses her own PhD scholarly work as case study throughout.

“Action research is not the normal line of academic research processes,” Smith admits, adding that although her work was impacted by COVID-19, her experience also revealed some of the benefits of action research and its agileness in health system transformation.

For more information: Natalie Smith,; Emma Pryor, (07) 3346 4506,

Find out more about UQ Business School's Future of Health research hub