Research methodology and innovation: action research

‘action research is a participatory, democratic process 

concerned with developing practical knowing 

in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes, 

grounded in a participatory worldview’[1]

Research within the theatre/performing arts has taken shape in two main branches so far: one of them being Theatre History that, processing documentation of companies, actors, institutions, performances, aims at reconstructing the past of the theatre arts; the other one, mostly named as Theatre Studies (or Theatre Aesthetics) approaches performing arts and all its phenomena through semantic and aesthetic-philosophical considerations producing a vast discourse of theory formation. Both methods regard performing arts as their object, without considerable interaction with the art form per se, and this way create a distance between performing arts and theory formation, which has often been questioned and criticised not only by theatre artists, but from inside the theory formation discourse as well:

Fig. 1. Classical model: theory reflecting on practice (by the author)

The model of one-way communication between performing arts and theory formation 

Action-research, on the other hand, offers a dialogical scheme between arts and theory formation that creates a common narrative of the fields and the participants; it empowers artists to become researchers, i.e. to document and reflect on their own creational work, and introduces researchers into the practical knowledge of artistic process. Throughout this method, artists, teachers and researchers work together on documentation of the practical dimensions of teaching and the artistic process, as well as on theory formation.

Seen from the view-point of applying action research in artistic and educational activities, practice and theory, empirical and theoretical considerations merge into an interwoven discourse:

Fig. 2. Action research model: practice and theory meeting in a joint narrative (by the author)

The model of responsive communication between performing arts and theory formation 

Introduction of action research: methodology and paradigm

Action research has its background in behavioural sciences emerging as a new ontology in research that merges qualitative and quantitative approaches into one, holistic methodology, throughout a systematic documentation of the practices; a continuous reflection and assessment of the process that involves all stakeholders in a participatory, democratic work flow, and through iterative tools assures quality, sustainability and continuous improvement for the organisations and projects.

Main characteristics of action research methodology according to Coghlan and Brannick, who extended the conception and tools towards organisational work, research work and teaching and learning processes, are:

  • research in action, rather than research about action: uses a scientific approach bringing all stakeholders of a project together and resolving issues together, through a cyclical four-step process: planning; taking action; evaluating the action; leading to further planning, and so on;
  • a collaborative democratic partnership: members of the system participate actively in the cyclical process; such participation contrasts with traditional research where members of the system are subjects or objects of the study;
  • concurrent with action: the goal is to make the action/practice more effective, while simultaneously building up a body of scientific knowledge;
  • a sequence of events and approaches to problem-solving: it comprises iterative cycles of gathering data, feeding it back to those concerned, analysing the data, planning action, taking action and evaluating, leading to further data gathering and so on.[2]

According to the last forty years of findings within this research framework, action research as a paradigm can be summarised within ten main empirical, theoretical and ethical characteristics, which assure the democratic partnership among stakeholders, the communication flow and data collection, the documentation and knowledge creation and also the assessment and quality of this method:

  1. Action researchers take action: they are not merely observing something happening; they are actively working at making it happen.
  2. Action research always involves two goals: solve a problem and contribute to science.
  3. Action research is interactive: it requires cooperation among team members and continuous adjustment to new information and new events.
  4. Action research aims at developing holistic understanding during a project and recognising complexity.
  5. Action research is fundamentally about change: applicable to the understanding, planning and implementation of change in the team of participants.
  6. Action research requires an understanding of the ethical framework, which ensures an authentic and responsive relationship between the team members.
  7. Action research can include all types of data gathering methods: qualitative and quantitative tools, such as interviews and surveys, provided the planning and use of these tools be well thought out.
  8. Action research requires a breadth of pre-understanding of the structure and dynamics of operating systems and the theoretical underpinnings of the organisations involved.
  9. Action research should be conducted in real time, though retrospective action research is also acceptable.
  10. Action research should not be judged by the criteria of positivist science, but rather within the criteria of its own terms: the inquiry process and the implementation process.[3]

Action research within the cluster of Performing Arts, Entrepreneurship and Theory Formation

An innovative process, approach that takes the shape of the new research model:

Fig. 3. Action research model (by the author)

Continuous flow of information, documentation and reflection among performing arts, entrepreneurship and theory formation

The model is proposing:

  1. innovative curricula within three thematic clusters:
  1. cross-cultural actor training
  2. cultural/artistic entrepreneurship
  3. theory formation of the two above
  1. gathering all research material, editing and publishing as open-access material on the site of the project: blog, vlog, rehearsal diaries, videos, pictures, visual essays, interviews, case studies, surveys.
  2. conceiving, editing and publishing as open-access material an e-book on Actor Training in the Globalised World and an ediactional toolkit on Cultural and Artistic Entrepreneurship.

Adopting the methodology and paradigm of the action research to the innovation process of compiling a new learning and teaching framework and new curricula will result in the repeating of four research cycles.

The four steps of a research cycle are:

  1. diagnosing: case study and naming the issues for the next step
  2. planning: defining the three thematic clusters and the subjects included into them by taking account of the existing curricula. Identifying the target of the project: sustainable collaborations among partner organisations, working out new curricula and assuring documentation and output of the results – a book on Actors Training in the Globalised World and a toolkit for Cultural and Artistic Entrepreneurship;
  3. taking action: research, documentation, regular residencies and guest teachings among partner organisations and symposia and workshops, also

plenary meetings and exchange for representatives of partner organisations;

  1. evaluating the action: after each exchange programme, plenary meeting and research period assuring a participatory process in which all stakeholders reflect on the effectuated working process and outcome; also open-access publication of all the research material on the website of the project;

Next cycle: diagnosing and further planning after each event, research period and exchange programme, and also evaluation of the process; a cyclical return to the aims and targets, reaching to a common agreement of further planning and action taking for the next research period, informed by the evaluation of the recent cycle.

The three thematic clusters and subjects dealt with in the ACTA-research model


  1. cross-cultural actor training based on:

Movement Psychology

Contemporary Method Acting

English as a lingua franca in a multilingual environment;

  1. entrepreneurial skills of actors to become transnational cultural operators: project devising

project planning

project devising

project implementation/management

cultural entrepreneurship      

business and financial studies for cultural and artistic purposes;

  1. theory formation of a) + b):

neuroscientific research on the actor’s work

anthropology of cross-cultural encounters

post-colonialist studies

post-migrant theatre

philosophy of otherness

phenomenology of body and movement/dance, philosophy of education

cross-sectoral approaches

society, culture, arts and business

alternative economies and alternative futures in a knowledge-based society.

Partner organisations commit themselves to use and maintain the standards of the action research methodology, the professional, ethical and financial responsibilities of the model, and the assurance of disseminating the methods and tools of the research model among students, teachers, researchers and coaches in partner organisations.

Rita Sebestyén

associate researcher

[1] Peter Reason and HIlary Bradbury, Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, SAGE Publications, London, 2001. 1

[2] David Coghlan and Theresa Brannick, Doing Action Research in Your Organisation, SAGE Publications, London, 2001. 1-6

[3] The research paradigm is concluded from the following works: Reason-Bradbury; Coghlan-Brannick; and Shani, A. B., & Pasmore, W. A. (1985). Organizational Inquiry: towards a new model of the action research process.

Case study

Employability and creative entrepreneurship within the performing arts in the EU: new challenges calling for new skills

Theatres, galleries and universities across

Europe are full of artists making work riffing

on the themes of money and finance, bringing

important ideas to life.[1]


Redefining the parameters of a traditional economic system, 

a knowledge-based economy emphasizes 

the relevance of innovation

as a key feature to respond to future challenges.[2]

Executive summary

An inventive approach and new tools in the education within performing arts are necessary in order to meet the imperative of preparing young actors for the new demands of a globalised world. This case study offers an overview on the current challenges of the cultural sector, more closely, performing arts, in which artists, professionals, institutions and organisations have to face recent socio-economic changes, respond to it in a flexible and sustainable way, and the modes performing arts and artistic organisations have evolved lately. The study also sums up the possibilities of employment within the sector, given the new market conditions and the mutual impact of arts/culture and economy. Transversal skills for actors training in a globalised world: cross-cultural, entrepreneurial and cross-sectoral insight and knowledge are vital elements of the proposed new curriculum.

Performing arts and new challenges of the recent socio-economic environment in the EU

Economically speaking, and seen from a global perspective, the discourse on performing arts in the new financial-industrial environment has started in the mid-sixties with a major and highly influential study by Baumol and Bowen[3], which pointed out the importance of nonmaterial values: intellectual, emotional and aesthetic satisfaction, in highly industrialised societies. Less than a quarter century later, with the collapse of Eastern-European regimes and the expansion of capitalism and the free market towards the East, a community of 28 states are confronted with the global market in the European Union: due to overall tendencies, not only public service and care, but also arts and culture have had to obey to market laws.[4]

Super-diversity and cross-border influences have become the major indicative of newly shaped multicultural landscapes in the EU, characterised by highly increasing migration, and also the multiplication of religions, lifestyles and subcultures that lead to cultural segmentation and fragmentation. In such socio-economic climate neither history nor the concept of national state hold together communities or shape cultural identities. Cross-border, regional interactions, social bonding and intercultural encounters, resulting in participation processes of hybrid identities, mixed cultures have emerged instead of monolithic cultures.[5]

Performing arts responding, reflecting, and also conjuring up such temporary communities is not only the consequence and outcome of this major socio-economic transition but it also has the potential to emerge as a sensitive marker and an active agent to it.

Youth employability and employability in the cultural sector across the EU

Since mutual inspiration and impact between the academic, cultural and business sectors is one of the most significant targets of the new curricula created, piloted and introduced throughout the innovative ACTA-framework of this Knowledge Alliance, both general trends of youth employability, and employability in the cultural sector in the EU are major indicatives from the point of view of the process.

According to Europe 2020 headline target, employment rates should grow to 75% for men and women aged 20-64, with a special focus on youth employment.[6]

As shown in the Joint Employment Report 2015, Council of the European Union, within a slightly fluctuating trend throughout the last decade, general unemployment in the EU-countries sums up to 24,6 million unemployed in September 2014.

Youth unemployment rates have been above the average unemployment rate throughout the last years, and showed a more sensitive response to the business cycle, being prone to long-term unemployment[7], and thus became an important target group for acquiring special skills, fostering higher international mobility and cross-sectoral endeavours within the EU.

Fig: Development of unemployment rates between 2004 and 2013 in the EU-28 (annual data), total, youth, older workers, low-skilled and women (Source: Eurostat LFS)[8]

Youth unemployment rates within different EU-countries vary largely in the last two years, and show a vide dispersion among the states, that is mirrored in the countries selected for this Knowledge Alliance: with Malta and Denmark representing the least affected areas, the UK being slightly more periled by youth unemployment, Lithuania showing an emerging trend and Romania and Poland falling into the endangered group:

Fig: Youth unemployment rates – 1st semester 2014, 1st semesters 2012-13 and 1st semesters 2013-14 by country (age group 15-24) (Source: Eurostat, LFS; data seasonally adjusted (DG EMPL calculations); sorted by level at the first half of 2014)[9]

Labour mobility, under these circumstances, is a vital point to even labour market demands and flatten out youth unemployment within the EU. However, research shows that in spite of willingness of the EU economically active population to work in another EU country, until 2013, only 3.3% of them actually moved into another member state.[10]

In order to meet Europe 2020 target, one considerable factor is fostering and encouraging mobility in order to equilibrate the cross-country differences. Youth mobility, especially in the cultural and artistic field is most likely to be achieved if throughout the educational years cross-cultural projects, learning and teaching programmes are implemented through transnational schemes, offering insight into different cultures, societies, economical environment and attracting the youth with joint educational curricula.

Market demands, SMEs (small- and middle-sized enterprises), self-employment, and precariousness in the cultural and artistic sector

Atypical employment, mostly self-employment – often so-called borderline self-employment options, when the artist is contracted with one or more institutions in a less established payment, social- and health security framework, – and creating SMEs, have become a prevalent answer to swift changes in the increasingly market-oriented societies in the cultural and artistic sector[11], especially in the past twenty years.

Entrepreneurship, in the context of employment policies, should result in growing businesses, creating more employment and generating profit[12]. According to surveys, between 2002 and 2010, SMEs created the 85% of new jobs in the EU[13], while the artistic sector, especially performing arts, still struggles with the growing demand of being measured by profit-oriented economic standards: ‘Alongside data about easily quantifiable (and traditionally measured) aspects such as attendance, ticket sales, number of productions etc., the sector is now expected to provide figures about job creation, market development and competitiveness.’[14] Values such as social and environmental sustainability, innovation and creativity, activities that bridge the sector gaps between the cultural and business sectors, show that cultural industries and individual self-employed artists are a valuable part of the sustainable economy.[15]

Incentives for entrepreneurship and introducing flexicurity have been two recent steps taken by a number of EU countries in order to encourage entrepreneurial activity. The former has been developed in ten Member States (Malta, Croatia, Spain, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, France, Portugal, Ireland and Hungary)[16], the latter is an invention that emerged in the Netherlands and Denmark, and was presented at the EU Lisbon Summit in 2000, published in 2003 by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, and deals with the employment and social security of atypically employed.[17]

Besides state-subsidized incentives and security packages, theatre and performing arts have recently opened up to new genres, often incorporating social or entrepreneurial endeavours, and business and creative sectors have come to engage in cross-sectoral activities, resulting in beneficial outcomes in both segments.

Culture/performing arts and economy: mutual impact

Theatre, more broadly termed as performing arts as an ever-evolving art form, with a sensitive response to social and economic changes, has expanded its borders as a genre (performing arts, performance art, post-dramatic theatre, community arts, live art, relational art, etc.) and experienced an endless number of fusions with various art forms. In this development, theatre has also become an important factor in social activism and missions (activism, artivism), having also mutual impact and hybrid endeavours with the business sector.

Performing arts – due to its immediate and reciprocated relations with society, its adaptability to different stages, cultural landscapes and even languages – is a useful forerunner and vehicle for connecting different layers of societies, communities, cultures and sectors. Due to a survey conducted in 2007 by the European Commission (among the 27 EU Member States, according to the time the research was carried out), performing arts and visual arts placed in one category were regarded as major areas that define culture, by 39% of the inquired.[18]

Knowledge-based economy, on the other hand, is regarded as:

  1. a) An economic and institutional model providing incentives for the efficient creation, dissemination, and use of knowledge, in order to promote growth and increase social welfare;
  2. b) Highly educated and skilled workers able to create and use knowledge;
  3. c) An innovation system composed of companies, universities (and other research centres) and other organisations that are capable to transform knowledge into valuable products and services;
  4. d) A dynamic information-infrastructure capable of facilitating the effective communication, dissemination and processing of information.’[19]

Borders between the sectors have been influenced and diminished by macroeconomic forces; creativity and innovation are as much needed in the business sector as entrepreneurship skills in the cultural, artistic sector, the latter contributes with a raising impact on the European GDP: in 2011 cultural industries generated 4,4% of total European GDP[20], due to opportunities provided by the globalised markets, also contributing to urban development, boosting local economies, creating jobs and supporting other industries.

There is a need to be built alliances on the strong interrelation between cultural industries and the business sector, researching, piloting and disseminating learning and teaching material and curricula, based on mutual influence and inspiration between the two sectors. This way it could be ensured on the one hand the encouragement of the future performing artists to navigate their careers within the entrepreneurial opportunities, on the other hand, the raise of awareness and inclusion in the curricula the creative, innovative potential of performing arts as a tool that can be efficiently used in the business area.

New, transversal skills and competences are needed to be incorporated into education[21] in order to re-skill and up-skill future employees both within the performing arts and the knowledge-based economy, in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 programme.

Conclusion: importance of research and innovation in cross-sectoral encounters

‘Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.’[22]

Action-based research, based on both qualitative and quantitative methods, introduced in education would foster a new, iterative learning and teaching model. This method would ensure the acquisition of new, transversal skills, encouraging innovation and cross-sectoral pilot projects. In the future this should result in a general growth of employment in both – more and more interwoven – business and cultural sectors; fostering economically flourishing SMEs within the performing arts; and inspire innovation in business enterprises.

Rita Sebestyén

associate researcher

[1] Charlie Tims and Shelagh Wright, The Invisible Hand, Art in the transition into another economy. IETM. 2013. 8

[2] José Luis Rodríguez, Busines Modell Innovation for Cultural Organizations. IETM. 2

[3] William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen, Performing ArtsThe Economic Dilemma, 1966, New York: Twentieth Century Found.

[4] Eric Corjin, Shifting Scales and Sceneries – Art, Globalization and Territories, 2015, ietm: Fresh Perspectives. 7

[5] Ibid. 7-14

[6] Joint Employment Report 2015, Council of the European Union, as adopted by the EPSCO Council on 9 March 2015, 10 and 29

[7] For all data, trends and figures mentioned see: Ibid. 6-8

[8] Ibid. 6

[9] Trends, figures and statistics: ibid. 58

[10] Ibid. 15

[11] Judith Staines, From Pillar to Post, A comparative review of the frameworks for independent workers in the contemporary performing arts in Europe. IETM, 2004. 11

[12] Ibid. 10

[13] Joint Employment Report. 13

[14] Vassilka Shishkova, General Mapping of Types of Impact Research in the Performing Arts Sector (2005-15). IETM, 2015. 3

[15] From Pillar to Post. op. cit. 10

[16] Joint Employment Report. op.cit. 38

[17] From Pillar to Post. op. cit. 12

[18] Cultural Statistics. Eurostat, European Comission, 2011 Edition. 147

[19] Business Model Innovation for Cultural Organizations. op. cit. 2

[20] Ibid. 3

[21] Joint Employment Report. op. cit. 16-29

[22] From the defintion of innovation: accessed: 02.02.2016.

At CISPA, specialist practitioners, and internationally renowned guest teachers and researchers contribute to a contemporary, synergetic, research-based approach to a methodological actors’ training, which we call Contemporary Method Acting.
For the further development of and research into the methodological actors’ training, CISPA has established a research platform called METAXY, where we collaborate with practitioners, teachers, artists, theorists and institutions within the fields of arts, humanities and science. 

METAXY will be implemented through an innovative, educational Knowledge Alliance, the ACTA framework, where HEIs, NGOs and businesses collaborate

This Knowledge Alliance purposes to work out an innovative, flexible, socially and economically responsive educational framework aiming at 1. cross-cultural and entrepreneurial skills and competences of students in performing arts, 2. raising employability of young artists, 3. facilitating cooperation and knowledge exchange between arts, education and business.

Within the ACTA-framework four universities, two private, cultural enterprises and one NGO meet and exchange their knowledge.

Timeframe:  Jan 1 2017 – Jan 1 2020



  • Babeş-Bolyai University, Department of Hungarian Ethnology and Anthropology, RO
  • Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Department of Art History and Theory, LT
  • S.C. Civitas Consulting SRL, RO
  • The University of Łódź, Faculty of Philology, Department of Theatre and Drama, PL
  • Tranzit Foundation, RO
  • University of Malta, The Theatre Studies Department, MT
  • University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins, Drama Centre London, UK



  • Dr. Eszter Horváth (Hungary) – Ph.D. in contemporary continental philosophy, researcher in performative philosophies: philosophy of otherness, phenomenology of body and movement
  • Tristan Jacobs (South Africa) – actor, writer, researcher in contemporary performance
  • Tomaž Krpič (Slovenia) – sociologist, editor, researcher in social, cultural, historical and political aspects of the body
  • Maarja Mitt (Estonia) – actress, voice/acting teacher, researcher in the voice as a psycho-physical tool
  • Dr. Azadeh Sharifi (Germany) – writer, activist, Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, researcher in post-migrant theatre
  • Michael Wighton (Canada/Greece/Denmark) – actor, director, acting teacher, researcher in method-based actor training

Executive Summary

The ACTA-framework is proposing innovative curricula within three thematic clusters:

  1. cross-cultural actor training
  2. cultural/artistic entrepreneurship
  3. theory formation of 1. + 2.
  1. cross-cultural actor training based on: 
    • Movement Psychology
    • Contemporary Method Acting
    • English as a lingua franca in a multilingual environment;
  2. entrepreneurial skills of actors to become transnational cultural operators: project devising
    • project planning
    • project devising
    • project implementation/management
    • cultural entrepreneurship
    • business and financial studies for cultural and artistic purposes;
  3. theory formation of 1. + 2. (see above)
    • neuroscientific research on the actor’s work
    • anthropology of cross-cultural encounters
    • post-colonialist studies
    • post-migrant theatre
    • philosophy of otherness
    • phenomenology of body and movement/dance, philosophy of education
    • cross-sectoral approaches
    • society, culture, arts and business
    • alternative economies and alternative futures in a knowledge-based society



Main Aims

Pilot project: March 2016/December 2016 – with the participation of current teachers, students and partners of CISPA.

Project: January 2017/January 2020

METAXY as a research platform, inviting teachers, artists, students, researchers working at and affiliated with CISPA, is based on a holistic research methodology that embraces educational- artistic work simultaneously with more relevant perspectives, using a set of tools and methods, such as:

  • Action-research – a ’learning by doing’ process for its teachers, students, associated re- searchers and international partners. Research methods convey planning, teaching/learning, observing and reflecting upon teaching/learning methods at CISPA and partner institutions, constantly sharing information and experience.

  • Post-colonialist approach – reflection, self-reflection and critique of using English as a lingua franca, possibilities of exploring the students’ identity and artistic goals, the young artists’ perspectives in the globalizing world and possibilities of use of their mother tongue; also cultural, cross-cultural values and principles applied and raised during the process of actors’ training; placing a constant emphasis on non-hierarchical cultural approach;

  • Phenomenology, somaesthetics and cognitive sciences – affiliate researchers are invited from these fields in order to theorise, together with teachers and artists, the actors’ study and work.

As an iterative process, this research paradigm sets high ethical criteria in assuring constant information flow among all participants, creating an inspirational and responsive working envi- ronment and accountable for professional dialogue and academic output.

Main Aims

Involving teachers, students, researchers – both on individual and institutional level – in a participatory, ongoing action-research process on transnational actors’ training;
Creating a transnational, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary platform on the main topic by inviting professionals working within the fields of arts, humanities, social sciences and science;

• Further developing and creating a flexible model of the participants’ existing working/learning/teaching method throughout a professional network and continuous reflection and assessment;

Empowering all participants to shape their own artistic, research and learning processes through mutual exchange of experience and work within an encouraging and inspirational environment;

Contemplating on and shaping possible futures of actors’ training, performing arts and their societal aspects, also on the social impact of performing arts.

Modes Of Participation

  • Ongoing sharing of information and experience with continuous feedback on the online platform of the research project;
  • Residencies for students (2-4 weeks long residency schemes with partnering institutions);
  • Guest lecturer programmes (1 week long guest lecturing);
  • Symposia, workshops (two plenary meetings yearly / monthly meetings at CISPA)
  • Publication (a collection of studies at the end of the research period / we also encourage and help with individual publications on this research programme – mentioning the project’s title and CISPA as hosting institution).