Nurturing the buffer zone: Conducting collaborative action research in contemporary contexts

Hayley Bennett, Richard Brunner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a shift in university-based social research towards interdisciplinary working and collaboration with non-academic partners, which requires a reconsideration of methodological concepts and research practices. In this article, we draw on intensive collaborative action research (CAR) into public service reform to demonstrate how this ‘collaborative shift’ both challenges and creates new considerations for mainstream research approaches. We contend that the contemporary emphasis on research collaborations creates challenges for both social science researchers and non-academic partners, which require greater conceptual consideration. Researchers need to engage in distinctive, significant and ongoing relational, pragmatic and political work in multi-agency contexts. We present the concept of a ‘buffer zone’: a dynamic, contextual space and set of practices necessary to undertake participatory research within complex and changeable settings. This has implications for research management, design, funding and training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalQualitative Research
Volumenot available
Early online date30 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Oct 2020


  • buffer zone
  • collaborative action research
  • gatekeeping
  • public service reform
  • participatory research


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