I’ve been looking out for good examples of articles about action research in software engineering for a while. There is a lot of those coming from the participatory design community and ethnography in software engineering.
This paper is an example of how one can conduct action research together with an open source community. It shows how to conduct the research while being part of the community and adds a new angle on the topic – how do we democratize the research design. In contrast to company-based development, an open source community is free to accept the new ways of working or not. Therefore, it can be challenging to make the action happen.
Figure 1 from the paper shows the process in more detail and I strongly recommend to take a look at it. It starts from the design of intervention, where community requirements, similar communities, best practices and problems are inputted. This similar communities precedence is new and important as it helps to leverage already adopted good practices.
The evaluation of the methodology was already done and it shows that it’s a valid and interesting new research method!
Abstract: Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an established method to implement change in organizations. However, it cannot be applied in the open source (FOSS) communities, without adaptation to their particularities, especially to the specific control mechanisms developed in FOSS. FOSS communities are self-managed, and rely on consensus to reach decisions. This study proposes a PAR framework specifically tailored to FOSS communities. We successfully applied the framework to implement a set of quality assurance interventions in the Robot Operating System community. The framework we proposed is composed of three components, interventions design, democratization, and execution. We believe that this process will work for other FOSS communities too. We have learned that changing a particular aspect of a FOSS community is arduous. To achieve success the change must rally the community around it for support and attract motivated volunteers to implement the interventions.