Project management and action research: two sides of the same coin?

Dean Whitehead (School of Health Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Publication date: 1 December 2005



To put forward the, to date, unidentified viewpoint that organisational action research and project management have many shared properties – making it a useful exercise to compare and contrast them in relation to organisational management structures and strategies.


A conceptual exploration, drawing on a wide range of supporting literature, is used here.


Project management represents a mainstay strategy for much of the organisational research seen in health care management – and has done for many years. More recently, the exploratory literature on project management has identified many limitations – especially when matched against “traditional” examples. Many health services have witnessed a more recent organisational management drive to seek out alternative strategies that incorporate less hierarchical and more participatory research methods. Action research certainly fits this bill and, on further examination, can be incorporated into a project management ethos and vice versa.

Research limitations/implications

The views expressed here are of a theoretical construct and have not been implemented, as they are presented in this paper, in practice. The intention, however, is to do so in some of the author's future studies.

Practical implications

If the management of health service organisations are to evolve to incorporate desirable structures that promote consumer‐oriented empowerment and participation (where the consumers also include the workforce), then having a wider array of research tools at one's disposal is one way of facilitating this. Incorporating action research principles into project management approaches, or the other way round, or marrying them both to form a “hybrid” research strategy – it is argued here – represents an appropriate and representative way forward for future organisational management studies.


In terms of originality, this represents a conceptual piece of work that puts forward constructs that have, to date, not featured in the health care literature. Its value lies in suggesting further options for organisational‐oriented health care research.



Whitehead, D. (2005), "Project management and action research: two sides of the same coin?", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 19 No. 6, pp. 519-531.

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