Aim. This paper contributes to an understanding of the political and ethical aspects of action research (AR).
Background. Action research is growing in popularity in nursing and health care as a means of changing practice and generating new knowledge. As a methodology, AR relies on a close collaborative working relationship between researcher and participants, but this close relationship is also the source of political and ethical problems faced by researchers and participants.
Content. We argue that action researchers and participants working in their own organizations should be clear about the extent to which they are engaged in a political activity, and that AR does not offer the same ethical guarantees concerning confidentiality and anonymity, informed consent, and protection from harm as other research methodologies (both quantitative and qualitative). This argument is illustrated by our experiences of participation in an AR study.
Conclusion. We outline three areas where AR is implicitly political, and three areas where it is ethically problematic. We recommend that researchers and participants recognize, discuss and negotiate these problematic areas before starting their work.