The paper discusses how action research with active participation from a.o. citizens, public employees, private employees and environmental organizations, can contribute to strengthen these actors’ capacity to get influence on the development of society and to contribute to societal change for better social and environmental conditions. The paper introduces the core concepts in action research and the linkage between critical participatory action research and empowerment. The paper presents three different action research projects that has been carried out in: 1) a public nursing home, where the purpose was to improve the quality of eldercare with special reference to social life among residents, as an alternative to the rigid and bureaucratic focus in New Public Management 2) a marginalized urban area, where the objective was to develop a community centre, which could strengthen social capital and facilitate empowerment of both residents and welfare workers and 3) a local project about sustainable housing, where the objective was to design and build houses, which could act as prototypes and inspiration for a further development of sustainable housing. The paper discusses similarities and differences in methods that have been employed in the three projects. Finally challenges and opportunities for action research to contribute to empowerment and to the development of societal change with better social and environmental conditions are discussed.