This article argues for a new more effective intergation of research, participation, and design practice. In response to the popular startegy of translating research into forms relevant to design professionals, an alternative view is presented that builds on the theories of action research, where diagnosis, planning, and implementation are perceived as linked activities. This view, which will be referred to as Theory Z design, seeks to establish an arena for collaboration between all those who can influence, and who can be effected by design decisions. Theory Z is an assumption about human behavior. In organizational development, this collaborative approach is rooted in trust, intimacy, and consensus. Theory Z emphasizes particpatory management in an wholistic atmosphere, where the culture of an organization is considered. This action approach offers architects concerned with user needs a new set of social science tools. These new tools not only provide architects with a deeper understanding of the human condition, but an opportunity for engaging in an effective dialogue with people who use the environment. This approach is in contrast to the use of more casual methods of inquiry which typically reveal what is already obvious, or traditional social science approaches which tend to generalize people's requirements. There are many benefits accruing from a Theory Z-action approach, for the community, the users, and the architects. Firstly, from the social point of view, integrating research, practice, and participation can result in a greater meeting of social needs, and an increasingly effective utilization of resources at the disposal of a communtiy. Secondly, to the user group, it represents an increased sense of having influenced the design-decision making process, and an increased awareness of the consequences of decisions made. Thirdly, to the architect, it represents more relevant and up-to-date information than was possible before.Case studies are used to illustrate the techniques that are instrumental in characterizing this multistep process.