Co-operative Inquiry

In my previous post, I mentioned the methods, co-operative inquiry and learning history. In this post I will tell you more about what co-operative inquiry is and how it works.

What is co-operative inquiry about?

Reason (2002, p.1) introduced co-operative inquiry as “a methodology for a science” and in co-operative inquiry all the participants are both co-researchers and co-subjects. Co-researcher implies that their actions constitute the processes of the inquiry and contribute to the development of the inquiry collectively. Co-subject implies that their participation is also the subject to be researched. Reason (2002, p.2) identifies four phases in the co-operative inquiry. In phase 1, co-researchers generate questions and the focus of their inquiry together, and decide the action/practice they would like to take. In phase 2, co-researchers also become co-subjects. They take actions and record the process and outcomes of their experience. In phase 3, co-subjects continue their action and go deeper into the experience. In phase 4, co-researchers evaluate their original focus of the inquiry, and choose to modify, develop or reframe based on their experiences in the previous phases. Those four phases are regarded as a cycle and can be repeated if it is needed. The groups and the inquiry will evolve through the process. Although reading  Reason’s (2002) article gives me more insight of this methodology, it seems to me still a bit vague, for example how many cycles you should repeat for your inquiry or when do you know you should go on to next phase . Then I found out that the case study in Mead’s(2002) article  really helps!

Mead’s (2002) collaborative inquiry project on police leadership gives us a very clear image of how co-operative inquiry is conducted in reality. Although Mead identified six phases in his project which are different from Reason, the essential elements of action research are still the same. Instead of doing research himself and telling other police officers how to improve the quality of leadership, he invited other police officers as co-researchers to inquire collectively what they should exactly focus on and how they could shape their inquiry. Participants as co-subjects shared their experiences and learned mutually through the process. For Mead, when he faced the issue of how he should play his role in the group, he also learned how he could lead the group. As for him, leadership is no longer a noun but a verb: leading. This learning process vividly describes how he became co-subject. He was no longer a researcher as an outsider helping those police officers improving their leadership, but as a member learning and inquiring together with his co-researchers. Mead’s inquiry well presents the participatory worldview of action research: “not doing research on persons, but with, for and by persons, and engaging them in the process (Reason & Bardbury 2001, p.2).”

If you are still not very clear about how co-operative inquiry works, I’ve found a useful website, the CARPP website (the Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice). In this website it gives detail introduction and guide for co-operative inquiry.

After reading Mead’s article, I try to find some more example of co-operative inquiry on the internet. I found that  John Heron’s website provide a lots of applications on co-operative inquiry. It’s really amazing to see how they use this method for different purpose! (John Heron is a specialist on co-operative inquiry and the initiator of the South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry.)

Maybe next time I should apply co-operative inquiry to my study :p What do you think?

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3 Responses to Co-operative Inquiry

  1. thanks a lot for these links – they’re just great

  2. Pacidal says:

    Hi Robin,

    Thank you for introducing co-operative inquiry.
    The example in the paper (from Mead) that you read is about improving leadership of police officers, which is applied in organisational science. If we take a broader view on cooperative inquiry, it is also one type of participatory inquiry. Participatory inquiry is used quite a lot in the development studies and recently also in natural resources management. The basic concepts are the same with cooperative inquiry that participants are all co-inquirers and co-subjects. Participatory approach to natural resources management is different from traditional one which researchers/experts decide how we should manage our resources. Instead, it involves local communities to talk and discuss what is suitable for us and how we want to manage. Here are some examples in India.

    This type of participatory inquiry is also used in managing our indigenous knowledge. Knowledge is not defined by the mainstream or majorities, but we as indigenous peoples can decide what we think is important to us and how we should maintain or preserve our knowledge. Here is one project of my indigenous friends in Australia about their indigenous knowledge (here is the project description).

    • Robin says:

      Hi Parcidal. Thank you so much for replying. I have looked at your project and it is amazing. This is exactly how action research should be, I guess. I think it is very admirable that you do this. I hope it helps you and your people.

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