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Bulleted definition of co-operative inquiry

John Heron

Adapted from Chapter 3 of  Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage, 1996.


Definition of co-operative inquiry

Co-operative inquiry involves two or more people researching a topic through their own experience of it, using a series of cycles in which they move between this experience and reflecting together on it. Each person is co-subject in the experience phases and co-researcher in the reflection phases. The defining features of co-operative inquiry are:

  • All the subjects are as fully involved as possible as co-researchers in all research decisions - about both content and method - taken in the reflection phases.
  • There is intentional interplay between reflection and making sense on the one hand, and experience and action on the other.
  • There is explicit attention through appropriate procedures to the validity of the inquiry and its findings.
  • There is a radical epistemology for a wide-ranging inquiry method that can be both informative about and transformative of any aspect of the human condition. It involves a congruence of four forms of knowing: propositional, practical, presentational, and experiential:
    • Propositional knowing, or knowing that, is expressed in statements.
    • Practical knowing, or knowing how, is expressed in the exercise of a skill.
    • Presentational knowing, or intuitive knowing of significant pattern, is expressed in graphic, plastic, moving, musical and verbal art-forms.
    • Experiential knowing, or knowing by acquaintace, is manifest as imaging and feeling the presence of some energy, entity, person, place, process or thing.
  • There are, as well as validity procedures, a range of special skills suited to such all-purpose experiential inquiry.
  • The full range of human sensibilities - a transparent body-mind with an open and unbound awareness - is available as an instrument of inquiry.
An outline of inquiry stages

Stage 1 The first reflection phase for the inquirers to choose:

  • The focus or topic of the inquiry and the type of inquiry.
  • A launching statement of the inquiry topic.
  • A plan of action for the first action phase to explore some aspect of the inquiry topic.
  • A method of recording experiences during the first action phase.
Stage 2 The first action phase when the inquirers are:
  • Exploring in experience and action some aspect of the inquiry topic.
  • Applying an integrated range of inquiry skills.
  • Keeping records of the experiential data generated.
Stage 3 Full immersion in the action phase with great openness to experience; the inquirers may:
  • Break through into new awareness.
  • Lose their way.
  • Transcend the inquiry format.
Stage 4 The second reflection phase; the inquirers share data from the action phase and:
  • Review and modify the inquiry topic in the light of making sense of data about the explored aspect of it.
  • Choose a plan for the second action phase to explore the same or a different aspect of the inquiry topic.
  • Review the method of recording data used in the first action phase and amend it for use in the second.
Subsequent stages will:
  • Involve, including the first, from five to eight full cycles of reflection and action, with varying patterns of divergence and convergence, in the action phases, over aspects of the inquiry topic.
  • Include a variety of intentional procedures, in the reflection phases, and of special skills in the action phases, for enhancing the validity of the process.
  • End with a major reflection phase for pulling the threads together, clarifying outcomes, and deciding whether to write a co-operative report.
  • Be followed by post-group collaboration on writing up any agreed form of report.
Outcomes of co-operative inquiry

Four main kinds of inquiry outcome, corresponding to the four forms of knowing, experiential, presentational, propositional and practical:

  • Transformations of personal being through engagement with the focus and process of the inquiry
  • Presentations of insight about the focus of the inquiry, through dance, drawing, drama, and all other expressive modes: these provide imaginal symbols of the significant patterns in our realities
  • Propositional reports which (1) are informative about the inquiry domain, that is, they describe and explain what has been explored, (2) provide commentary on the other kinds of outcome, and (3) describe the inquiry method
  • Practical skills which are (1) skills to do with transformative action within the inquiry domain, and (2) skills to do with various kinds of participative knowing and collaboration used in the inquiry process
Topics of co-operative inquiry

The first half of the list relates to informative inquiries, which have propositional outcomes which describe and explain what is going on, or presentational outcomes which portray it.

  • Participation in nature: from molecules, minerals and galactic clusters to microbes, protoplasm and all life forms in the biosphere
  • Participation in art: from sculpture and painting to theatre and song
  • Participation in intrapsychic life: from sensations and moods to elevations and ecstasies
  • Participation in interpersonal relations: verbal and nonverbal, from one-to-one encounters and face-to-face groups, to structured large group meetings
  • Participation in forms of culture: from environmental and economic arrangements to education and politics
  • Participation in other realities and altered states of consciousness: from telekinesis and extrasensory perception to cosmic consciousness and unitive awareness
The second half of the list covers items for transformative inquiries, which have practical or skills outcomes, including their effects.
  • Transformation of the environment: from local to planetary ecology; from architecture to permaculture
  • Transformation of social structure: social practices and rituals; organizational development; economic and political transformation; liberation of the disempowered and disadvantaged and of their oppressors; a self-generating culture
  • Transformation of education: from birth to death; including self-directed learning, peer and holistic learning
  • Transformation of professionalism: professional skills; peer review audit; creating a culture of competence; deprofessionalization, delegation and facilitation
  • Transformation of personhood: personal growth skills, interpersonal and transpersonal skills
  • Transformation of life-style: ranging from intimacy and domicile to occupation and recreation
A brief history of ICCI inquiries