Co-operative inquiry and related forms of research
An extract from Chapter 1, Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage,
The overlap with other forms of participative research with
The most obvious overlap is with action research, stemming from the
work of Kurt Lewin. It had its apogee in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been
continuously applied in several fields ever since, especially in higher
education. It involves repeated cycles of planning, acting, observing,
reflecting, replanning, and so on. It requires in its advanced forms, such
as emancipatory action research (Carr and Kemmiss, 1986), a full degree
of participation and collaboration.
In action research, all actors involved in the research
process are equal participants, and must be involved in every stage of
the research process...Collaborative participation in theoretical, practical
and political discourse is a hallmark of action research and the action
researcher. (Grundy and Kemmis, 1982: 87).
Nevertheless there are very clear differences, of a friendly and non-competitive
kind. Action research is research into current, ongoing practice by practitioners
for practitioners (Zuber-Skerritt, 1992: 11-17). Its focus is on problem-solving
in existing professional performance and related organizational structures.
It disregards theory-building and the generative power of theory (Cooperrider
and Srivastva, 1987). It is not a wide-ranging research method for inquiring
into any aspect or any theory of the human condition. It has not developed
an extended epistemology which enables it to do this. Nor does it view
the full range of human sensibilities as an instrument of research. And
it has not articulated a set of validity procedures and special skills
required for radical, comprehensive experiential inquiry. It does not work
with the complementarity of informative and transformative engagement with
the inquiry domain. In all these fundamental respects, co-operative inquiry
goes beyond the area of overlap.
A related kind of action-oriented research, subject to the same qualifications,
is in one wing of feminist qualitative research, where some feminists do
not want to exploit women as research subjects, but prefer to empower them
to do their own research on what interests them (Olesen, 1994). In the
most developed form of this approach, women participants become full co-researchers
working together with the initiating researchers on all phases of the project
(Light and Kleiber, 1981; Cancian, 1992; Craddock and Reid, 1993). This
openness to explore women's reality through co-research, to deal with issues
of honouring the diversity of women's views about women (Hess, 1990), and
of giving participants full voice in any account (Fine, 1992), makes for
a unique approach to participative inquiry.
Appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987) proposes re-awakening
collaborative action-research so that it is grounded on a deep kind of
participative, intuitive and appreciative way of knowing, and so that it
includes generative theory as a prime move in organizational innovation.
This certainly brings it closer to co-operative inquiry. Yet its epistemology,
though extended, is still relatively underdeveloped. It is restricted to
research into organizational life. And it lacks the several features I
have mentioned requisite for wide-ranging human condition inquiry.
Participative action research is also an area of overlap. This phrase
is used for liberationist inquiry in underprivileged parts of the third
world and of the developed world. Its task is the 'enlightenment and awakening
of common people' (Fals-Borda and Rahman, 1991: vi). It wants to help people
grasp the role of knowledge as an instrument of power and control: it provides
people with knowledge useful for the immediate empowering of their own
action, and raises their consciousness about the way established authority
uses its knowledge for purposes of oppression.
Co-operative inquiry differs from participative action research in the
same respects as it does from ordinary action research. Also PAR uses improvisatory
processes of developmental dialogue and collaboration, rather than any
formal cycles of reflection and action. The animator or initiating researcher
is highly educated and motivated, the participants are relatively uneducated
and unmotivated and this affects the whole nature of their collaboration.
A further difference is that co-operative inquiry is complementary to
participative action research on the issue of social oppression and disempowerment.
The initiating researcher in participative action research goes out from
a privileged setting to co-operate with and help to liberate people in
an underprivileged setting, and leaves his or her own privileged setting
unchanged. Co-operative inquirers who are exploring the first steps in
living in a self-generating culture see their privileged setting as deformed
and seek a transformation of it.
Co-operative inquiry overlaps with action science (Argyris and Schon,
1974, 1978; Schon, 1983; Argyris et al, 1985), developed as action inquiry
by Torbert (1991). Action inquiry, which I describe in chapter two, is
concerned with increased intentionality, cognitive reframing and holistic
awareness in the midst of individual action. As such, it is precisely what
is needed in the action phase of a co-operative inquiry, when each person
is busy implementing some action-plan decided on in the prior reflection
phase. The skills of action inquiry are thus a fundamental component of
co-operative inquiry, but they also reach far beyond it, and have a challenging
claim on anyone at any time whether they are part of a co-operative inquiry
My colleague Peter Reason has written a lucid account of co-operative
inquiry, participatory action research and action inquiry, and of the relations
between them. It concludes with an account of their possible integration,
in which a group of PAR animators constitute a co-operative group inquiring
into their PAR practices, each member of the group engaged in their own
local PAR, and each scrutinising their individual practice through action
inquiry, the data from which would be shared with, and reflected upon in,
the co-operative inquiry group (Reason, 1994b).
Participants' involvement in the research process may also be found
in varying degrees in empowering evaluation (Guba and Lincoln, 1989; Fetterman,
1993), intervention research (Fryer and Feather, 1994), critical worker
research (Kincheloe and McLaren, 1994), some phenomenological studies (Moustakas,
1994), and some forms of clinical research (Miller and Crabtree, 1994).
It is essential, in discussing the overlap between co-operative inquiry
and other forms of participative research, to distinguish between the democratization
of content, which involves all informants in decisions about what the research
is seeking to find out and achieve; and the democratization of method,
which involves participants in decisions about what operational methods
are being used, including those being used to democratize the content.
The overlap is usually restricted to democratization of research content.
It is rare to find any full-blown commitment to collaboration about research
method, although Guba and Lincoln strongly commend it (1989: 260). In practice,
it may be reduced to no more than seeking fully informed consent of all
informants to the researcher's pre-existent or emerging operational plan,
and to modifying the plan in order to obtain such consent.
The relation with qualitative research
Qualitative research, using multiple methodologies, is about other people
studied in their own social setting and understood in terms of the meanings
those people themselves bring to their situation (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994:
2). To say that it is about other people in their own setting is
to say one central thing: the researcher in mainline qualitative
research does not involve informants in decisions about research methodology,
about the design of operational procedures. He or she only seeks to negotiate,
with the people being studied, (1) access to their setting, (2) issues
involved in ongoing management of the research, and (3) the interpretations
Co-operative inquiry by contrast does research with other people,
who are invited to be full co-inquirers with the initiating researcher
and become involved in operational decision-making, and is committed to
this kind of participative research design in principle, both political
and epistemological. The co-inquirers are also fully involved in decisions
about research content, that is, about the focus of the inquiry, what it
is seeking to find out and achieve.
Qualitative research is a social science, about other people
in their own social setting; whereas co-operative inquiry is a wide-ranging
science about any aspect of the human condition which a group of co-researchers
choose to explore through the instrumentality of their own experience.
It certainly includes important social topics, such a revisioning social
roles, professional practice and organizational life. It also includes
innumerable others, such as: art as a mode of knowledge, intentional self-healing,
participative knowledge of organic and inorganic forms, altered states
of consciounsess and many more.
Finally, there is the matter of underlying paradigms. Guba and Lincoln
(1994) propose four basic inquiry paradigms: positivism, postpositivism,
critical theory and constructivism. They have espoused the last of these
and have written widely about it (Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Guba and Lincoln
1989, 1994). Following their lead much qualitative research today is construed
as interpretive science within a constructivist paradigm.
Their constructivist ontology is possibly idealist, certainly pluralist
and relativist. The real is a mental construct of individuals and such
constructs 'do not exist outside of the persons who create and hold them'
(1989: 143); thus there can be many such constructed realities; and they
may be conflicting and incompatible. Truth is a local consensus about the
most sophisticated and informed construction around and is relative to
a given group of people at a given time and place.
There is an immediate difficulty with the idea that reality is a construction
within an individual mind. It raises the problem of solipsism, which is
an ironic problem for a science of the Other. For if reality is nothing
but an internal mental construct, no warrant can be given for supposing
that the other people being studied actually exist, let alone for supposing
that the researcher's view of them adequately represents their own view
of their situation. However, Guba and Lincoln are ambiguous in their account
of constructivism. They also say that the mental constructions are related
to 'tangible entities', which would thus appear to have some reality independent
of the constructions (Schwandt, 1994: 134). So their explicit idealist
stance seems to rest on an implicit realism, and leaves the paradigm in
a state of wobble.
Co-operative inquiry rests on a related, but distinct, fifth inquiry
paradigm, that of participative reality, which I discuss in a paper on
co-operative inquiry and participatory reality.
For details of the references in this extract, see Heron, J. Co-operative
Inquiry: Research into the Human Condition, London, Sage, 1996. See
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