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Collaborative Inquiry as Social Construction

The central argument of this paper is that by encouraging managers to engage in collaborative/co-operative inquiry and reflect on  their own practice in collaboration with others they have the potential of re-constructing the organisation in the context of which their investigation is grounded. Reference is made to trends in the way co-operative inquiry has developed and links are made with a social constructive view of organisation change and development in the context of complexity theory.. Finally, examples are given of the work of a group of managers from one organisation whose collaborative inquiry has the potential of informing organisational practice and creating ‘new’ organisational relationships

Collaborative/ Co-operative Inquiry

In Co-operative Inquiry ‘the inquirers [are] moving to and fro between reflection and experience so that these poles are in repeated interplay with each other (Heron 1988 p44) Since the 1980s John Heron and Peter Reason have done much to move the Action Research Agenda beyond Lewin’s  original concept (Lewin 1946) of action research  as a continuous process of acting, reflection on the action and  then acting again in the light of what you have found. While it is all of these things, which could be seen as   a ‘basic problem-solving procedure’ (McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead 2003), later developments (including  Heron and Reason) have focused more on the personal and social implications of collectively reflecting on your practice. This is the focus I too want to take and illustrate , particularly in relation to how this process can lead to a  social restructuring of the participants’ world  

Perhaps the key development is that  in Co-operative Inquiry:

‘..all those involved in the research are both co-researchers , whose thinking and decision making contribute to generating ideas, designing and managing the project, and drawing conclusions from the experience , and also co-subjects, participating in the activity being researched; (Reason 1994 :326)

In introducing my students to Action Research they have difficulty in separating themselves  from the traditional notion of the researcher being ‘separate’ from those they are seeking to ‘research on’. The idea of the whole group, including themselves having an equal role as co-researchers is often an alien concept. And when we come to the approach of Whitehead and Mcniff whereby they are encouraged to put their own values and beliefs at the centre of their research , see later. (Whitehead and McNiff 2006)  for many this is a bridge too far.  But, those who can sustain their position ‘at the edge of chaos’ , as we shall see in next section, the results can be literally

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