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Collaborative Inquiry as Social - page 3 / 16





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A good example of  co-operative inquiry at work  I think can be found in a study carried out by Helen Traylen as part of her doctorate programme. (Traylen 1994). She gives a vivid account of the approach she used in exploring with a group of health visitors  the nature of stress at work. Prior to deciding to take a ‘co-operative’ inquiry  approach she had carried out individual interviews with the health visitors ; but she became ‘increasingly unhappy with my research approach’ :

‘As I became more skilled in conducting the interviews I began to pay more attention to the  interview process and to the way I was reacting. I began to feel very confused and uncertain about what I was trying to do  and realised how difficult  it was to probe into the nature of the relationship  between the health visitor and her client. The more I talked to health visitors the more I came to realise that what I was trying to understand  was extremely complex. The health visitors themselves were not very articulate in describing their relationships with clients ‘ (Traylen 1994:59)

A key skill in cooperative inquiry which she identifies above is the researcher’s capacity  to pay attention to their own practice both individually and collectively. See Mason 2003 for an  excellent exploration of ‘paying attention ‘ to practice as  a central process in teachers’ accounts of researching their own practice . Also see Barber (2006) . Traylen draws attention to the cyclical nature of co-operative inquiry and goes on to identify four phases in her own work:

Phase 1 :  Identification of the issues to be explored

Phase 2Convergent cycles of inquiry in action

Phase 3Engaging in Chaos

Phase 4Communicating the research

I want to focus on Phase 3 which I suspect is a stage most of us engaged with this kind of research have experienced. Examples cited in Section 2 will explore this further. In fact one doesn’t want to descend into ‘chaos’, as Traylen explains, but ‘hold the anxiety at the edge of chaos’  (Stacey 2001).  As soon as we step away from the safe boundaries of rational observation and are prepared to ‘engage’ with our ‘co-researchers’ the process inevitably unearths ‘undiscussables’ where Traylen suggests there are three options:

Option 1Ignore the undiscussables and revert back to ‘comfortable’ behaviour (Old Order)

Option 2Let the undiscussables take over to the extent that the whole group becomes dysfunctional (Chaos)

Option 3‘Hold the anxiety’ and encourage group to reflect on what is happening to enable them to work towards a ‘new order’

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