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Inquiry of practice


									Inquiry of practice, in-practice (extract from thesis, 2005, Dianne Allen)                 p.1

Inquiry of practice, in-practice (extract from thesis, 2005)

As I thought about what is involved in improving inquiry in practice for a professional, I
recognised that the issues that arise in a professional practice run the gamut of the practitioner’s
activity. Inquiry must cover the same range, to increase knowledge application and to improve
the quality of interpersonal engagements with clients and others to accomplish objectives,
perhaps even up to the level of taking political action. Further, inquiry itself is a part of the
professional’s toolbox, and needs to be open to challenge if the effectiveness of the
practitioner’s inquiry processes is to be increased. As a part of a professional’s toolbox, inquiry
is used to deal with material that is non-routine (Baskett et al., 1992c) for the individual
practitioner, something where a practitioner does not have a ready and effective answer.
Similarly, inquiry is part of providing quality advice to a client – investigating to diagnose the
problem and investigating to find the solution, often from a range of alternatives, that fits the
specific circumstances: of time, of locality, of context, of feasibility, for the individual client.
Inquiry is part of the process that the professional uses, to learn what is to be learned from, and
by, experience.

My thinking then proceeded along the argument lines that have developed in this thesis:
Improving a process of inquiry involves knowing or finding out what is the process of inquiry to
be improved. This is the essence of the self-awareness process, and the issue-awareness aspect:
it is problem framing, for the individual practitioner. The second aspect of improving a process
of inquiry involves ascertaining: Is the process used the appropriate form of inquiry for the
question being inquired into? This is an evaluative process. Having settled which process is
appropriate, the practitioner may then need to learn to change, to learn a new way of inquiring.
It is at this point that the complex which is ‘learning’, ‘inquiry’, and ‘evaluation’ comes into

Turning then to the literature to check my understanding indicated that inquiry is a significant
part of our human existence and, as such, suffers the risk of being ‘taken for granted’.
Furthermore, our inquiry practice is established quite early in life, ie by the end of early
childhood, about five years old (Gardner, 1993, pp.xxii-xxiii). Inquiring into the nature of
inquiry, at a level that moves beyond the current dominant tradition, and at a level that is
informed by the best traditions of inquiry, is a relatively recent development.

In summary, my review of the literature matched my experience in this inquiry, and enhanced
my understanding by indicating:

        There are multiple methods of conducting inquiry (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Guba, 1990;
         Patton, 2002; Reason & Bradbury, 2001)
        While there might be multiple methods, unless an inquirer is aware of the important link
         between inquiry method and the kind of knowledge being sought and the phenomenon
         being studied and the intrinsic values associated with the phenomenon being
         investigated, and a link which needs to be honoured in the choice of a method to
         undertake an investigation, then the inquiry undertaken may be at risk of inherent,
         internal invalidity (Guba & Lincoln, 1989; Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Heron & Reason, 1997;
         Schön, 1991; Toulmin, 1996)
        For inquiry for practice, to deliver actionable knowledge while still remaining engaged
         in practice, an effective and practical inquiry process (something like action research) is
         needed (Argyris, 1993; Reason & Bradbury, 2001; Toulmin, 1996)
Inquiry of practice, in-practice (extract from thesis, 2005, Dianne Allen)                p.2

        For inquiry into the elements of practice that involve interpersonal interactions, the
         inquiry needs persons to do the study, as well as recognising that it is persons who are
         being studied (Heron & Reason, 2001; Reason & Bradbury, 2001b).
        For inquiry of persons by persons, managed reflexivity will be a significant component
         (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000)
        Furthermore, developing a process that harnesses collaborative work and cooperative
         effort effectively (authentic, uncoerced, consensus exploration) will assist the
         participants to manage bias and complexity, and be respectful of the personhood of the
         participants, in their respective roles (Heron, 1992; Heron & Reason, 1997; Ravetz, 1987;
         Schön, 1991)

Considering how a practice of inquiry might be improved becomes a matter of learning to
change, as enunciated previously. It involves inquiring while also operating at a level where
how one is going about inquiring, and how one is evaluating that inquiry while going about it, is
in view.

As I tried to facilitate the task of learning to inquire, and to improve inquiry, I endeavoured to
have all the conditions of learning to change, noted above, in place. I noticed how demanding
this proved to be. I also realised that I needed to have a developed understanding of the
principles operating in the many different kinds of inquiry that can be used, and that one of my
important tasks, as facilitator, was to help the participants recognise the basis of their choice of
match of inquiry to problem being investigated. I have realised that this aspect of facilitation
takes the facilitator and the participants into the area of becoming aware about the nature of
evaluation and the role that a practitioner’s values play in evaluation, in inquiry and in learning
to change. During this inquiry I recognised that I was dependent on my understandings from
my resilient frame, and on the process of learning-by-doing as I endeavoured to implement what
I understood reflective research of practice to be. I also realised how the resilience of my
formative frame impacted on my learning-by-doing.

This synthesis helped me understand that while the professional development activity that I
designed and was evaluating did assist the participants with the development of awareness of
their thinking, the process of the intervention, with the external agent, and my form of
facilitation, with its roots in teacher-designed-and-directed educative opportunities, did not
encourage the sense of ownership needed for, and in, any cooperative, participatory, way of
undertaking inquiry.

This synthesis also reminded me that a facilitator, helping participants with the task of learning
to inquire and to improve inquiry, needs to help them recognise the difficulty and the
complexity involved in making a change, and to validate the time taken to do that. Since I had
not realised all of that, to this level of fullness, during preparation or while in the
implementation stage, then it was quite impossible for me to provide that kind of leadership at
the time of the action. This synthesis also challenged me to look again at my conception of
reflective research of practice, and how it operates, and its appropriateness to any particular

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