REFLECTIONS ON PARTICIPATION IN HUMAN INQUIRY
In this chapter I attempt to look at the examples presented in the previous six chapters, to highlight what seem to me to be interesting issues, and to make some comparisons between different approaches. I will also use the framework of forms of participation developed in Chapters One to Four as a means of further illuminating the process of participation in human inquiry. Essentially the present chapter contains my own musing and reflections, my own sense of the interesting comparisons, my own comments on the different methods. I circulated a draft of the chapter to all contributors and received a number of comments in return, many of which I have incorporated into the text. Sometimes I have added to or changed my original comment, sometimes I have noted a difference in my perspective as reader/editor from that of the writer/co-researcher. My purpose is not to be "right", but to stimulate further reflection.
Hilary Traylen: Research with Health Visitors
Hilary is almost forced in to participative research. In her earlier interviews and observations she comes to recognize that the issues she is concerned with in health visiting practice are complex, difficult to express, sensitive and of vital importance to the potential participants in the inquiry. They require reflective action in a co-operative inquiry group if they are to be properly addressed and honoured. Indeed, almost as soon as the participative group is established a new and important issue—that of hidden agendas— is identified that was not articulated in the earlier interviews, and proves to be the focus of the inquiry.
Hilary carefully prepares for the early stages of the inquiry. Some of her concern about her competence to run an inquiry may have been unnecessary agonizing, but this was also a time when she thought carefully and deeply about what was needed and prepared herself internally. She builds on the contacts she already has made in the earlier phases of her research (indeed, the interview and workshop phases can be seen as critical preparations for the establishment of the inquiry group). She carefully plans an introductory session, talks personally to those who cannot attend, and demonstrates in her behaviour her genuine interest in developing collaborative relationships.
Once the group is established it moves quickly to co-define the topic for the inquiry, both at the overall level of exploring hidden agendas, and at the more concrete level of choosing the specific issue each participant wishes to explore. It is through this co-definition of the topic that the group develops its autonomy.
The foundation for the inquiry then lies in a concrete engagement with important issues of practice for the participants. At an early point of difficulty, after the group is established, when they are "circling around these problems" and "feeling at a loss" Hilary makes a critical intervention, inviting each member to describe a particular hidden agenda in their practice. This enables them to drop from the abstract to the practical, and to move into several cycles of highly profitable exploration of specific issues in a period of deep detailed engagement with the topic of the inquiry. In this way the group learn about the process of co–operative inquiry by doing it.
In her facilitation of the group Hilary can best be described as naive and genuine. She claims to have minimal group facilitation skills, but she works from her heart and joins with them. She shows deep identification with the experience of the participants (in her dreams and in her concerns for them) and through the inquiry worked very hard to be of service to the work.
One of the most interesting feature of this inquiry in the repeated mirroring of the personal and the professional, the ways in which the personal concerns of the group reflect the topic of the inquiry. First of all, Hilary comes to realise that her choice of topic is based not just on rational considerations but on personal needs and concerns about her own competence. Then she realizes that the co–researchers concern about confronting and raising issues with their clients mirrors her concern about how much to confront the group process. Third, the group realizes that there was an important link between their need to feel good in their work and the clients' need to feel strong and confident: the notion of well being lies at the root of a healthy life for everyone.
Throughout the inquiry the anxiety and stress of all those engaged is close to the surface. Indeed it is a central part of the inquiry—it would not be possible to engage in depth with these sensitive issues using an inquiry approach that did not acknowledge and work with the anxiety. By engaging with these underlying feelings, and by providing support for experimental behaviour in confronting them, the group becomes an empowering agent for them all.
There are two crisis points in the inquiry. The first, when the group moves from circling round the issues to deep engagement, I have already mentioned. The second comes later, when they try to reflect on the role of the Health Visitor. One thing to notice is how they stick with it, engage together with the chaos of not making progress. As Heron wrote, "new order is created by perturbation" (1988, p. 52), it is important for an inquiry group to recognize and accept emergent chaos, not try to tidy it up prematurely. The chaos arises as the group shifts from deep engagement with their actual practice to more generalized sense-making. In particular they get stuck with an very abstract "professional" statement about health visiting practice.
The organizational context of Hilary's inquiry is not discussed in her chapter but is of some importance. Her work was supported by her Health Authority as part of the programme in collaboration with the School of Management at the University of Bath. Despite this formal overall approval, she ran into difficulties with the more local organization when she set up the co-operative inquiry group: managers of the Health Visitors could not understand why such a group was needed and viewed it as a threat to their authority. Hilary, deeply concerned with the experience of the Health Visitors and their clients was taken by surprise by this response and was obliged to retrace her steps, explaining and getting local support (albeit not always enthusiastic) for the inquiry.
Bessa Whitmore's participative evaluation
Bessa Whitmore's chapter shows participation employed to reach across a cultural divide between the privileged providers and the disadvantaged recipients of a service. The initiative for the inquiry, its primary purpose, and the methodology are defined by the funding agency and by Bessa as the initiating researcher rather than by the programme participants. The participation is with a group of representative women employed as co-researchers.
It is worth noting the very different role of the co–evaluators from the greater number of women who are interviewed. The former are closely involved in the research programme and they influence its development; they are educated into their role as co–researchers; they contribute essential insights into the culture of the interviewees; and they are clearly empowered by the programme, albeit in the limited sense that Bessa herself notes. On the other hand, the women who are interviewed, while they are approached and interviewed in a manner sensitive to their situation which respects and honours them and their experience, are treated in the same way as orthodox research treats its informants: data is gathered, taken away and made sense of elsewhere.
Another feature of this approach is that the information gathered is not directly linked with action: neither the co-researchers nor the other women involved can engage with their experience in a way that leads to constructive action, either on their own or in collaboration with the providers of the ante-natal service. It would seem that in this instance it was simply not possible: holding the group together and completing the evaluation was a remarkable achievement itself.
On the other hand, the strategy taken does mean that information can be gathered from a much wider (and presumably more representative group) of people. In contrast to Hilary Traylen's research, in which the co–operative inquiry is limited to a very small group of professionals, in this project information is collected from as many of those involved in the programme as is practicable. Thus the research does lead to an evaluation of the programme which may provide the basis to develop the programme, or a similar programme elsewhere.
This strategy is clearly appropriate given the intention to evaluate the ante–natal programme in a way that bridges between two cultures. The incidental learning from the project (which is probably the most important piece of learning for our exploration of participation in human inquiry) is how very hard it is for this bridging to be successful, and how hard it is for well–meaning professional researchers who intend to work with a collaborative approach to get it anywhere near "right". As Bessa points out, it is easier to teach disadvantaged women the skills of social research than to teach middle class people to enter another culture.
Other learnings from this project emphasise what we already know about participatory inquiry. Time spent on building the group is essential; in particular time spent nurturing a sense of belonging and building open communication channels is time very well spent. We also see how important it is for this group building to take place in a manner which is appropriate to the culture: if group building games and exercises do not fit the culture and are thus inappropriate, it may be better to pay attention to and try to amplify the natural developmental processes of the group. And we also see how important it is to capture the moments naturally offered for building more open relationships, often at unexpected times like driving downtown.
We do not learn from Bessa's chapter anything about her own supervision or support for this work as facilitator of this group. I would speculate that reflecting on her relationship with the co–researchers, talking it through with a supportive friend, might have been helpful. It might also be helpful in such supervision sessions to use role play or psychodrama to explore what was going on experientially (Hawkins 1989; Krim, 1989). In response to my queries, Bessa wrote to me,
I did have one friend, who was familiar with the programme (and knew the women involved) as we talked a great deal about the ups and downs as we went along. That was most helpful and I would deliberately build in some form of support next time. I also wrote quite an extensive reflexive log—writing to myself is one way I process experiences and try to make sense out of them. It helped me to get a handle on my own feelings, on what happened (or didn't), on the process, the women's reactions (expressed and non-verbal) insights into the evaluation (content) plus analyzing it all as we went along. (Whitmore, personal communication, 1993)
Another important feature of this project is its organizational setting. We are told that the ante–natal programme is set up to be informal and to match the culture to which it is offered. The evaluation programme continues this ethos, and is fully and quite actively supported by the Community Advisory Committee; the sympathetic and supportive manner in which it played its part is most significant. There is of course a more distant organizational context in the government funding agency which may be more judgemental and less sympathetic, and which has to be placated by carefully written reports!
Bessa comments at the end of her chapter that we need to understand better the dynamics of oppression. It would seem that one way to do this is through some form of participatory inquiry which helps people reach deeply into their experience and to learn to reflect on it from within. One question which remains is the impact on the women co-evaluators and whether they are empowered by the experience? As best we can judge, they did gain in self-esteem and confidence through having been exposed to new ideas and a different cultural setting. I find myself wondering whether they were given a tantalizing glimpse of a different world before being dropped back into their disadvantaged culture with only an greater sense of dissatisfaction. In response to this comment, Bessa took me to task, writing
… it sounds as if I had the power to "lift" them out of (or drop them back into ) their world into mine. What would make me think I had such power? In addition, I'm not sure they necessarily would or should want "my world" or that it is necessarily all that much better. Materially and economically it is, of course, But there are other aspects, which are so much part of "who we are" as persons, that cannot necessarily be evaluated in this way. Who defines disadvantage and what that means? Maybe I'm being reactive, but I find your comment is full of assumptions about the superiority of "my" way of life. I object to the implication that their world is inherently inferior in every way and that they want to join what they see as a bunch of pretty tight assed folks who don't have much fun.
The great pity is that we have no comments directly from the women co-researchers on these issues.
Sara and John's multi-disciplinary inquiry
Sara and John portray themselves as strong initiators in search of a group with whom to collaborate! The characteristic quality of this research endeavour is the enthusiastic and pro–active conduct of the two facilitators in originating the project, working to make it happen within its organizational context, and actively facilitating the group inquiry process; while at the same time being intensely concerned that the project is owned by the organization and the group members. It is as if they create a paradox which demands that they work hard in the service of a creative outcome.
They tell the story of their nurturing the project through the organization so well that it doesn't need elaboration here. But it is worth emphasising the detailed attention they pay to these questions of context; in this way their work parallels that of Lesley Archer and Dorothy Whitaker in establishing frameworks for participative research in organizations.
The process of the inquiry itself raises all kinds of interesting issues. The difficulty of pulling together a disparate group of people without proper preparation; the contrasting demands of group process and research task when time is short; the continued tension between facilitator initiative and group ownership; keeping the inquiry alive over holiday breaks in the context of very busy work lives. These issues arise time and again in inquiry projects.
Sara and John present us with a model of strong and active facilitators in the service of the group and inquiry process: they design activities to help the group get together; they listen to the tapes, feedback summaries and prepare agendas; they listen for and support group member initiatives; they support, and then get out of the way when the group responds with its own creativity. The great advantage of this approach is that it can accelerate the group's development and its ability to undertake co–operative inquiry. Activities such as summarising, feeding back, identifying inquiry agendas can be crucial in teaching the group the process of co-operative inquiry through doing it.
The danger of this style is twofold: the facilitators may take over the inquiry process; or their competent activity may de–skill group members, inhibiting the development of independent competence in the group (in contrast to Annette's abdication of authority early in the inquiry process which, she argues, creates space the development of peer authority). However, if the activity is coupled with careful attention to group development and ownership, and willingness to step aside at the moment the group takes the initiative (or maybe just that critical instant beforehand), this can be a fruitful path of facilitation.
Bessa's account or her project would tell us to be careful about taking such a high profile if the cultural divide between group members and facilitators is too wide—what are intended as helpful interventions will misfire. But while Sara and John are in some ways dealing with a complex multi-disciplinary group, it is in its way quite homogeneous: all group members are educated middle class professionals who can comfortably meet round a table in a conference centre. Sara and John, as experienced group facilitators, can trust their ability to make appropriate interventions at least most of the time.
They also provide an interesting model of co–facilitation. They chose to collaborate by focusing on different arenas of group behaviour so that their behaviour is complementary and they don't get in each other's way. And they spend a lot of time in self-conscious reflection on the process of the inquiry. Their chapter reminds me of a maxim I learned early in my training as a facilitator, "Never do alone what two can do".
While their facilitation is highly planned and active they acknowledge the place of serendipity in this work—things fall into place at the right time— which we also saw in Bessa's story. Like chaos, serendipity cannot be planned, but if you are clear with your intent and work as well as you are able toward it, the universe does seem to bring opportunities that can be seized. The attitude needed is one of control and surrender, bringing discipline to the work while always watching for the unplanned opportunities that arise and being willing to go with them, riding the wave. "Capture the moment", as Shepard had it (Shepard, 1975).
The process of group development, which they characterise as ascent, flight, and descent, echoes that of other accounts of inquiry groups. I find the difficulties they have with closure particularly interesting. In characteristic form, they reflect critically on their own behaviour as facilitators, musing as to whether they could have done better. My own interpretation of the process of the group ending is that the awkwardness was at least in part brought about because the group was really only just beginning. Having worked very hard, and against all odds over six short sessions to get a disparate group working together creatively, the project is cut short in its prime. As it ends, the group just about ready to go out into their worlds to do the real work of a co-operative inquiry in improving the approach to child protection in Northamptonshire. "The group has stopped meeting: there are no more deadlines but it doesn't feel finished" (p. 29) Writing reports is all very well, but does it address in practice the crucial issues, which "matter enormously"?
For as a co–operative inquiry this group attends primarily to the reflective stage, the stage of making sense of experience so far. That this is important is not doubted, particularly given the multi-disciplinary nature of the work. But reflecting on the past draws attention to the needs of the future; a well formed group almost naturally attends to the important task at hand (as we see from Lesley Treleaven's women's inquiry which quite naturally moves into creative action on the basis of its reflection). So we might say that this group has been denied the opportunity to continue its work.
Moira, Annette, Lyn & Nancy: The Youth work inquiry
The co–operative inquiry into youth work provides us with an example of meticulous attention to the values of equal participation throughout. Annette, as the initiator of the project, aims to exercise no more power than is needed to establish the project— allowing power to devolve to group members as quickly as she is able. The group defines the focus of the inquiry, agrees a range of member roles early on, takes a strong part in peer facilitation from the second meeting, albeit with Annette's support. Paradoxically, when she reclaims power to circulate John Rowan's questionnaire she actually provides a focus for a discussion which leads to a new emphasis on the co-operative group.
Annette's willingness to share power continues through the project. The account of the inquiry in Chapter Eight was written collaboratively; and even though it was to her that I extended the invitation to contribute to this volume, and she undertook the work of co–ordination, her name does not appear as first author of the chapter.
The concern for power sharing is mirrored by a concern for creating and maintaining collaborative relationships among group members, exemplified by the development of norms which allow co-researchers to maintain the right to be "in common" or "different from" the rest of the group. And it would appear that the emphasis on an ethos of collaboration, individual freedom and responsibility is not just lip-service: they actively address issues of dependency, the disruptive behaviour of two group members and other issues of group process.
In contrast, I get the impression that the group relied quite heavily on the external written authority of John Heron, John Rowan and myself as "experts" on co-operative inquiry, who provide a clear framework within which collaboration could take place. There are advantages and disadvantages to this: accepting an externally defined discipline does provide an arena in which co–operative learning can take place; on the other hand it may prevent the inquirers from stretching to develop their own unique approach to their work.
Taking the role of devil's advocate one might wonder whether this all this attention to establishing collaborative relationships is too idealistic and impractical. As Randall and Southgate (1980) show, it is the "living labour cycle", integration of work on a worthwhile task with attention to individual and group needs, that leads to a creative group process. One might wonder whether the group's concern for collaboration would lead to the establishment of a profoundly egalitarian and loving group that was incapable of doing anything effective.
But this is shown not to be the case: the group designs a quite complex structure for its inquiry, with detailed work in small groups feeding into the large group effort; and with space for individuals to pursue their own learning needs in the context of a larger group project. They reach some conclusions about their own learning process which, while not wildly original, work for them and provide texture and experiential verification to principles of humanistic learning. And they contribute to the project of a Alternative (or Accessible) Route to Qualification by showing how co-operative inquiry can provide a learning framework for training of youth workers.
I suspect there are a number of processes which make this possible. First of all, Annette provides an excellent role model from the very beginning of co–operative working: she is well prepared for the first meeting of the group and also open to negotiation, demonstrating a balance of initiation and democracy which runs through the whole project. Second, the group is relatively homogeneous in that it is composed of people interested in youthwork who share values of humanistic groupwork and experiential learning; they are not people who have to defend their patch or the organization they represent; they are not hard thrusting achievers, but relatively democratic and open in their relationships; and they are quite skilled in working in this kind of group and as facilitators.
This example, along with Hilary's, shows how the co–operative inquiry method can truly democratise research, providing a means by which ordinary, non–academic people can engage in self–directed inquiry into aspects of their lives that matter to them.
Lesley Treleaven's women's staff development group
Lesley Treleaven circulated the draft of my comments to the women in her group, and provided me with copies of their comments as well as providing her own. I have endeavoured to include their comments and feedback as a counterpoint to my own reflections, rather than provide one cleaned up account.
I see Lesley as providing an account of an inquiry which is innovative in several ways.
First, there is the creative use of the staff development programme as a vehicle for inquiry. By doing this she not only creates a degree of organizational legitimacy for work which confronts entrenched cultural patterns, but is able to contribute to changing the image of staff development for women from repairing "deficits" to a creative, educational and genuinely developmental process. This provides another example of how collaborative inquiry can provide a framework for education programmes.
Second, the inquiry is firmly rooted within the organization in which it takes place, and provides a safe space for women in which they can explore their own experience and needs, and from which they can venture out to create changes in the wider organization. Thus this inquiry exemplifies the feminist maxim that the personal is political. And of course this commitment to a feminist position runs through the whole chapter: the inquiry is emphatically woman–centred, and draws on the literature of the women's movement as a theoretical underpinning, thus demonstrating how inquiry can be grounded in an explicitly chosen ideological position.
My use of the term "feminist" to describe the inquiry provoked considerable response. Several participants wrote that they did not see themselves as feminists, or that they were not consciously building an ideology of feminism. One woman saw my use of the term as a "put–down", as a label which pigeon-holed them in a negative way. Lesley herself thought my emphasis on feminist ideology overwhelmed other aspects of the inquiry which she sees as equally important:
We were a group of women staff, and while my own approach is declaredly feminist in the writing, there were a range of diverse positions taken up within the group that changed over time for each of us I think… I do not wish to delete my own feminist perspective from the writing, however I did not assume that those participating in the inquiry were self–identified feminists, nor was that was the desired "destination" (Treleaven, personal communication, 1993)
The third important aspect of this project is the use the notion of inquiry as creating a space for something to happen. Lesley is critical of accounts of inquiry as a sequence of steps, which she sees as an incomplete approximation of the inquiry process, and argues for a vision of inquiry which allows more space for the implicit structure of the situation to emerge, for creative expression and synchronicity.
While arguing this, the inquiry is not without structure. There is an emphasis on equal time and space for all members (although as Lesley points out, this was not always achieved), on storytelling, on listening circles. There is also agreement about the essential ambiguity of structure, an acceptance that members may come and go as they are able. But it does appear that the structure emerges as required, from the early getting together, through the deep immersion in storytelling, into more active responses to the organizational situations that arise and which offer opportunities for re–visioning the position of women in the University. This inquiry points to the potentially creative paradox in the tension between structure and lack of structure.
While Lesley's inquiry has these novel features, it is also deeply familiar. She writes about the care and attention that goes into the formation of the group—the formal letter to managers, the personal contact made to potential participants; and the planning and preparation that goes into the initial meeting—choosing a time and space which will be suitable, preparation of an agenda and structure which will include people. We also learn about the continued physical as well as emotional nurturing of the group—lunch, flowers on the table—which we found in Bessa's story and in Sara and John's account.
I find it interesting that we learn little about Lesley as facilitator from the chapter. She mentions the careful work she undertook to set up the group; she does refer to herself as "initiator, facilitator, convenor, researcher, housekeeper and participant"; and we do learn of her personal responses to the group from her dream and poem. But otherwise the account is of what "we"—the inquiry group—chose to do. This is in marked contrast to the emphasis Sara and John place on their reflections and on their choices as facilitators. I find myself wondering whether this became a genuine "leaderless" group, framed and contained by a shared feminist or woman–centred perspective; or whether much active leadership and facilitation is hidden behind the rhetoric of "making space". In particular it would be interesting to learn more about how the group managed the episodes of confrontation and conflict which arose. Lesley wrote in response
I am genuinely surprised by your comment about learning little about my facilitation. My facilitative role changed from the initial positioning of me by some of the group as facilitator, to times when we used a structured process like Listening circles which I facilitated, to frequent times when the group functioned without a facilitator but with participants actively responsible for all or part of a session… I've found your comment stimulating—obviously—but remain concerned about the polarization you have constructed between leaderless or hidden leadership. I wonder if there isn't a male assumption that "active leadership" must be present, hidden or unacknowledged… One of the group's challenges was the re-framing of traditional notions of leadership/management (personal communication, 1993)
I don't think my comment contained a hidden assumption, it was more a gentle wondering about how the group worked internally, wanting to know more about how it managed itself.
It is important to note that while the group continues to emphasis listening, caring, nurturing, there is a lot of action in this inquiry. The women participants are supported by the group as they confront sexist remarks, resist tokenism, raise issues of equal opportunities in University Committees, and as they begin to devise a coherent strategy for raising the profile of women in the decision making forums of the organization. So as with the youth workers project, we can see that attention to individual and group needs can lead beyond introspection to action in the world. The maxim that co–operative inquiry is "learning through risk taking in living" is also exemplified here, as it is in Hilary's account.
Lesley Archer and Dorothy Whitaker: Research Partnerships
Lesley and Dorothy's account of research partnerships is of interest for precisely the opposite reason to Lesley Treleaven's: it shows how an approach to participative research can be formally organized into a series of phases and activities. In this way the participative approach reflects the ethos of service–providing organizations, while the structured approach fits with the formal organizational setting in which they wish to operate.
Their account will read as familiar to people familiar with the literature on planned change and organizational development. We read of the need for the work to be legitimized from the top while controlled by staff at all levels; how a Project Workers Team is established to conduct the work, while a Co–ordination Group provides an arena for communication with the wider organization; and how the project moves through a series of planned phases firm enough to provide clarity yet flexible enough to be tailored to different situations.
Lesley and Dorothy's approach includes the use of research workshops as structured opportunities for organizational members to share their "practice wisdom" and to identify issues the organization needs to address. These are very important ways in which large numbers of people—members of organizations or communities—can genuinely participate, maybe not as full co–researchers, but as significant contributors to an inquiry. Such workshop structures are common practice among action researchers working on quality of working life projects (Gustavsen, 1992) and in a different way by proponents of participatory action research (Fals–Borda and Rahman, 1991). Thus the research partnership proceeds through a series of temporary participative structures which run in parallel with the formal organization structure, jointly managed by the external researchers and organizational members (Bushe and Shani, 1991).
It is important to note the more traditional view of research activity espoused here, for example where they differentiate between formal "findings" and experiential "learnings"; and also in their emphasis on the research itself as a separate phase of activity conducted in a traditionally rigourous fashion, but bringing together that experience of those in the field with the methodological expertise of University-based social work researchers. In this way their work is comparable with Bessa Whitmore's research, for which uses a traditional interviewing method in an innovative fashion; and stands in contrast to work of Lesley Treleaven and Hilary Traylen which is grounded fully in the experience of the participants. Both may have their validity. What is important is to see that this more orthodox approach to inquiry can be integrated fruitfully within a participative inquiry strategy.
The other important contrast is between this approach of research partnerships and the examples of full co–operative inquiry. In research partnerships the authority structure of the organization and of the research process is the accepted framework for the research. The participation is consultative in style within this framework, and the researchers appear to work as benign authoritative leaders; in contrast, Hilary, Annette and Lesley Treleaven allow and encourage their co–researchers to take much more power in defining the range, style and content of their inquiries. Lesley and Dorothy comment
This of course raises the extremely interesting question of power and where it lies. We do not think of ourselves as "benign authoritarian leaders". We do not think of ourselves as leaders at all, but as facilitators. Any authority which we have derives from a background of experience with research, just as others concerned possess authority derived from their, equally important, realms of experience. We hope that we are benign, but then so is everyone else: the ethos of partnership research is mutual respect for what each person concerned can bring to the project. We would like it noted that the power over the focus of the work, and the research purposes, derives from people in the organization. Our role in formulating purposes consists in facilitating their articulation. (Personal communication, 1994)
Research partnerships also reflect the political orientation of representative democracy in establishing groups to steer and managed the project whose members can speak for their constituents. Bessa Whitmore's chapter is similarly based on representation of a wider group in a different way—although without the formal constitutional arrangements which characterises research partnerships. Representative democracy stands in contrast to direct or participatory democracy, in which individual members are directly involved in decision making, rather than through representatives (Bachrach and Botwinick, 1992). The ideology of co–operative inquiry tends toward that of direct democracy, with Lesley Treleaven's inquiry being probably the most radical example.
The many faces of participation
This review of the contributors' chapters shows the many faces of participation: so simple on the one hand, so subtle and complex on the other; so easy to say, and yet so difficult to practice; and so rich in the experience for all involved. A number of themes have emerged which I shall note.
Forms of Participation
I want first to reflect on the different forms of participation in the inquiries using the framework developed in Chapters One to Four. To what extent are these projects examples of original participation, unconscious participation, and future participation?
While the health visitors' experience cannot be described as original participation in Barfield's sense of unconscious embeddedness in phenomena, there is a sense in which the health visitors that Hilary interviewed were originally flooded by their experience and sunk in the stress of their work; this can be seen as a degenerate form of deep participation. The first task of the inquiry was then to recover a sense of connectedness and valuing of their experience: to shift the group to a valid form of deep participation. Thus the work of exploring their practice is deeply engaging: Hilary notes that their primary modality was storytelling which is congruent with deep participation. She also points out how difficult it was to move the group to reflect on the inquiry as a whole. However, by building on their concrete experience the group moves into productive and quite risky cycles of action and reflection, which I would suggest can be seen as a move toward their own form of future reflexive participation.
In contrast to this experiential work, the formal statement of health visitor aims to which they later turn for a definition of their role exemplifies formal alienated consciousness. They struggle with the contrast between their experience and this statement, and from the dialectical tension between these two comes the more deeply based realization that health visiting practice must be based on the "development of well being". As Hilary points out, for the inquiry group "well being" is not just another abstract statement. It is grounded in their own intuitive experiential knowing—they have developed a feel for their own well being as professionals and for the well being of clients through their exploration of hidden agendas. It is made manifest through the practical skills they have been developing. And it is expressed through a statement which makes sense to them and communicates to their colleagues. Thus experiential, practical, and propositional knowings are congruent, build on and reinforce each other. The group can be seen as taking a further step toward future participation, developing a way of knowing which is both deeply embedded and reflective.
In Bessa's account the women who participated in the ante–natal programme can be seen in terms of deep non–reflective participation: they have been supported through their pregnancy and delivery by the programme and they have been asked to tell the story of their experience to an understanding and sympathetic listener with whom they can identify. They are embedded in their culture, which is characterised as quite defensive, and have not been asked to reflect or make sense of their experience.
The four women co–researchers are taught social science methodology, they are taken into different cultural milieu which present novel experiences and through this develop a degree critical reflectiveness. But they do not lose their capacity for deep participation—reading the stories of their encounters with committees and conferences I am struck with their continued spontaneity. Thus they appear to be making their idiosyncratic transition, albeit limited, from deep participation to a reflective future participation.
Bessa, on the other hand, seems to be making the journey toward a reflective participation in the opposite direction. Despite her value stance and epistemological position, she characterises herself at first as quite awkward, ignorant of the culture, working from the models of her social science training rather than from a deep intuitive participation. We are treated to a very honest account of her struggles to learn from her experiences, her "stumbling gait" toward participation, as Torbert (1992) might describe it. Again we see that good heartedness and willingness to learn may be more important than getting it right all the time.
Sara and John seem well on the way toward a reflective participation in their work as facilitators. They certainly are deeply engaged with their work and also systematically take time to stand back and reflect. It is worth noting that engagement and reflection are still separate activities to a large extent: there are clearly times when they are swamped by the experience, and their sense making follows with some delay, but that is to be expected.
On the other hand it is not clear how much the participants in the research project have moved toward a reflective consciousness. Since the project is so thoroughly (and successfully) facilitated I find myself suspecting that for much of the time the participants were carried along by a process which they were not able to make fully conscious for themselves.
Lesley Treleaven's women's inquiry demonstrates the possibility of grounding an inquiry in deep experiential knowing: the group affirms the importance of experience, intuition, storytelling, of knowing with body and emotions as well as with intellect, of structures and processes emerging from the needs of the moment. Confident in the experiential base of women's shared pain in the organization, the group seems to include conscious reflection as part of the process throughout—although there is of course an increased emphasis on making sense towards the end of the inquiry as documenting becomes important. The sense-making continues to hold awareness of the ground from which is arose.
The members of the youth work inquiry start from their experiential embeddedness in their work and their desire for qualification. Since most of them have been involved in experiential learning for a while, it would seem reasonable to assume that they are rooted in valid deep participation with a degree of reflective consciousness. They use the tools of co-operative inquiry—research cycling and devil's advocate procedures in particular, to enhance their self–reflectiveness. There is one particularly interesting incident, a vignette of the dialectic process, when Annette, by taking her authority in distributing the Rowan questionnaire causes a major debate about power and democracy within the group.
Lesley and Dorothy's account of partnership research is important because it provides a framework within which collaborative research can take place. This can be seen as creating a contradiction between the formal structures of the "parallel organization" they help to create and the experiential involvement of people. Successful projects are those in which this tension pays off in new creative understandings. Unsuccessful ones are those in which energy slumps or the hierarchy dominates. Again we can see the dialectic process at play: by creating a structure a space is created within which sponteneity can arise.
It seems from this retrospective analysis that the dialectical framework of developing participative consciousness which I outlined in Chapter Three does help to make sense of these projects. However, in more pro–active use the framework would illuminate the development of future participation as it unfolded through the history of an inquiry. It would provide both facilitators and participants with a way of looking at their experience, making sense of their interactions, and choosing the form of their developing relationships.
Formal methodology is approached in very different ways in the six examples. The youth workers, health visitors, and child protection groups draw quite formally on co–operative inquiry method, adapting it for their purposes yet staying within the framework. The prenatal programme evaluation draws on the tradition of participatory research and links it with a more traditional qualitiative methodology. In partnership research Lesley and Dorothy have developed their own methodological form grounded in the principles of action research and organizational intervention. In contrast, Lesley Treleaven sees all statements of method as over simplified and argues for an emergent process of inquiry. I have much sympathy with her perspective, having found that in my own work co-operative inquiry, which started off as a radical alternative to orthodox inquiry, has developed an orthodoxy of its own, so that students sometimes feel that they have to undertake a "proper" co–operative inquiry. On the other hand, Lesley's work is informed by a range of participatory ideas and by woman–centred values and practice, and it takes place at an institution where collaborative forms of inquiry do have a voice in that they are advocated and supported in at least one sub–culture.
I believe that method is important. I believe, as I have argued in Chapter Four, that it presents a discipline which will encourage the development of reflective participative consciousness and of a community of inquiry. This discipline offers a tension between the messiness of experiential engagement and the structure offered by cycles of action and reflection. And yet, if method becomes a new orthodoxy it will degenerate and again stifle creativity. Discipline is important in translating the intellectual ideals of participation into a form of practice
My advice to those who want to use collaborative methods is that they should study what others have done, explore the range of methods that is available, and then invent their own form which is suitable for the project they wish to undertake:
The methodologies we teach are best seen as sets of general principles and heuristic devices which need to be adapted creatively to different research issues. They raise questions rather than offer answers… We see ourselves as working with people on the questions behind the formulae of academic research, inviting them to create and frame answers for themselves (Marshall and Reason, forthcoming).
Ownership, power and collaboration
The question, "Whose research is this?" runs centrally through many accounts. What is fascinating is the amount of work and attention the initiators have devote to developing participatory group relationships. The group first has to be created and established with enough clarity of purpose and method that it has some chance of success, a culture of collaboration developed over time, and then space has to be provided for initiatives from participants to take over and transform the inquiry beyond the original dreams of the initiator.
This is accomplished in several ways: at one extreme Annette gives away power as soon as the group is established; at the other Lesley and Dorothy provide guidance to the participants through the steps of the research. Hilary identifies strongly with her participants, while Sara and John provide professional facilitation. There is an interesting contrast between Bessa working across cultural boundaries in the interest of a disadvantaged group and Lesley's feminist identification with the difficulties of women in her institution.
It seems also that participation in inquiry may range from the tacit to the explicit. In a way, in all inquiry participation will be tacit to begin with, from the time the initiator conceives the idea until it has been shared and agreed with co–researchers. Our students at Bath have found that they may have to work within their organization for quite a while, sowing the seeds of collaborative inquiry, inviting people to join with them, before making the explicit proposal to establish a co–operative inquiry group. In other situations, for example with people belonging to other subcultures, inquiry may need to stay tacit for quite a period, while trust and understanding are built up. As Bessa points out, it may be quite impossible to make an explicit agreement for co–operation with the disadvantaged women. Indeed, it may rarely be possible to establish a full relationship as co–researchers with some constituencies, although Sheila McClelland has shown that the limits of collaboration may be broader than we imagine by working with mental health patients as co–researchers (McClelland et al, 1993)
The contributions show a wide range of approaches to facilitation. On the one hand there is the intentional application of professional competence of Lesley and Dorothy in research partnerships and Sara and John with the child protection inquiry, all of whom have extensive training in group dynamics and facilitation. Bessa finds that quite often her professional competence is disabling as it takes her too far away from the culture of her co–evaluators. On the other hand is Hilary's relatively naive facilitation by identification, and the shared facilitation of the youth workers group.
Hilary's facilitation worked well in the circumstances: a homogeneous group working to a clear purpose engaged in creative cycles of inquiry (Randall and Southgate, 1980). It illustrates well that co–operative inquiry can be used by "ordinary people" and is not just the prerogative of professional researchers. At the same time, one can imagine situations with larger groups with more diverse composition and more difficult circumstances in which the group process could become difficult, turn sour, and lead a naive facilitator beyond their skills. I strongly believe that all those involved in co-operative inquiry should have an understanding of group process (for example, through reading Srivastva et al, 1977; Randall and Southgate, 1980; Heron, 1993) and some introduction of facilitation skill (see for example Heron, 1989).
The inquiries took place in very diverse organizational contexts. The programme of research partnerships is designed as a way of taking inquiry into formal organizations as part of a programme of planned development. Lesley and Dorothy have built a solid reputation for their work and established relationships with their client systems over the years, centred in the University of York. The child protection project is formally sanctioned and paid for by the sponsoring organization, but since it is not (as yet) part of a long term programme of co–operative inquiry, each step of legitimation has to be invented and painfully negotiated. The evaluation of the prenatal programme is sponsored by an organization which clearly appreciates the values of participation and invites proposals which will be in keeping with the nature of the project. And the norms and expectations of the Youth Service that provided the context for the youth service inquiry are congruent with those of co–operative inquiry.
In contrast, Lesley Treleaven uses the opportunities presented by equal employment and opportunity legislation and the staff development programme as a kind of organizational jujitsu, reframing them so that her inquiry is both within and outside the organization in a way that provides a base for her women–centred project.
Hilary's research with health visitors takes place in an organizational context—her project is sponsored by the NHS Regional organization, and takes place within the local organization. However, since her concern is primarily with the participants she fails to anticipate that her project runs counter to organizational norms and will stimulate opposition. She is obliged to spend some considerable amount of energy mending fences and restoring confidence in her work before she can proceed.
All these examples show how important it is to attend to organizational context: one may choose to go with it or to oppose it; to find the cracks in the formal organization in which the seeds of participation can be planted. But one cannot ignore it.
By way of conclusion
I write these final words the day after the first session at the University of Bath with our new postgraduate programme in action research. The group includes experienced professionals from business and public sector organizations, from health care, social work, and education. Their concerns include organizational learning and development, questions of gender and race, and conflict resolution. We spent two days together, at first tentatively, and then with more confidence sharing what we hoped to get out of our association, and our fears of disappointment. The desire for community is strong: many saying how they deeply feel the need for support, friendship and challenge; and with at the same time there is some fear of losing individual purpose in the whole. The desire for clarity about method, and truth, and meaning is strong, yet there is suspicion that words and theories may potentially distort experience.
My image for these exhilarating and exhausting two days is rather different from Hampden-Turner's one of steering between the rock and the whirlpool; for both rock and whirlpool are to be avoided—dangers on which one can be wrecked. Rather it is the image of a sailing boat, beating down a tidal channel in a fresh wind, working between wind and tide: for wind and tide can both carry you along and can also turn against you. Sometimes they work together as when the wind in the sails and the tide under the hull carry you on a fast passage; sometimes they are in harsh opposition, when wind against tide gives rise to a sharp, choppy and dangerous sea, especially around a tricky headland; and sometimes wind and tide work together in creative opposition as when the tidal stream counters the wind's leeway and allows the boat to steer a more direct course. In my metaphor the tide is the water in which we all swim, the deep participation of membership, of flowing together, of empathy; and the wind in contrast brings separateness, difference, and critical consciousness. It is in knowing their ways and in working their contrast and contradiction that the skilful sailor—and inquirer—makes a forward passage.