CREATING COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIPS IN A CO–OPERATIVE INQUIRY GROUP
Moira de Venny Tiernan, Annette Goldband, Lyn Rackham, and Nancy Reilly©
We are a group of youth workers with different roles in Merton Youth Service in South London, England. The purpose of our work is to empower young people, that is, to enable them to acquire the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for them to practice their right to self–determination. The Youth Service mainly operates in the social sphere of young peoples' lives, using the methodology of experiential learning (Kolb, 1984). This methodology also forms the basis of most of the training and staff development processes for youth service personnel.
Whilst most youth services have a number of professionally trained full time youth workers, the majority of youth workers are part–time and voluntary. People who wish to make the transition from part–time to full–time work (with a few exceptions) can only do this by undertaking professional training, usually by full–time attendance at an institute of higher education. This prevents a number of workers from making the transition, because they are unable to leave dependants or current employment in order to study full–time.
This led Annette, the second author, who is a full time Youth Officer with responsibility for Training and Staff Development and who was undertaking a Masters degree, to initiate a project researching into Alternative Routes to Qualification. She chose to use a full collaborative experiential inquiry method.
The co–researchers included eight part–time youth workers both paid and unpaid, from the maintained and voluntary sectors; one full–time youth worker and one freelance trainer/part–time youth worker (ex full–time youth worker). The group consisted of men and women; African, Caribbean, Asian and white people, as well as some workers with people with disabilities.
Writing this Chapter
Annette was invited to contribute to this book, and in order to maintain as full a collaboration as possible she invited all co–researchers to participate. As the research group was still meeting, only four people were able to find the time to do this. In the event, one of these four (the only male volunteer!) was unable to join in.
The importance we attached to being as fully collaborative as possible determined our methodology for writing. Firstly, we debated what aspects of our experience we would write about. We then brainstormed all the issues, incidents and accidents in the life of the research group which we perceived as significant and relevant to this story. We put these in a logical order and worked in pairs to write about them, using Annette's dissertation and the personal portfolios of Lyn, Moira and Nancy. Annette collated these and checked the finished article with the co–authors. When agreed by the whole writing group, the draft was sent to all co–researchers and the editor of this book simultaneously, who were all given the opportunity to challenge its content. This process was repeated until we arrived at the final article. This paper, therefore, whilst written by four members of the original project, has been validated by the whole research group.
Creating the Group—the initiator's perspective
It was my intention to invite the following individuals to join the research group, because they would have a vested interest in the provision of Alternative Routes to Qualification.
a) part–time youth workers who are looking for an 'Alternative Route to Qualification';
b) trainers, who are looking to provide/access alternative routes;
c) employers, who wish to establish alternative routes, to join with me in this collaborative venture.
According to Reason, the UK. developments "in co–operative inquiry have been closely linked with experiential learning and humanistic psychology". (1988, p. 2) Both these are parts of the foundation of youth work and youth work training. Certainly in Merton Youth Service, the majority of training for youth workers is experiential in nature. Our membership of the Centre for Youth Work Studies at Brunel University and the use of the Brunel Basic Training Scheme, with its emphasis on developmental group work is an example of this. It was therefore a congruent choice to elect for a method of research which in itself provided opportunities for experiential learning.
Just as the emphases on the whole person and experience are common ground shared by new paradigm research and youth work, so too is the emphasis on participation. Indeed, the last major report on the Youth Service was titled "Experience and Participation". (HMSO, 1981).
Similarly just as youth workers must be wary of allowing their views, perceptions, judgements, about a young person to take precedence over that young person's perception of themselves, so too does Heron argue that the empirical basis for experiential inquiry:
is the experiential knowledge of persons in relation to their situation, their world. And for researching the human condition and human capacity for self–direction from the standpoint of the agent; and that no other standpoint can have research precedence over the agent's standpoint. (Heron 1981, p. 159).
The methodology of the approach includes reflection and action cycles. It is because the approach is concerned with "formed in and for action rather than in and for reflection" (Reason, 1988, p. 12) that it is a paradigmatic shift from orthodox science. This emphasis on action also concurred with the expectations of Brunel University and my employer—that is, that the research I was involved in should lead to the development of a real piece of work, and not simply the production of a lofty tome to sit and gather dust on a shelf.
While still intent upon researching Alternative Routes to Qualification, I could not define the research area more specifically —this would need to be done by the inquiry group if the method was to be as collaborative as possible. Instead my planning at this stage had to concentrate on setting up the inquiry group and developing a general notion of time scale. Although the time scale could not yet be worked out in details, it was predictable that our work would be constrained by the deadlines placed on me by the University.
My first task then, was to invite a group of people to join me who would be:
1. genuinely interested in the area of research—to the point of having something to gain by the development of alternative Routes to Qualification;
2. experienced in growth processes of some kind (group work, counselling, etc.);
3. keen to try out a new methodology;
4. serious about their own growth and development;
5. able to give and receive feedback (i.e. challenge); as a natural part of their roles in groups.
Like Cunningham, I was therefore:
deliberately highly selective about the people I chose as a `core' group for the research. (Cunningham 1988, p. 171)).
I decided to hold a day to explain what I was interested in doing, explore the method and enable people to decide whether they wished to be involved. I made a list of all the part–time qualified youth workers in Merton whom I knew to have completed the Brunel Basic Training Scheme (BBTS) who were interested in becoming qualified as full–time youth and community workers, but who were unable to take up current options. I then wrote a letter of invitation to all those who in my perception also met the other four criteria in my list. This numbered twelve people. I also invited five people who were already full–time qualified and I perceived would be interested by virtue of their job role. This included the Principle Youth Officer for Merton; the Regional Officers responsible for training and Staff Development for the Catholic and Anglican Youth Services; my non–managerial Supervisor (a freelance trainer who had introduced me to the methodology); and a full–time colleague who was undertaking a two–year in–service training course in experiential learning.
In the event, some people did not take up the initial invitation, and we were left as a group of eleven—eight part–time qualified workers and three full–time qualified workers (including myself) who were to be the collaborative inquiry group.
The Group Comes Together
The first phase of the project, as I saw it, was to enable the group to get to a point of valid decision making as quickly as possible, this simply means that all parties have access to the relevant information for their decision making purposes; that they understand the questions; that they have time and space to formulate an opinion and that they are able to trust the group enough to express their own views, hear other peoples' views and give and receive feedback.
While everyone knew at least three other people in the group, and most people knew the majority very well (having previously worked together through intensive learning processes), it was important to facilitate the development of this new group.
The day started with a feature which became one of the norms of our large–group meetings. As the facilitator I shared the agenda with the group and we negotiated it. Quite predictably, the first day's programme was unaltered at this stage. The key features of the `programme' of Day 1 were:
1. Getting to know each other.
2. Exploring the method; comparing it with traditional research methods; understanding Rowan's research cycle (Reason and Rowan, 1981, p. 98).
3. Exploring the roles that could be played.
4. Exploring commitment (time etc.).
5. Exploring own feelings, thoughts and ideas about the project.
6. Making a decision whether to participate or not.
7. Deciding `where to from here?'.
My aim for this first day was to enable people to fully appreciate the equality they were being offered in this process. This was achieved in two major ways. Firstly, it was important that everyone had as much knowledge about the method as possible, to facilitate their decision about whether to participate and prevent me, the initiator, being "an expert" to the group. The second was through identifying what roles would be needed in our process and creating the opportunity for these to be distributed throughout the group, and the flexibility for roles to be changed over time.
The roles initially identified were both formal and informal. The formal roles included group facilitators (for planning and running our days together); organisers/administrators (for written communications between meetings); group recorders (to take notes of the whole group process); personal recorders (every member agreed to keep a recording of their own experience in the project and make this available to me for my dissertation); distress managers (we agreed that every co–researcher was available to play this role for any other co–researcher in the group); and two co–researchers agreed to take on the role of meeting with members who were absent from a day meeting in order to help them `catch up' on what they had missed.
The informal roles can be summarised by saying that every co–researcher was supported and encouraged to be themselves and offer this as freely as possible to the whole group. In particular, the skills of giving and receiving feedback, asking questions, supporting colleagues and commitment to the project in whatever it may demand.
By the end of the day, all those who had participated had committed themselves to the project with a degree of excitement. Six people had been unable to attend this first day and arrangements were made by seven of those who had attended, to contact them and facilitate their joining us on Day 2, a month later.
The group agreed what the next day should include, and two of them volunteered to facilitate it, involving me in their planning only if they needed this. At this stage I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand I was very excited that the group had so quickly picked up the reins of equal responsibility. On the other hand I was worried that this was occurring too soon. Did the two who were to plan and facilitate our next day understand the methodology sufficiently to carry out their task? I then asked my self whether this worry was really a reluctance to let go of my power as "the expert" and "the initiator"? I realised that this was an example of the risk–taking necessary for me to empower the co–researchers, and reasoned that the sooner I took some of these risks, the sooner we would achieve a fully collaborative research group. In the event, the two facilitators, at their request, met with me to talk through their understanding of what needed to be done, before planning the details of the day for themselves.
The Design of our Project
Day 2 included a recap on the methodology which served to include a co–researcher who had been unable to attend the first day, and also as a `rooting' for the rest of the group. We spent most of the day deciding what we would research. I gave the group some ideas to "start the ball rolling", then we split into two small groups to add our own suggestions which were collated into one list when we came back together. Some examples from this were:
research on experiential learning
research on validating learning from experience
research on our own processes of learning
research on competence—what this is and how it is acquired
are full–time youth workers born or made? Can people change?
how people think and how it affects their learning
how to use a portfolio for our learning
what skills, and level of skills, do you need to start as a full–time youth worker, and what can be left to acquire on–the–job?
generalist youth work skills vs. specialist youth work skills
management of learning
The large group again divided into smaller groups to select two favoured research topics which produced a short list in the whole group. From this the group selected the research area to be "How People Learn"—researching our own processes of learning. We reasoned that routes to qualification were learning processes and that whatever form they took, they should be informed by knowledge of how people learn. We, therefore, decided to research this for ourselves, in order that our Alternative Route to Qualification could be designed on what we knew to be true about how people learn.
Day 3 saw the introduction of our final "new" co–researcher and was the start of the research `proper'. I distributed copies of John Heron's chapter "Validity in Co–operative Inquiry" (1988, pp. 44-59) and had prepared a summary list of the validity procedures on flipchart (see Table 1).
—Table One about here—
The group spent time exploring these fully in order that there was a consensus of understanding. At the outset we saw them as a list of independent procedures. Our experience showed us that many interconnect or overlap and act as mechanisms of, or reinforcements for, each other, as indicated below.
Research cycling we agreed to mean the interaction of experience and reflection for both the individual and the whole group, ensuring that individual experience and reflection was open to influence by collective experience and reflection, and vice versa. Our method was to use small groups and the whole group for experience and reflection phases, with individuals having solitary reflection phases for recording which was then shared in both the small and large groups. This interactive research cycling process sought to keep the whole group maximally informed of what was happening for individuals.
The use of small groups and the whole group as well as constant interaction with individuals was a method by which we created a balance between experience and reflection. We spent a day together as a whole group, once a month; small research groups met weekly for two and a half hours; individuals spent time recording their experiences. Collective experiences were both experiential and reflective, the balance initially planned by facilitators but constantly open to change in response to evaluations of what was happening and perceived to be now needed. Such amendments were always collectively agreed.
The open and closed boundaries procedure served to reinforce our interactive research cycling in that we aimed for a closed boundary system—using co–researchers only, to work through anything the research experiences brought up for us. From the beginning, we were aware of the difficulties of this. For example, if the project raised 'old agendas' for an individual, there was a likelihood these would be discussed with non–researchers (e.g. family, friends). Both despite and because of this, we challenged ourselves to see how far we could maintain a closed boundary system. One of the other validity procedures helped us in this—the management of unaware projections. This we took to be identifying and dealing with unresolved emotional or psychological historical episodes, what we refer to earlier as 'old agendas'. We were all aware of how easily our current experience and perceptions are 'contaminated' and influenced by our subconscious. It was important that these were prevented from distorting or contaminating our research. We did this in two main ways. Firstly, we agreed that each would be available individually to support and help work through any issue which the research had raised and we felt unable to deal with in a grouping. This would be shared with the group, if deemed relevant, whenever the individual felt ready to do so.
The second method was our use of a Devil's Advocacy procedure. It's intended use was as a falsification mechanism, but it acted simultaneously as a powerful tool in the management of unaware projections. The process was simple. When an individual or small group was sharing their learning, another small group acted as Devil's Advocate, asking probing questions which assumed the contribution(s) to be "wrong", "illusory", "colluding", "confused", "dishonest", "inaccurate", or "contradictory". Another individual or small group acted as supporter(s) to the contributor(s), ensuring all parties heard each other, sharing an understanding of both questions and answers. They also ensured the contributors were not overwhelmed by the pressure of the process and that the Devil's Advocacy procedure's purpose as a method of falsification was to ensure that what was being researched and learnt, was real and relevant for individuals, the group, and our work together. It aimed to prevent us from stating something to be true simply because we wanted to believe it to be so. As a result of this, our findings are only those things we all came to know to be true and could provide evidence for.
The Devil's Advocacy process was also helpful in enabling us to differentiate between the various aspects of reflection. It helped us describe our experience more clearly— what had happened for me, for you, for us; and also to evaluate our experience—what it meant for me, for you, for us. Furthermore, it increased our efficiency and effectiveness in practical reflection—deciding how the next phase of our work could, would, or should be influenced by these reflections.
Another unintended outcome of the use of the Devil's Advocacy procedure was the role it played in balancing convergence and divergence. At its simplest, we understood this to be the balance between similarities and differences in what we were researching, how we researched it and how we recorded it. We originally built this procedure in as follows:
a) We agreed the purpose of the research to be that it would inform the designing of an Alternative Route to Qualification (Convergence).
b) We generated a list of possible research areas (Divergence)
c) We agreed to research "How People Learn (Convergence)".
d) We generated a list of learning methods (Divergence).
e) Individuals chose a skill of a full-time youth worker they wanted to learn (Divergence).
f) Small research groups were formed based on similarity of learning need (Convergence).
g) Small research groups designed a learning and research process (to include validity procedures), which met all their learning needs. (This produced Convergence within the small groups and Divergence between them).
The unexpected benefit of the Devil's Advocacy procedure was that it became the key mechanism by which convergence was created for our findings, in both the small research groups and the whole group. It was the method by which individual "truths" were tested out collectively and collective "truths" were tested out with individuals.
The various roles which needed to be played within the Devil's Advocacy process were constantly swapped around. This prevented any individual becoming labelled or stuck in a particular role. It also ensured a distribution of power and therefore an ensuing of equality. This was one of the ways in which we sustained authentic collaboration. All other roles were also rotated and undertaken by all members of the group—from facilitator of collective experiences, to being individuals' supporters for the management of unaware projections. All decisions were taken collectively. Individuals' decisions and experiences were constantly shared with the collective for confirmation and/or validation.
A further major mechanism in sustaining authentic collaboration was the balance between chaos and order. The purpose of this validity procedure was to ensure a balance between maximum creativity and an orderliness that enabled the research process to be worked through for the whole group. Chaos usually occurred when we were generating ideas, or questioning what needed to be done next. The phases of order emerged from this when we decided that decisions and plans would now have to be made.
The chaos was often initiated in the early stages by my refusal to decide or inform the group on what needed to happen. The process of creating authentic collaboration therefore contributed much of our chaos. As the research project progressed, our need for chaos helped us sustain authentic collaboration by keeping us wary of allowing any one individual or sub-group to determine and impose their 'order' on the rest of us.
The remaining two validity procedures—coherence in action and variegated replication—we perceived as checking devices. Coherence in action meant more for us than what use we could make of our learning in designing an Alternative Route to Qualification. It was also about what learning we were using in our actions as researchers and in other aspects of our individual lives. We believed that our learning was real when it had changed our behaviour.
The challenge of variegated replication was to communicate our experience in a way that would enable others to replicate it. This chapter is one of our attempts! It was therefore aided by the editorial skills of Peter Reason, and will be judged by yourselves, the readers!
The next stage in the process was for each of us to identify a skill that a full-time youth worker had to have, that we felt we didn't have. These were listed on a flip chart and individuals with similar learning needs formed small groups which came to be known as the small research groups. These groups were given space to work out a four week action plan by which they could start learning the skill. Everyone in the same group used the same method which had to include the validity procedures. This created some convergence, while the fact that each group was using different methods provided some divergence. We each agreed to record individual progress to bring to our next day meeting.
This became the pattern of our research—small research groups meeting once a week for eight months, and large group meetings one day a month. The whole group days consisted of the small research groups feeding back on a) the developmental progress of individual's learning; b) the effectiveness of the validity procedures used; c) any "results"—things we were learning about how people learn; d) any amendments to the learning methods as a result of a), b) and c). The day meetings also included space for individual's to further develop interpersonal skills; space to explore group issues; space to identify changes of formal roles and re-deciding that our structure for the research project was still relevant.
Creating and Maintaining Collaborative Relationships—the co-researchers perspective
The initial issue for us in the establishment of collaborative relationships was how we came to be included in the research project. Annette used some selection criteria to invite people she knew to have a vested interest in an ARQ. While this was obviously excluding (for those who did not receive an invitation), it was necessary unless the project was to work with up to 800 people!
In detailing her selection criteria in the invitation letter, Annette indicated that she valued some of the skills we had and therefore valued us. This was in itself both empowering and including for those of us who received an invitation to participate.
The design of Day One was intended to enable us to decide for ourselves whether we wished to be included or not. This was achieved through an explanation of the methodology and how it differed from traditional research. We also learnt about the level of collaboration Annette was seeking—that we would all be equally involved in deciding what we would research and how we would research it on ourselves. Despite the fact that this freedom was daunting (and for those expecting a more directive method, confusing), everyone was excited about it. As a result, everyone present on the first day committed themselves eagerly to the project.
Another feature of the first day was that everyone shared their reasons for being interested enough to attend. In addition to the fact that we all wanted an ARQ (some in order to participate in one, others because they wanted to be associated with providing one) we all had additional motives. Some people were intrigued to explore the new research method, some were curious to discover how their developmental groupwork skills were to be used and developed; two people (including Annette) were involved in academic courses for which the research was necessary; someone else had used new paradigm methodology previously and now wanted the opportunity to try a "full-blown" collaborative experiential inquiry for the first time. The discovery that our personal motives were as valued by Annette, as our common motives, was a highly including factor.
Through later reflection, we realised that this acceptance of the individual's right to be either `in common with' others or `different from' others was a feature which maintained the inclusiveness and collaboration of the co-researchers. It may be important to explain here how this came about.
On our fourth day, the small research groups shared their learning to date with the whole group. This was done using a Devil's Advocacy procedure as previously described by Annette. It was on our joint days, when these small research groups came together to share and further reflect on our learning that the convergent and divergent balance was sought.
Having completed this process during Day Four, we then collectively sought to summarise any further learning which had occurred as a result of this reflective process. The most significant item emerged in discussing what we had learnt as a result of the balance of convergence and divergence. Two individuals had in fact not stuck to the `convergent' plan of learning agreed within their small research groups. Despite some initial concern that this would "mess up" the process, it became evident that it did not matter as there were enough individuals who had used the same methodology for convergence still to exist in the total group. The increase in divergence this created added weight or validity to the further learning that had occurred namely—all learners need opportunities to reflect on their own, to reflect with others, to be committed to their own learning by owning the need for the learning.
Furthermore, the discussion about "ownership" brought about our discovery that learners need to own the process by which the learning takes place, to have the power to choose that learning process. This power to choose we came to call the right to be `in common' with others or `different from' others. As stated earlier, it was a significant mechanism in maintaining the inclusiveness and collaboration of co–researchers.
We have been able to identify ten norms which indicate how this acceptance of this right worked in our reality.
1. The whole process was designed by the whole research group.
2. Whole group meetings, while planned by the facilitators, were always negotiated with the whole group and were open to amendment as a result.
3. Any individual could stop the process at any time and negotiate a change of direction or emphasis.
4. Anyone was free to play any of the formal roles we felt necessary.
5. Individuals identified their own learning needs to work on.
6. Everyone kept a personal portfolio of their experience on the research project. This enabled everyone to feel that their experience and contribution was as valuable as anyone else's'.
7. From the beginning, the sharing of feelings was as valued as the sharing of thoughts or ideas. This prevented an intellectual hierarchy from emerging.
8. The falsification procedure we used was that of Devil's Advocacy. It enabled everyone to feel equally able to give and receive feedback to anyone else.
9. Our processes for the management of unaware projections included provision for every co-researcher to be available for all other co-researchers. Everyone was used and equally valued in this role. Our Devil's Advocacy procedure allowed for a group method for the management of unaware projections, resulting in everyone feeling equally included in the process of empowering another.
10. Co-researchers who experienced crises in other areas of their lives did not leave the research project unless it became inevitable (two members eventually left due to serious health problems of their own, or of a dependent). The norm was to seek help and support from co-researchers which would keep the individual included for as long as possible.
The other major factor which served to keep people included was that co-researchers used their interpersonal and groupwork skills for the benefit of others. Some examples of this were one individual's ability to rephrase what had been said to facilitate understanding; someone else's ability to formulate and articulate questions; another person's skill in keeping the group to the point; another co-researcher was able to share their vulnerabilities early, enabling the rest of us to follow suit quickly; and everyone proved to be skilled in balancing challenge with sensitivity.
Issues and Difficulties in Maintaining Collaborative Relationships
As a result of all we have just said it is true to say that the project became `ours' quickly and remains so to this day. However, there were two elements of our research experience which served to have an excluding effect on co–researchers—albeit with differing final outcomes.
One of these elements was John Rowan's questionnaire entitled "A Dialectical Paradigm for Research" (1981, p. 107). This was sent out by Annette following Day Two, to be completed for Day Three. The purpose of the questionnaire was to provide a common framework for some of the personal recordings throughout the period of the project, by taking `snapshot' pictures of ourselves at each phase of the inquiry cycle—Being, Thinking, Project, Encounter, Making Sense, Communication (see Rowan, 1981 p. 98). The questionnaires provide an opportunity for inquirers to explore their efficiency, authenticity, relationship abilities, political awareness, views of power and oppression, personal philosophy and world views, and how each of these was affecting or might affect the research.
There was a variety of reactions from the co-researchers, including feelings of intimidation, annoyance, anger, frustration and confusion. It made people feel excluded because they didn't understand all of the language or the concepts ("the paradox of rhythm and the rhythm of paradox"); this made some wonder whether they had made a mistake in including themselves in the research project. Despite this, most people attempted the questionnaire.
On Day Three, we had the space to talk about the questionnaire and the feelings and reactions it evoked from us. Annette explained her dilemma in discovering the questionnaire after Day Two: should she send it out with the questions rephrased and who was to say her interpretation was correct? Should she not send it out and miss the opportunity of our "Being" stage being recorded at the appropriate time; was she being arrogant in assuming people wouldn't understand it?
The result of this discussion was that the group moved forward. Despite the initial excluding effect, co-researchers felt more included, more equal in their collaboration with the initiator than they had done previously. There were five reasons for this. Firstly, those who had attempted to answer the questions had emerged with a sense of achievement. Secondly, the discussion on Day Three about the questionnaire provided an opportunity for everyone's vulnerabilities about the research to be brought into the open and begun to be dealt with. Thirdly, we finally accepted that Annette was not necessarily more fluent in the methodology than we were (there were questions she too could not understand); and also that she was capable of making mistakes. Fourthly, we gained a greater knowledge and understanding of each other as people and co-researchers. Lastly, but not least, we came to a shared understanding about the meaning of some of the language and a deeper understanding about the methodology. While the exclusivity of the language had initially had an alienating effect, we worked through the issues together and increased our level of collaboration as a result.
The other element which had an excluding effect on some people was the behaviour of two of the co-researchers. These issues were addressed as they arose and also formed part of our reflections in the `Making Sense' weekend. In analysing these situations we identified that the individuals concerned were perceived by other co-researchers to be "looking out for themselves", without regard for the other co-researchers. One was perceived as trying to grab power, the other as demanding group time and attention for themselves. In the former case, the group felt that we had been offered an equal share of power in all aspects of the research project and therefore perceived the individual's attempt to take power from the initiator as a threat to our own power, and also as disruptive. It was disruptive because any power the individual wanted, was there for the asking—but it was never articulated as a request or something to be negotiated with the group. It emerged as a refusal to use their own skills, withhold knowledge or a hijacking of agendas. The fact that this co-researcher focused on Annette for the power battle was also excluding, as it was the group which held the power—not the initiator. We saw this as an attempt to make the structure hierarchical and therefore non-collaborative.
In the second case, the co-researcher's commitment waxed and waned, resulting in non-attendance at both some small research group meetings and meetings of the whole group. When attending, this person made demands for large amounts of the group's time and attention. Whilst this was willingly given, it became apparent the individual was unwilling to give similar time and attention to other individuals, the group's issues or its work. The effect of this individual's imbalance in `giving and taking' was to make several co-researchers feel excluded.
Issues of Dependency
At the start of the research project, there was obviously a high level of dependency upon Annette, primarily regarding the research methodology. This diminished as we learnt through our own experience of the project that the initiator meant what she said, that is, that our experiences, ideas and feelings were as important as hers.
It also diminished as we perceived the initiator less as an expert and more as an equal co-researcher. A major turning point in this was "The Issue of The Questionnaire" as it became known. This led to co-researchers using each other for support and to answer queries, rather than addressing these solely to Annette as had occurred in the first 4–6 weeks of the project.
Similarly, the six co-researchers who had taken on the role of facilitator or co-facilitator of the whole group days experienced a dependency on Annette for the planning of the earlier ones. However, as we gained more confidence in this role, and our understanding and knowledge of the process deepened, this dependency diminished to the extend that Annette was not involved in helping to plan or facilitate any part of our days five, six or seven.
Another early, but major dependency was the group's need to have a 100% consensus on every decision—majorities, however overwhelming, were not sufficient. It was only on Day Three when this was articulated by some co-researchers to be a block to progress, creating frustration and eating up valuable group time. Once the dependency was identified we could talk it through and came to the conclusion that unanimity in decision-making would be sought, but where it proved to be unobtainable in the time available, a majority decision would be taken. With the additional mechanism that individuals could renegotiate the decision on the following whole group day, this proved to be a constructive way forward.
This mechanism was a typical example of our reluctance to allow any issue to remain unresolved. The benefits of this were that they provided many opportunities for growth and development resulting in being a rich source of information for our research on "How People Learn". These situations also allowed everyone to feel valued, in the knowledge that no one researchers' issues were less worthy than another's.
The structure of the research project was one of interdependency, without which it could not have worked. Our collaboration as a whole group depended on the small research groups being reliable in carrying out what they had decided and agreed to do. Our dependency on having access to the small research groups' learning was such that on the occasions a small group had not done its work, space was provided on the whole group day for this to occur. This ensured that all researchers were able to contribute their own experiences to the project, and that all researchers had equal access to learn from each others learning.
Where issues of dependency were short-term, they proved to be supportive and empowering mechanisms which kept other co-researchers included and helped them become more assertive collaborators. The willingness to learn and act for oneself meant that rather than remain dependent on a co-researchers' skill, individuals began to use each other as role models and worked to develop these skills for themselves.
A major outcome of our research was that we realized that when we accepted responsibility for our own learning dependence grew into an interdependence which allowed for greater critical reflection and further growth. Without accepting this responsibility for our own learning we remained dependent, resulting not only in the lack of development of new skills, but also in a gradual abdication of use of our current skills. In other words we either moved forward through interdependence, or backward through dependence.
Our project was to explore "How People Learn", through discovering how we, ourselves, learned. Our purpose was not to add to the body of academic knowledge per se, but to discover for ourselves. The utility of our findings lay not only in how they might inform the design of a qualification route: much of the learning was put to use as it was learned, through the continuing opportunities which the inquiry provided. In this way, the project remained true to new paradigm research methodology itself (see Torbert, 1981, p. 443).
One of the complicating and dilemma-creating factors of any form of action research is the contaminating affect of the method itself. Tandon succinctly summarises this:
If the situation under study undergoes changes by the process of study, then what is finally studied is something different from what was originally intended... To that extent, it contaminates the situation it purports to study. (1981, p. 301).
This did not prove to be a dilemma for us. Because we were looking at "How People Learn", the changes—the learning—that took place, far from contaminating our research, it provided us with the very material we needed. Furthermore, it was this `contaminating' effect which brought us to refine our topic to that of looking at the role of reflection in how people learn. This evolution, or refinement, occurred as a result of our `Devils Advocacy' procedures on Day Four. After each small research group had undergone the Devil's Advocacy process (i.e. had critically shared their learning), it became evident that despite the divergence of learning methods chosen by individuals, `reflection' was a convergent factor; that is, all members of the group had spoken about reflection having played some part in their learning. We decided to focus on this during our next experience and reflection cycles.
Our `Making Sense' weekend was facilitated by three co–researchers. We spent the majority of this time in two newly–created small groups. The intention was to share what we had each learned and the role that reflection had played in this learning. This work was supposed to have been done in pairs from the small research groups prior to the weekend. Unfortunately, not everyone had accomplished this so the process was undergone during the weekend in the `new' small groups.
Each small group recorded those items of information that were true for all members of the group. Towards the end of the second day, we came together as the whole project group in order to identify anything which was common to all members of the entire project. The information delineated here is only that which proved to be true for
all of us; that is, the information which was a result of:
convergent thinking reflecting on divergent aspects and perspectives, refining each and bringing out the common ground they illuminate. (Heron 1985, p. 137).
As in earlier stages of the project, members were not permitted simply to feedback. One member of the group recorded the experience and all others were involved in active, critical discussion with the `learner'. The process throughout, was one of supportive confronting (see Cunningham 1988, pp. 178-179). As a result, further learning occurred through the 'Making Sense' phase itself.
1. I learn most effectively with others.
a) My learning stems from a choice I make—whether to learn or not !
b) I have to have a common language and/or common experience with the others which allows me to test out whether I trust their judgement. If I do, they become significant and powerful enablers of my learning processes.
c) The common experience may be nothing more than a shared learning process.
d) Learning is a alance of convergence and divergence. It is a cocktail of meanings, perceptions, values, thinking styles and items to be learnt, some of which I need to have 'in common with' others (convergence) and in some I need to be 'different from' others (divergence).
e) I need others to watch/experience me perform and give me honest feedback on that performance. This feedback, to be most effective, needs to be given by interrupting my performance, or immediately on completion of it.
f)I have to trust the integrity of the others; that is, that they will not consciously deceive me, but share their truth with me, willingly and openly.
g) I learn most effectively when the others offer perceptions and perspectives which are different from my own, creating some divergence.
h) I need others to be critical of me and confront me with my contradictions, collusions and illusions.
i) When others are confronting me, I need to trust that their motives are to aid my learning. When I am sure of this the learning is powerful. When I doubt this, the pain outweighs and impedes the learning.
j) I need interdependent relationships as these facilitate my learning. I need to avoid dependent relationships as these lead to my regression.
2. I learn most effectively when I take responsibility for it.
a) I need to value that which I am seeking to learn.
b) I need to value the learning method for my learning to be most effective. However, I can alter my perception of a method I do not value, long enough to enable me to learn something I value learning. I can therefore impede my own learning by choosing not to make this effort.
c) I need to be in a receptive frame of mind to receive critical confrontation.
d) I need to be open as well as honest—articulating what I think and feel at the time these occur. Articulation after the event is less powerful for my learning.
e) I need to deal with negative experience and/or feelings, as unresolved issues impede my learning and/or 'contaminate' my "truths".
f) Despite the importance of others in aiding my learning, I need time to reflect on my own.
3. Some General Discoveries
a) Unlearning is much more difficult than learning and generates more powerful emotions.
b) Unresolved issues will continue to manifest themselves in all aspects of our lives until they are resolved.
c) Learning increases with each interplay of shared and solitary opportunities for experience and reflection.
d) Learning has occurred when new action/behaviour follows.
Applications for Alternative Routes to Qualification
The group is currently involved in a project with Brunel University to design an ARQ (now called an Accessible Route to Qualification). Some of the principles which arose from our research and that we are seeking to apply are detailed here.
1. The structure of an ARQ needs to be based upon small groups of people committed to their own and each others learning.
2. The participants need a shared understanding of the principles and practices of 'How People Learn'.
3. The participants first phase of learning needs to be the development of skills which facilitate learning: the skills of reflection, critical confronting, group dynamics, critical awareness—to name a few.
4. Opportunities for prior learning to be accredited are necessary. This validates and values the participant and her/his experience. Additionally, it leaves her/him free to devote energy to those things yet to be learnt.
5. The motivation and commitment of participants will be vastly increased if they have the power to choose what to learn and how to learn it. This is possible to achieve (as we did in our research project) because we found it to be unnecessary for all participants to be learning the same things simultaneously.
6. The ARQ needs to build in ample opportunities for collective experience and reflection as well as individual experience and reflection.
7. The ARQ needs to provide opportunities for experiences to be witnessed/experienced by others who will give open and honest feedback to them on their performance. This feedback needs to interrupt the performance or occur immediately after the performance.
A Final Reflection—a Collaborative Perspective
We must actually own some amazement at what we have managed to achieve to date as, perhaps predictably, the process was not without difficulties. The first problem has been one of time. The project has been affected by the difficulty some members had in participating in all that they had committed themselves to. Whilst this is in part an indication of being part–time in youth work, there were many members who lived up to their agreed commitment and gave more besides. It is certainly an issue that will need addressing within an alternative route to qualification. The second aspect of the time dilemma was the decision for the whole project group to meet once a month. This was decided in order to meet the needs of one of the participants. However, most participants articulated that the group would have gelled more quickly, and participants would have achieved more challenging relationships with each other more quickly, had the group met fortnightly—at least for the first 4–6 months.
The second major problem area was that of familiarity with the method. The initiator of the project was concerned that we reach a stage of shared understanding as quickly as possible, but not before the method was understood. In the event, she risked handing over power too early for some—and too late for others. As a result some members in the first category still disbelieve that this was her first experience with the method, and the power battles that have occurred reflect members in the second category!
We now believe that much of this could have been avoided had we spent time at the start of our inquiry further developing our skills for critical awareness and confronting. The initiator personally knew all members to have these skills (obviously to varying degrees); indeed it was one of the criteria she applied in selecting whom she should invite to participate. However, she expected group members to use their skills earlier than they chose to do so. It is our belief that spending time together focusing on developing them further, would have created the trust necessary for people to use them earlier. This is therefore, the third major critique we have of our process.
New Paradigm Research Methodology
The choice of research method was based on the level of congruence Annette perceived between new paradigm research methodology, her experiences as a youth worker, a trainer, her values as an anti–discriminatory practitioner and as an individual human being. Our experience in using the methodology has not only confirmed that earlier perception, but increased our conviction. Boud and his colleagues (1985) would say that we have `appropriated' this learning, that is, that we have taken it into our value system.
We recognise the danger we are in of becoming one of Reinharz'
converts, embracing the new `truth'... in other words, mystified anew. (Reinharz 1981, p. 425).
However, we do not believe we would remain alone with this conviction if more youth and community workers were aware of the methodology. The process of youth work is experiential learning. The process of training `in the field' is experiential learning. It would seem that it is only the college–based training programmes leading to full–time qualification which are less experientially based than they could be! As Heron himself says:
Seen in another light, co–operative inquiry is a way of systematically elaborating and refining an experiential learning cycle. (Heron, 1985, p. 128).
It follows from this (and from earlier discussions) that the skills for this research methodology are already held by youth workers. Ironically, Torbert (1981) argues that if social scientists develop these skills they can enable others to develop them:
As social scientists master the behavioural, emotional, disciplines necessary to research their own lives with others, they can for the first time help others in this regard as well. (Of course, there is no guarantee at present that social scientists will be among the first to choose to master these disciplines). (Torbert, 1981, p. 443).
Some of us may say they are already behind others in the human development field in `mastering these disciplines'! Certainly, our collaborative group consisted mainly of people who would not consider themselves to be academic—most have not had the experience or opportunities of Further or Higher Education. The initiator, was a novice in the methodology. Yet between us, and without the supervision of an expert in the he field, we have made an honourable effort we firmly believe that any group of people committed to a particular area of research, can employ a full blown collaborative inquiry method.
We are aware that much is being done within the Youth Service to promote and encourage more research to be undertaken. While there are many ways in which people learn, we believe the new paradigm methodology to be the research method for youth workers. At the very least, it should be given a higher profile and offered alongside the traditional paradigm. For in `people work' we are never very far from the `thorny' issues of emotions, values and beliefs.
Integrity requires that we learn to speak unselfconsciously about value in matters of fact. We need to develop, in the arena of values, inquiry methods that are as sophisticated and powerful as the methods of science have been in matters of fact". (Kolb, 1984, p. 227).
Table 1: Heron's Validity Procedures
Balance of divergence and convergence
Balance between reflection and experience
Aspects of reflection
Chaos and order
Management of Unaware projections
Sustaining authentic collaboration
Open and closed boundaries
Coherence in action