I am talking about enquiry a lot at the moment and I want to unpack what I mean partly as it’s a good habit in your practice to reflect on these terms you use a lot and partly because I am meeting a lot of new people at the moment and I’d like to be less mysterious about it. It’s not mysterious – it’s about focusing on finding the good questions and being systematic and structured in how you explore them.
Enquiry is a key element of action research which is what it says on the tin: the blending of practical action with research and the creation of new knowledge. My preference method of systemic action research comes from two main roots:
- Participatory action research: a reflective cycle of plan/do/act where researchers create new knowledge alongside process participants
- Systems thinking: a framing of the world as a system of interconnected actors and forces
These two practices are both well documented elsewhere but a useful introduction to their use together can be found in Danny Burns’ book “Systemic action research ” (Burns, 2007). You can also read this excellent piece by Dr Anna Birney which describes a properly mature piece of systemic action research looking at climate action.
Enquiry is the bit of both practices which is about the shared sense making and question creation that underpins any piece of systemic action research.
In shaping my enquiry I keep coming back to the International Future Forums three horizons framework and thinking about what it means if the 2nd horizon is so immediate and turbulent. My instinct is to keep coming back to some foundational questions with which to ground enquiry and get started:
- what of the past do we want to preserve?
- What is present of the future that we want to nurture?
- Where are the gaps that we need to fill?
At the moment I am starting to work out what my enquiry map looks like – the set of questions I am looking at based on some thinking I did at the start of the year. This map will tend to shift and iterate a lot before it settles into questions I am working on – and this process is even richer if it’s done with other people. The aim is to get to a couple of good ‘calling questions’ which then form the basis of more structured and collaborative work. I am assuming my calling questions will be centred around data, participation and democracy at the moment but part of this initial sifting process is working out if that’s a good assumption or not.
This aim to turn this into collaborative enquiry is central to a practice of participatory action research and why finding co-enquirers is so important – so if you are interested let me know.