Setting up a co-operative enquiry group

McArdle, K. L. 2001. Establishing a Co-operative Inquiry Group: The Perspective of a ‘First-time’ Enquirer. Systemic Practice and Action Research. 15 (3) pp177-189

So, this was a lovely paper, I thought. The author Kate McArdle goes into so much detail not only about what she did to get her co-operative enquiry group together, but also what informed her decisions, and how she felt about each aspect of the process. I liked her confidence; the way she identified what she would not compromise on, and stuck to that. And I liked the way she owned and accepted her actions.

You’d have to be pretty confident in this way in order to write this kind of paper, I think. It illustrates the extent to which risking harm to participants must be balanced by the benefits of the research, and the publication of it. The participants ‘Jane’, ‘Gemma’ and ‘Helen’ would, presumably, be recognised by any of the women in the group, and I wonder how they [would?] feel about their actions being presented and reflected upon in this way. We’ve all probably ‘done a Jane’ at some point, and I would probably feel uncomfortable simply seeing my behaviour mirrored back at me like this, let alone a whole bunch of colleagues being reminded of it too. These kinds of reflections would normally remain in one’s research journal, but I’m very glad McArdle has decided to share these aspects of her story, because it demystifies the process of setting up an enquiry group. It not only gives me a technical recipe to follow, it also gives me an indication of how the process might feel. Fear of the unknown – which might otherwise be quite paralysing – is therefore less of an issue.

I do feel McArdle has been scrupulously fair throughout. She doesn’t criticise but observes, reports her own feelings, and uses empathy to surmise what others may have been feeling – for example when she writes that for a while she had feelings of blame towards her junior sponsor Anna when a list of suitable candidates didn’t appear as promised, but acknowledges that the inquiry was ‘just one small thing in [Anna’s] life’, not the massive thing it was in her own.

I particularly liked the bit where McArdle explains in painstaking detail how the room had been set up, and what happened when she asked the estates and catering staff to help her move things to how she wanted them. I thought the way she presented her observations without judgement was very clever.

Generally – I thought this was an exceptionally useful paper for me to read. It helps with motivation, I think, to have a clearer idea of what my own enquiry group will look like, the challenges I will face and the decisions I will need to make, and how I’m likely to feel about it!

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