RCLA works to understand leadership practice and to generate leadership theory in the context of the public and nonprofit sectors. A key organizing principle of our work is that building good theories about leadership requires a deliberate collaboration between practitioners and researchers, who work together to identify burning issues of theory and practice. In the process of addressing these issues, they develop new knowledge and enrich practice. The methods RCLA employs in its work are constructed to facilitate this equal exchange.
Dialogue and inquiry represent the primary methodological approaches to develop our work. Most leadership centers generate research activities and organize public dialogues separately (parallel tracks) or sequentially (research comes first, and dialogue second). At RCLA, dialogue and inquiry serve as complementary entry points to understand practice, to generate theories of leadership and to develop leadership. Dialogue provides opportunities for inquiry and at the same time, motivated inquiry leads to relevant dialogue among key stakeholders, which in turn produces collective learning.
Dialogue opens opportunities for individuals to learn from each other and encourages the exchange of diverse perspectives toward producing shared understanding. Dialogues are tools of collective learning. They help build bridges across communities of practice and among members of these communities. RCLA organizes small and large-scale dialogues, private and public dialogues, and dialogues within and across different communities and sub-communities.
Dialogue invites diversity and multiplicity of perspectives to the inquiry on leadership and offers spaces where multiple voices intersect to challenge each other and find common ground. During dialogue, practitioners articulate their challenges and insights, thereby imagining alternative ways to frame and address them. In the process of reframing these challenges, they learn something new to enhance their practice. Dialogue is a helpful tool to explore leadership challenges affecting multiple sectors, organizations or communities, and for which existing frameworks have not worked. The resolution of such conflicts can offer a significant ripple effect.
In collaboration with practitioners, RCLA has been exploring and experimenting with various techniques and methods of dialogue and inquiry. Click here to learn about our programs. We are committed to continuing to use and develop both traditional and leading edge methodologies to encourage credible inquiry (from applied and action research to collaborative inquiry and participatory research) and dialogue (from roundtables and seminars to open spaces and “future search” conferences). Finally, we are committed to encouraging a wide range of methodological approaches that use many forms of representation as nontraditional tools for inquiry and dialogue, including storytelling, poetry, theater, photography, and other forms of art.
Inquiry opens the mind to new possibilities of understanding by offering a process that is systematic and follows agreed-upon rules and standards. As a collective and public enterprise, inquiry takes many forms, from traditional basic and applied social science and ethnographic research to more inclusive approaches such as appreciative inquiry, narrative inquiry, cooperative inquiry and participatory action research. All these forms can contribute to generating legitimate and credible new understandings of leadership, and their use depends on the problems and questions being addressed.
RCLA aspires to become the place where individuals interested in mastering innovative leadership research methodologies can come to learn about their underlying assumptions and their practical use. We have developed exciting qualitative research designs that are multi-modal (capturing leadership from various angles and through various methods) and collaborative (doing research with leaders rather than on leaders). RCLA’s vision is to continue to use and develop research methodologies that “push the intellectual envelop” of social science inquiry and scholarship, while staying true to its cannons.
Hallmarks of our Research Methodologies
Common to all methodologies embraced at the Research Center for Leadership in Action is that they allow the Center’s staff and their partners to:
- Include practice and practitioners as legitimate sources of knowledge and draw valid understanding from them
- Establish explicit linkages between theory and practice, and between theory building and practice enhancement
- Develop collaborations with practitioners to study leadership from multiple perspectives, in multiple contexts and in contexts or with populations not sufficiently considered before
- Promote the interplay between inquiry and dialogue, as the key entry points to generate individual learning and collective knowledge about leadership theory and practice
- Open inclusive and participatory spaces to level the playing field so that multiple stakeholders can engage in knowledge generation and theory building (activities traditionally reserved to experts in the academy).
Cooperative Inquiry for Learning and Connectedness
By Sonia Ospina, Waad El Hadidy, and Amparo Hofmann-Pinilla. Action Learning: Research and Practice (2008)
From Consent to Mutual Inquiry: Balancing Democracy and Authority in Action Research
By Sonia Ospina, Jennifer Dodge, Bethany Godsoe, Joan Minieri, Salvador Reza and Ellen Schall. Action Research 2:1 (2004) 47-69
Appreciative Narratives as Leadership Research: Matching Method to Lens
By Ellen Schall, Sonia Ospina, Bethany Godsoe, and Jennifer Dodge. Advances in Appreciative Inquiry Vol. 1 (2004) 147-170
Co-Producing Knowledge: Practitioners and Scholars Working Together to Understand Leadership
By Sonia Ospina, Ellen Schall, Bethany Godsoe and Jennifer Dodge. Building Leadership Bridges 2002. (2002) 59-67
"The interplay between dialogue and inquiry produces at the same time individual learning and collective knowledge."
Products for Practice
RCLA Practice Notes offer practical guidance about facilitating leadership development based on peer-learning and inquiry together.
Access the Practice Notes