How Cooperative Inquiry Works

Cooperative Inquiry is a participatory research technique in which a small group of participants uses their own experience to generate insights around an issue that is of mutual concern.

In this type of inquiry, participants formulate a question, agree upon a course of action, individually engage in action through their work, and then collectively make meaning from the data generated by their actions. This cycle of reflection-action-reflection is repeated several times until the group feels it has successfully addressed its concerns.

On occasion, facilitators support the group to ensure that its members use the process to its full advantage. CI contributes to creating new knowledge grounded in practice, deepens the participants' leadership potential, and strengthens relationships among group members.

Facilitators and group participants co-author reports to present the findings of each inquiry. Other members of our core research team also offer reflective reports on the Cooperative Inquiry process. These reports are designed to be useful for practitioners who share the questions of the inquiry, or anyone interested in learning more about practitioner-oriented research.

Selected Readings on Cooperative Inquiry

Heron, J. & Reason, P. The Practice of Co-operative Inquiry: Research 'with' rather than 'on' people. In Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.). Handbook of Action Research, pp. 179-188. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006.

Heron, J. & Reason, P. Layperson's Guide to Cooperative Inquiry

Heron, J. & Reason, P. Cooperative Inquiry. In Rethinking Methods in Psychology (pp. 122-142). London: Sage, 1995.

Hilary Traylen. Confronting Hidden Agendas: Co-operative Inquiry with Health Visitors, Chapter Five from Peter Reason's edited book: Participation in Human Inquiry: Research with People, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994.

Brooks, A. and K.,Watkins. A New Era for Action Technologies: A Look at the Issues. Chapter One from their edited book: The Emerging Power of Action Inquiry Technologies, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education No. 63, Fall 1994, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

RCLA Academic Publications on Cooperative Inquiry 


Ospina, S., El-Hadidy, W., Hofmann-Pinilla. "Cooperative Inquiry for Learning and Connectedness", prepared for International Action Learning Conference: Practices, Problems & Prospects; 17th - 19th March 2008, Henley-on-Thames. To be published in upcoming issue of Action Learning: Research & Practice, Routledge Publications, 2008.


Ospina, S., J,. Dodge, E., Foldy, A., Hofmann-Pinilla. "Taking the Action Turn: Lessons from Bringing Participation to Qualitative Research,". In Reason and Bradbury (Eds), Hand Book of Action Research, London Sage Publications, 2006.

Yorks, L., A., James, L., Ress, S., Ospina, A., Hofmann- Pinilla. "The Tapestry of Leadership: Lessons From Six Cooperative Inquiry Groups of Social Justice Leaders", Reason and Bradbury (Eds). Hand Book of Action Research, London Sage Publications 2006.

Minieri, J., E., Foldy, J., Dodge, A., Hofmann-Pinilla, M., Krauskopf, and S., Ospina, "Transforming lives, changing communities: How Social Justice organizations
build and use power", Research Center for Leadership in Action, Wagner School of Public Service, 2006.

Minieri, J., E., Foldy, , S ., Ospina, and A., Hofmann-Pinilla. "From Constituents to Stakeholders: Community-based Approaches to Building Organizational Ownership and Providing Opportunities to Lead". Research Center for Leadership in Action, Wagner School of Public Service, 2005.

Ospina, S., and J.,Dodge. "Narrative Inquiry and the Search for Connectedness: Practitioners and Academics Developing Public Administration Scholarship." Public Administration Review 65 (4), 2005.

Dodge, J., S., Ospina, and E., Foldy. "Integrating Rigor and Relevance in Public Administration Scholarship: The Contribution of Narrative Inquiry." Public Administration Review 65 (3) 286-300, 2005.

Ospina, S., and J., Dodge. "It's About Time: Catching Method Up to Meaning - The Usefulness of Narrative Inquiry in Public Administration Research."  Public Administration Review 65 (2) 143-157, 2005.

Dodge, J., S., Ospina, and R., Sparrow. "Making Partnership a Habit: Margie McHugh and the New York Immigration Coalition." Synergos Bridging Leadership Resource Center, 2004.

Ospina, S., J., Dodge, B.,Godsoe, J., Minieri, and E., Schall. "From Consent to Mutual Inquiry: Balancing Democracy and Authority in Action Research." Action Research 2 (1) 47-69, 2004.

Schall, E., S., Ospina, B., Godsoe, and J., Dodge. "Appreciative Narratives as Leadership Research: Matching Method to Lens." Advances in Appreciative Inquiry Vol 1: Constructive Discourse and Human Organization. Ed. David Cooperrider, and Michel Avital. Oxford: Elsevier Science, Ltd. Pp. 147-170, 2004.

Ospina, Sonia. "Qualitative Research." Encyclopedia of Leadership. Ed G. Goethals, G. Sorenson, J. MacGregor. SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks CA, New Delhi, 2004.

Ospina, Sonia. Qualitative Research as Reflective Practice: Towards Humility and Engagement in the Social Sciences, 2003.

Ospina, S., E., Schall, B., Godsoe and J., Dodge. "Co-Producing Knowledge: Practitioners and Scholars Working Together to Understand Leadership."  Building Leadership Bridges. Ed. Cynthia Cherrey, and Larraine R. Matusak. International Leadership Association, 2002. Pp. 59-67.

Ospina, Sonia. "Qualitative Research of Reflective Practice: Towards Humility and Engagement in the Social Sciences." Annual Conference on Ethnographic and Qualitative Research in Education. Duquense University, School of Education, 2003.

RCLA Cooperative Inquiry Reports


Click here to access RCLA's reports from Cooperative Inquiry and other research processes.


"Art, Creative Practice, Action, and Leadership: A Next Generation Leadership Alumni Network Cooperative Inquiry." Co-authors: Elizabeth Canner, Kathie deNobriga, Timothea Howard, Annie Lanzillotto, Pam McMichael, Cara Page, Doug Paxton (Facilitator) and Elizabeth Kasle (Facilitator), 2008.

"Can the Arts Change the World? The Transformative Power of the Arts in Fostering and Sustaining Social Change: A Leadership for a Changing World Cooperative Inquiry." Co-authors: Arnold Aprill, Elise Holliday, Fahari Jeffers, Nobuko Miyamoto, Abby Scher, Diana Spatz, Richard Townsell, Lily Yeh, Lyle Yorks (Facilitator) and Sandra Hayes. (Facilitator), 2006.

"Don't Just Do Something, Sit There. Helping Others Become More Strategic, Conceptual, and Creative." Co-authors: Victoria Kovari, Reverend Tyrone Hicks, Larry Ferlazzo, Craig McGarvey, Mary Ochs, Lucia Alcántara (Facilitator) and Lyle Yorks (Facilitator).

"A Dance That Creates Equals: Unpacking Leadership Development." Co-authors: Denise Altvater, LaDon James, Barbara Miller, Tyletha Samuels, Cassandra Shaylor, Lateefah Simon, Mark Valdez Bethany Godsoe (Facilitator) and Sonia Ospina (Facilitator).

Flash Presentation


Seeking the Common Values of Successful Social Change Leadership