The Research Center for Leadership in Action at NYU Wagner has pioneered Collaborative Inquiry as a method to conduct participatory international evaluations; offer leadership programs for accomplished professionals in a variety of public service organizations; and advance research on what makes leadership possible.
A question of burning importance: Each inquiry group identifies a question that all participants see as critical to their work. Examples of questions include: How do organizations with distinct agendas build a common effort? How can we, as leaders, create opportunities for others to take up their leadership?
Cycles of action and reflection: Through the process, participants engage in structured activities and experiment with new practices in their daily work. Group members then reflect together to make sense of what happened in the action phase and to develop and refine possible answers to their research question.
Expert facilitation: Facilitators trained in the CI methodology structure reflection sessions, bring outside expertise to bear on the question the group is exploring, track learning across sessions, and provide the group with critical feedback along the way to ensure that they are using the process to its full advantage.
Opportunities for connection and reflection: Collaborative Inquiry helps solidify deep connections among those engaged in the process, providing a unique peer-networking opportunity. Participants support one another in taking risks in their practice that advance their individual and collective learning and generate new knowledge rooted in their work. This process also provides a rare but important opportunity for reflection and professional growth.
The following are examples of how RCLA and our partners have used the Cooperative Inquiry process to advance research and documentation, organizational learning, and change initiatives.
Illuminating Social Change Leadership Practices that Safeguard Democracy:
Over the course of seven years, RCLA facilitated more than 16 Collaborative Inquiries with social change leaders across the United States through the Ford Foundation's Leadership for a Changing World (LCW) research and documentation program. Through this experience, grassroots leaders explored self-identified questions about their practice within the context of social change leadership work. The knowledge generated by the groups has been documented in numerous reports to share the learning and practices of social change leaders and organizations in the United States. The research findings highlight leadership that recognizes abundance amidst material scarcity and enables people to become agents for change in their communities.
Fostering Global Citizenship among Students:
RCLA provided CI training and technical assistance to educators at the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia in Spain. Over 15 months, inquiry groups of nongovernmental organization representatives, public school teachers and university professors engaged in structured cycles of action and reflection focused on collaborations to develop educational and experiential practices that would contribute to a sense of global citizenship in students.
Helping Library Media Specialists Spearhead University Projects:
Based on RCLA's training, library media specialists at Florida State University's College of Information used Collaborative Inquiry to consider the concrete ways they could use their expertise to design and execute technology integration projects across the school.
Moving Community-Building Projects from Ideas to Implementation:
Trinity Wall Street's Academy for Social Leadership in New York used an RCLA-facilitated Collaborative Inquiry process to provide support for a variety of community-building enterprises from youth development projects to neighborhood revitalization programs.