Person-Centred Research Methods: Cooperative Inquiry

We want to work with people, not samples
(Reason & Heron, 1986, 302)

John Heron and Peter Reason proposed a comprehensive person-centred research method in 1971, which is clearly expounded in "Research with people: The paradigm of cooperative experiential inquiry." (I couldn’t find a version online but there is a chapter from John Heron’s Handbook of Action Research that covers the same ground).

The approach is called ‘co-operative or experiential inquiry’ and the key idea is that it is not of but with persons, who are “to some significant degree self-determining” (293) – excluding this would simply mean that it is not a claim of a science of persons. Therefore, all active participants are fully involved in research decisions as co-researchers: “the self-directing person is the primary source of knowing” (293)
Important issues stemming from this position are that “…at a minimum everyone involved needs to be initiated into the inquiry process and give their free and informed assent to all decisions about process and outcome” (294). This includes persons in the planning of the inquiry (294)

Reason and Heron propose four phases of action and reflection as an iterative research cycle:
  1. Reflection - Group of co-researchers agree on area for inquiry/identify initial research propositions
  2. Action – Apply these procedures
  3. Action – Co-researchers fully immersed in this activity
  4. Reflection – Co-researchers reconsider original research propositions and hypothesise in the light of experience
This ‘research cycling’ should be repeated several times – and has a bearing on empirical validity.

The authors cite Strauss and Guba in an important discussion about the epistemological basis of the research method – stating that cooperative inquiry goes further even than ‘grounded’ or ‘negotiated’ research because it embraces wholeness and is not reductive (296).
The paper concludes with a fantastic idea – that of the Devil’s Advocate, which presents a critical dialogue between the authors and “a more orthodox Devil’s Advocate, who expresses some of the objections of our critics.” (301). This is worth reading alone and gives a wittily concise overview of the theory.

Reference: Reason, P. and J. Heron (1986). "Research with people: The paradigm of cooperative experiential inquiry." Person-Centered Review.
John Heron