Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Research and Practice in Community Information Systems: Learning through Human Inquiry

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Research and Practice in Community Information Systems: Learning through Human Inquiry

Article excerpt

RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN COMMUNITY INFORMATION SYSTEMS: LEARNING THROUGH HUMAN INQUIRY

Abstract

This article examines research and practice in developing community information systems when it is approached as human inquiry. The term human inquiry is used to embrace approaches to research which have at their heart a commitment to learning that is undertaken with and for people. To fulfil this commitment, research is conducted through the active involvement of participants for mutually beneficial practical purposes. The practical purposes considered are those of community groups and more formally constituted voluntary organizations.

Introduction

This paper explores the implications of and possibilities for research and practice in developing community information systems when it is approached as human inquiry. The term human inquiry is used to embrace all those approaches to research which have at their heart a commitment to learning that is undertaken with and for people. To fulfil this commitment requires that research is conducted through the active involvement of participants for mutually beneficial practical purposes. The practical purposes of concern in this paper are those of community groups and networks as well as more formally constituted voluntary organizations and policy making groups. Of particular interest is the contribution information systems development can make towards the achievement of human purposes in this context.

The paper begins by providing a brief introduction to the nature and aims of human inquiry. This is followed by an outline of developments within the discipline of information systems (IS), leading to an explanation of the particular interests in community information systems shared by the small group of academics who comprise the Community Information Systems Centre at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. From here, the paper explores ways in which, as academics and practitioners, we engage with developers and users of community IS. Practical examples of the implications of approaching practice as human inquiry are offered, drawing upon issues that have arisen in our own work with local voluntary and community organizations. The work drawn upon has been primarily with the United Kingdom Third Sector to date. In the concluding section some observations of shared issues of concern in relation to Third Sector initiatives elsewhere are offered.

Aims and scope of human inquiry

A number of distinct approaches to the practice of human inquiry have been articulated; associated with these are some key values, issues and commitments which characterize this work and distinguish it from other established research traditions. Throughout this paper I use the term "human inquiry" to embrace all those approaches to development, learning and in many cases explicitly to research which have at their heart a commitment to learning that is with and for people. Human inquiry is practiced through the active involvement of participants for mutually beneficial practical purposes rather than directed by a single researcher for their own purposes. Through cycles of action and reflection participants create knowledge that is grounded in their individual and collective experience rather than understood in relation to some separate `body of knowledge'.

Approaches to human inquiry can be seen as part of an emerging worldview which departs significantly from the positivist worldview within which the Western world's most highly valued knowledge has been acquired (Reason and Bradbury, 2000). The emerging worldview is more holistic, more egalitarian and essentially participative. Within it humans participate in co-creating their reality through their experience, their imagination and intuition, their thinking and their action (Heron, 1992).

The conduct of human inquiries within this worldview is emancipatory in intent a broad political sense in that inquiry supports people in learning through experience, in creating and owning their own knowledge such that they can act more effectively in directing their own lives. …

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