How to fine tune the focus of inquiry groups: Collaborative Inquiry 2 of 3

Collaborative Inquiry

When done right, collaborative inquiry(CI) engages participants in deep reflection on, and discussion about evidence and artifacts relating to the organization's goals and the individual's practice. CI participants challenge each others' practice and points of view in pursuit of positive change.

Calling a collection of people a, "collaborative inquiry group" however does not mean that they will really be engaging in collaborative inquiry. So how do you know if your groups are off track, and what can you do to make the groups more effective?

In this three-part blog series, we look at three common reasons CI groups are dysfunctional and what the research suggests for improving group function. This is part two of three.

Fine Tune the Focus


Spend ample time exploring the perceived problem and its context (Langer & Colton, 2005).

  • Explore the roots of the problem, contributing factors, outside influences, etc.
  • Recognize when discussion is turning to solutions and redirect to exploring the problem space.


Resist the temptation to focus on familiar problems and revert to known solutions (Scribner, Sawyer, Watcon, & Myers, 2007).

  • Ensure multiple data sources have been investigated and analyzed to inform the inquiry focus.
  • Create "If...then statements" that require true inquiry rather than attempting an already established evidence-based strategy.
  • Identify and challenge commonly held assumptions.
  • Review literature and highlight information and viewpoints both for and against your point of view (Argyris, 1976; Katz, 2012; Senge, 1990).


Ensure the chosen inquiry question is challenging and open enough for teachers to innovate and inquire into their practice together (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2012) but targeted enough to offer a clear focus.

  • Identify the ‘value added’ or ‘aspiration’ of the inquiry. How will things improve as a result of the inquiry?
  • Identify some key indicators of success.
    • What evidence might we see if we are successful?
    • What would we see if we are not successful?


Connect end goals with logical processes and the philosophies that underpin them. (Dorst, 2011)

  • Identify organizational values in order to apprehend problems and craft solutions to address them.
  • Identify what will change
  • Identify how it will be implemented
  • Identify the value of the new approach.


Gather evidence and data to determine needed interventions, next steps, and goal achievement.

  • Using ‘multiple measures’ of student learning to drive the focus of inquiry such as demographics, perceptions, student learning, school processes, school-based evidence, as well as aggregate data from larger jurisdictions (Bernhardt, 1988).
  • Avoid focusing solely on standardized data sets from the past. (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2012)
  • Use a NSRF Data Driven Dialogue Protocol to collaboratively examine data.

This paper was created as part of my participation in the graduate course Collaborative Inquiry at Queen's University as part of the Graduate Diploma in Professional Inquiry leading to a Master of Education degree. This work, shared with permission, was a collaborative effort with this group of passionate fellow learners and leaders. 

  • Scott Dowling, Student Achievement Officer with the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat in Barrie Ontario
  • Erin Elmhurst, Principal, Forest View Public School in Oshawa, Ontario
  • Chris Elliott, Intelligence Officer, Canadian Armed Forces in Windsor, Ontario
  • Kristin Harding, Teacher at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
  • Brendan Lea, Vice Principal, Curriculum at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, Ontario.
  • Miles MacFarlane, Teacher, Leila North Community School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

1 Comment

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: