Community of Enquiry
A Community of Enquiry (COE) is a powerful tool for generating collective thinking and ideas among groups of between 10-24 people as they enquire into a developmental question they have chosen themselves.
A group of people who may or may not know each other come together for the purpose of engaging in enquiry into a question that the community formulates and agrees on. The facilitator chooses a stimulus designed to provoke thinking on an issue of key importance to the group.
A safe space is created for the enquiry and trust established among participants by an experienced facilitator. Participants and facilitator sit in a circle without tables for the enquiry. The way participants speak and listen to each other during the enquiry is agreed by participants before the enquiry begins. The focus is on respectful and equitable procedures to ensure all voices are able to speak and be listened to. Difference is to be valued and alternative interpretations welcomed. The aim is not to seek consensus; plurality of meanings is expected. Participants are assured there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers to the question they select for enquiry.
COE are designed to generate the 4Cs of thinking: Critical; Creative; Collaborative; Caring. Critical thinking requires the use of reason and argument;creative thinking promotes the generation of new ideas; collaborative thinking exemplifies thinking together; whilst caring thinking encapsulates both respectful ways of behaving and caring about the quality of the thinking that goes on. Participants are encouraged to build collaboratively on what each other says by using, “I agree” or “I disagree with … when s/he says … because…” Disagreement is the engine of dialogue, but the focus is on disagreeing with each other’s ideas and thinking, not with the person themselves.
Agreeing or disagreeing indicates caring listening and “because” indicates caring about the quality of your own thinking as you are prepared to give reasons for your views.
A successful COE depends on appropriate facilitation. The facilitator’s role is to facilitate and ensure participants define concepts clearly and engage in reasoning to examine their ideas. Each participant is encouraged to formulate and defend their own points of view, aided by the facilitator who is concerned to help them. Facilitators encourage participants to build criteria to support their views that are consistent. The knowledge created by the community in dialogic enquiry of this kind is greater than that of any one individual in the group.