Approach: The Inquiry Cycle

Sometimes at the workplace we find ourselves moving from one task to the next, completing one immediate objective and then moving immediately to the next. This act of being driven by the immediate next goal can consume us for months, in turn robbing us of the opportunity to reflect on the work we do or re-asking ourselves the fundamental question of why am I doing what I am doing.

It is also not that we are doing things without a plan in place. An initial meeting discussing our approach is held before the start of any new project. Even before we embark on a project, fund proposals and ideas on how to meet the goals of the project are sketched out. However, reevaluation of these initial ideas only take place at the end of the year. New colleagues who might join the project come in without having had the opportunity to go through this process of inquiry.

For those who have missed this opportunity and those who wish to revisit I want to guide you through one iteration of the inquiry cycle we refer in order to guide our practice while working on the ‘Secondary Cities’ project. It is in the format of cycle to illustrate the framework we use but it is in no way a definitive process that only works in one direction or starts from a specific point.

Bruner J.S. 1965 adapted by Bruce B.C. 2003
Bruner J.S. 1965 adapted by Bruce B.C. 2003

The project ‘Secondary Cities’ in Pokhara started with a broad goal of creating a resilient city, one that is prepared for a major disaster. One could also say that it started with a theme – theme of disaster management. This initial idea leads us to the first part of the inquiry cycle that is asking questions about disaster and cities. The questions we asked happened to be more relevant in the post-disaster scenario of Nepal but that does not mean that these questions appeared because of the massive earthquake of April 2015. They appeared because they are a natural part of human curiosity. Before jumping in a lake we want to know how deep the lake is or how cold the water in the lake is? Similarly, here we wanted to know answers to questions like – what is a disaster? What makes a disaster manageable? What is resiliency? What makes a city resilient? And, what makes a society prepared? The existence of these questions then leads us to the investigative stage of the cycle. In order to answer these questions we had to not only look up existing literature, consult experts of the field but also collect our own primary data.

At this point the project is well underway but the inquiry cycle continues to guide our framework of approach. The create section is about visualising and analysing the information we have collected during our investigation. For our project the most visually captivating information comes in the form of maps although the data is also expressed in words and numbers and included in presentations and codes. Once again in a generative process the information processed and created leads to discussions. Ideas that come from these discussions are shared during workshops and presentations, debated upon and critiqued. The sharing of the work is also an opportunity to introduce a broader spectrum of society to the work.

The final step of the cycle is reflecting back on the work that has been investigated, created and discussed. Goals will be re-evaluated and new ideas for objectives near and far will emerge. This resultant emergence of new questions thus, repeats the inquiry cycle. Like I mentioned right at the beginning steps aren’t in any particular order, they don’t have to follow one after another, there is no fixed time frame to spend on each step thus, no two inquiry processes will be identical. However, anyone who goes through the process will gain a greater insight into the work they are doing as well as find a more complete picture of the project.




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