The Inquiry Based Approach (IBA)

IBA has been developed to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration for the transformation of situations which are contested, uncertain and complex; known as “wicked situations”.

Transformation of wicked situations often defies conventional policy instruments such as economic incentives, legislation and information. As an alternative and complement, the IBA is intended to facilitate comprehensive, context-specific collaboration whereby stakeholders build trust and apply various forms of knowledge to jointly deconstruct and reframe their understanding and engage in concerted action.

Drawing on learning theory and the action research tradition, the IBA revolves around an inquiry, a question that enables collaboration among various stakeholders. Basing the collaboration on an inquiry presents several advantages:

  • It facilitates open-ended exploration. In the beginning of an IBA, the multi-stakeholder team defines an inquiry that the stakeholders are all interested in pursuing. Phrasing the inquiry places emphasis on mutual exploration.
  • It creates shared ownership. The inquiry is an expression of the mutual interest among stakeholders. The joint development of the inquiry results in shared ownership of the collaboration.
  • It enables both co-creation of knowledge and transformation. The inquiry is pursued jointly by the team in cycles of actions and reflections. Thus the collaboration involves both transformation of a wicked situation and co-creation of knowledge.
  • It makes it easier to link the collaboration to ongoing development processes. The multi-stakeholder team phrases the inquiry on the basis of an appraisal of ongoing activities. This allows the stakeholders to ensure that their collaboration is reinforcing ongoing activities rather than creating new, standalone projects.

The IBA is a generic approach that can be tailored to fit a particular wicked situation in a particular context.

Learning cycles

Pursuing an inquiry through learning cycles

Throughout the IBA, the multi-stakeholder team engages in consecutive learning cycles while pursuing their inquiries. The team engages in learning cycles of reflection, planning, action and observation. Experiences and learning from one cycle is utilized in the next one. Thus the team gradually furthers its understanding and develops its practice while engaging in actions for change in pursuit of their inquiry.

IBA is being used in SWEDESD´s programs and projects, including Citizen Dialogue on Complex Issue, a project to increase understanding about possibilities and limitation, success factors and obstacles, related to deliberation on wicked sustainability issues. IBA was also used in GAIA, Global Awareness in Action - an international project running between 2013-2015.

The Inquiry Based Approach: A facilitator´s handbook, Swedesd 2014 (pdf)

Contact: Martin Westin
Alexander Hellquist

Last modified: 2022-09-07