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Tom Wilson

All About Practice-Based Inquiry® 

What is Practice-Based Inquiry?


Practice-Based Inquiry is a research strategy for generating accurate findings about the quality of complex action in a complex institution in real time, such as learning and teaching in a school classroom.

Practice-Based Inquiry provides the necessary rigor to ensure the validity of the accuracy, and thus the legitimacy, of the findings of a visit team.

The technology of Practice-Based Inquiry transforms a professional peer visit into rigorous research about the quality of professional practice.

The principles and procedures of Practice-Based Inquiry have evolved over several decades for use in schools and other systems providing professional practitioner services.

Practice-Based Inquiry can be used by schools and other organizations that are subject to accreditation or that provide services of professional practice, e.g., counseling services in a clinic, delivery of medical services in a hospital, reporting and editing a story for a newspaper in a news room, and constructing the words and arguments that capture what the citizens of a neighborhood are saying about the issues of the day.

A research strategy

A research strategy for generating findings that are certain about the quality of professional practice presents enormous methodological problems. Yet, its potential value is so great that for more than a hundred years agencies around the world have worked to create such a strategy. Agencies as diverse as school systems, American universities, Her Majesty's Inspectorate in England, and accrediting associations for schools, medicine and other professions in the United States have been part of that effort.

The professional peer visit is one important solution. A team of professionals visits an institution, examines the practice of its peers and writes a report that sums up its judgment about how well practice is delivered at the institution in question. This is consistent with the common-sense dictum, "If you want to know how something really is going, go see it." That particularly applies when the "something" is live action.

A technology

Practice-Based Inquiry is an inquiry technology for judging professional practice. It consists of a set of principles, concepts and procedures that transforms the traditional professional peer visit into a research approach that sets new standards for rigor.

This claim confuses people, because Practice-Based Inquiry does not fit the expected mold for how to ensure rigor in inquiry. That makes it intriguing, not wrong.

An historical tradition

While some historians trace the tradition of professional visits to the Middle Ages (and some to even the beginning of the Christian era), the visit has been used at least extensively in the last 150 years in more modern institutions such as public schools and hospitals. Practice-Based Inquiry is based in this historical tradition. Some say that it gives the traditional professional visit the rigor it needs to meet modern standards for legitimacy.

More detail follows in the section, Where did it come from?

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