Title of ArticleVisual inquiry: a method for exploring the emotional, cognitive and experiential worlds in practice development, research and education
Type of ArticleOriginal Practice Development and Research
Author/sEdel Roddy, Tamsin MacBride, Aisling McBride, Nicola Douglas-Smith, Marie McCaig, Julie Orr and Belinda Dewar
ReferenceVolume 9, Issue 1, Article 6
Date of PublicationMay 2019
KeywordsCooperative inquiry, interviews, photo elicitation, imagery, visual inquiry


Background: Collaboratively exploring what matters to people, their understanding of concepts and their ideas for innovation can be a challenge in practice development, research and education due to potential difficulties in articulating complex issues. Visual inquiry is described as a process that involves the use of generic images to facilitate dynamic dialogue between the inquirer and participants, in order to support shared understanding and co-production of knowledge.

Aim: The aim was twofold – first to describe the visual inquiry method and second to explore the experiences of using it in practice development, research and education.

Research design: Qualitative data were generated from a group of academics (n=8) who took part in a cooperative inquiry, exploring their experience of using this visual inquiry in 15 independent studies.

Findings: The eight academics (inquirers) drew on their experience of using visual inquiry from 15 independent studies. Analysis of the qualitative data identified eight themes in relation to the process and outcomes of using visual inquiry: evocative participation; playfulness; holding vulnerability; welcoming authenticity; illumination; surfacing depth; unearthing possibilities; and evoking surprise and provocation.

Conclusion: Visual inquiry was found to be a useful method for opening up dialogue, allowing the facilitator to adopt a flexible approach and the participant to richly articulate insights into their cognitive, emotional and experiential worlds.

Implications for practice:

  • Visual inquiry is a useful method for practitioners looking to open up dialogue and uncover tacit knowledge in practice development, research and education
  • It is a particularly useful method for those new to facilitation, practice development and research, and encourages an improvisational approach
  • Cooperative inquiry enables us to gain insight into our own practice and explore possibilities for the future
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