Aim. The aim of this article is to reflect upon our experiences of using co-operative inquiry in an acute mental health care setting, with a focus on the methodology used in a 4-year intervention programme developed in Norway between 1999 and 2003.
Background. Action research plays a crucial role in assisting nurses to integrate theory and research with nursing practice. The central characteristic of this approach is the grounding of research in practice in collaboration with clinical practitioners.
Methods. The research was a co-operative inquiry based on a hermeneutic-phenomenological approach. The research methods used were ethnographic, including participant observation and face-to-face interviews, questionnaires, focus group interviews, and our process notes.
Findings. The different methods used in the co-operative inquiry design of the Project Teaching Ward (PTW) had both benefits and drawbacks. In particular, the focus group method proved useful due to its ability to stimulate participants’ research interest, and thus motivating them to be actively involved in the development of knowledge. The particular knowledge development process used has been described as a local knowledge dialogue. This dialogue must incorporate critical subjectivity on the part of participants in order to ensure that the research has a reflective resistance, which is decisive for its validity and quality. The findings also highlight the importance of the different roles of project leader in lengthy action research collaboration.
Conclusions. The PTW has illustrated that co-operative inquiry was well suited for developing knowledge relevant to practice, thus contributing to bridging the gap between practice and theory. In order for this to happen, the research collaboration should be characterized by patience, realism and engagement.