The book was honoured as runner-up for Outstanding Book of the Year Award 2012 by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Qualitative SIG.
The judges wrote that they were ‘especially impressed’ and described the book as ‘exemplary’. They said:
Wadsworth’s work provides her readers [with] opportunities to engage with complicated ontological, epistemological, and methodological issues in a style that is relentlessly engaging, witty, and tough.
Using transparency and humor to reveal competing perspectives, she opens readers not only to the text but to themselves as people, researchers, and change agents...
We celebrate the accomplishment of Yoland Wadsworth and her work in Building in research and evaluation: Human inquiry for living systems today. [Vancouver April 2012]
More about What other reviewers and readers are saying about it below
In other news
In a closing keynote to the International Qualitative Methods Conference, Yoland introduced the living systems inquiry conceptual framework for the first time to an international qualitative research audience, pointing the way to a possible future guided by a more fully integrative new paradigm. (Melbourne Australia April 2015).
Yoland also spoke about living systems inquiry in the USA in April-May 2014 (see below).
She presented on the implications of the living systems inquiry framework to leadership at a seminar co-hosted by the Swinburne Leadership Institute and the Swinburne University Centre for Social Impact, with the Centre for Transformative Innovation, and the Institute for Social Research (August 2014): Human inquiry for living systems: An epistemological framework for leading and researching change and stability
Presentation and dialogue with community-based action research projects in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension offices: 'Human inquiry for (more truly) living systems' – hosted by Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, Amy Somchanhmavong and the Cornell Public Service Center
Met with Cornell PAR Network: 'Human inquiry for life' – hosted by John Armstrong for PARNet
Public lecture in Engaged Cornell Public Speaker Series: ‘Human inquiry for living systems: An elaborated action research framework for wanted change and stability at any scale’ – hosted by Richard Kiely and Cornell Engaged Learning+Research
Seminar for the Heller School of Social Policy and Management: ‘Human inquiry for living systems: An elaborated action research framework for wanted change and stability at any scale’ – hosted by Jody Hoffer-Gittels and the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative (RCRC), with guest Bill Torbert
University of Cincinnati
Roundtable presentation to the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services: 'Living Systems Inquiry: Action research for strategic change' – hosted by Mary Brydon-Miller and the Action Research Center
Seminar for United Way Cincinnati staff: 'Community inquiry for more truly living systems: Using a stronger action research framework for wanted change (and needed stability)' – hosted by Sarah Ghee, Manager
New York University
Presentation to the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service: 'Human inquiry for living systems: A deeper framework for systemically leading wanted change and stability at any scale' – hosted by: Sonia Ospina and the Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA)
Yoland Wadsworth also spoke about living systems human inquiry to public health research institutes and health promotion practitioners in Norway and Sweden, incl. Skaraborgsinstitutet; to 50 senior officers of the Scottish government and NGOs in Edinburgh; practitioners, students and academics in Glasgow; the Revans Academy, Manchester Business School, and gave a keynote contribution to the CARN-England Centre for Practice Development, International Conference, Ashford Kent, UK 2012
A new synthesing diagram and its publishing details were presented to the 2013 First Global Conference on Research Integration and Implementation, ANU Canberra
A further book review is available in the Sage Publications Action Research journal blog by Dian Chase:
'Bringing together concepts from systems theory, traditional inquiry, organizational behavior, and quality improvement, this book provides an intellectual basis for action research'...
About this website
This is a website for the book about a living systems inquiry meta-epistemology by Yoland Wadsworth.
Published now worldwide as Wadsworth, Y. (2010) Building in Research and Evaluation: Human inquiry for living systems, Action Research Press, Hawthorn and Routledge
The book is a major departure from currently standard research and evaluation books. It provides a new 'mental architecture' with which to understand self-managing inquiry processes by which we get from knowing 'how things are' to 'what is their value' to identifying 'what might be better', to seeing how that 'better' can be trialled and potentially reiterated as the new 'way we do things round here' to bring new life to the organism (or not, as the case may be).
It brings together an underlying integrating architecture of emergent cyclic 'living-and-changing-form' identified in four hitherto usually separated disciplines:
- • The new ecobiology and physics of complex adaptive-generative systems
- • The epistemological processes of inquiry that help all living organisms navigate such ecosystemic life
- • The embodiment of these inquiry processes 'writ small' individually in humans (in diverse yet characteristic psychologies)
- • And the embodiment of these inquiry processes 'writ large' socially, economically and politically in small groups, communities, organisations, institutions, states and globally (in diverse and characteristic sociological ways).
For ecosystemic thinkers, this book may illuminate how forms evolve or are generated or created by inquiring humans in groups and populations, just as with other living forms.
For psychologists and those interested in the life of the human mind, this book may show how larger scale 'social structures' are co-created and re-created (or not) by the countless epistemologically systemic actions of individuals in co-relation to each other.
For sociologists, this book may shine a light into the 'black box' of the inquiring human individual that is continuously co-creating the social, political and economic as complex living phenomena.
For researchers and evaluators, this book may be seen as a way of ending the paradigm wars -- with the old and new paradigms being integrated within a 'new new' paradigm in which each hitherto conflicting 'side' instead can be seen as joined-up moments of an inductive-abductive-deductive-retroductive evaluative 'whole/full cycle' emergent inquiry process), and as offering a way of seeing all human inquiry capabilties and 'inquiry preferences' as necessary within an integrated process for a full enactment of organised/organising of human life itself.
For those who seek change (and then stabilising of desirable form), the book provides a reliable sequence of questions and associated methods, methodologies and philosophies of knowledge to continuously go 'full cycle':
- from inductively observing current action,
- to reflecting on the meaning of those observations and the value of what is observed,
- to abducting new more life-giving theory,
- to trialling and testing this deductively in new practice, and so on.
For health, human and community services as well as all human co-design efforts, the book may offer a fresh approach to professional practice (including facing the 'dark side' of disempowerment); and seen anew as resourcing the inquiring, self-organising, viable, relational life of the client individual, group, community and organisation.
'Highly original... an ambitious integration of concepts. Credible and useful. Grounded in pioneering empirical research'
- Danny Burns professor of organisational learning UK
'Sound and persuasive, insightful, important and inviting. A great contribution'
- Michael Quinn Patton author of the best-selling book, Utilization-Focused Evaluation USA
'Brilliant... I'm not aware of any other book of this nature. The examples are impressive'
- Linette Hawkins social work educator Victoria
'I remain critical of 'systems' models and biological analogies for organisational processes, but this work is unquestionably original and in major ways innovative'
- Raewyn Connell sociology professor Australia
'After years of mechanical researcher-as-expert/expert facilitator texts on evaluation and action research, this book is a breath of fresh air providing a complete rethink of these fields - An absolute must-read'
- Carol Gribch School of Medicine Australia
Book Review accessed 14 October 2010: mra.e-contentmanagement.com/.../building-in-research-and-evaluation-human
Title: Building in Research and Evaluation: Human inquiry for living systems
Author: Yoland Wadsworth
ISBN: 978174237 5403 2010 Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest NSW
Reviewer: Carol F Grbich
School of Medicine, Flinders University, Adelaide SA
The notion of 'living systems' brings a completely different dimension to traditional approaches to evaluation and action research. At first, research into living systems seems rather like the exercise of chasing a watermelon pip round a plate with a fork - the ineffectual chasing the elusive - but on further reading it becomes clear that Wadsworth is documenting a major and most exciting shift in evaluative processes from a previous focus on Gidden's structuration (structure plus process) with more traditional assessments involving such linear pathways as needs identification culminating in needs fulfilment, to the more recent moves in theoretical physics of viewing systems as complex entities - many layered with inter- and intra- actions at all levels.
Her focus as author in past texts has centred on participatory action research with its collective group think, reflection and problem solving through trial interventions, but this book, although it draws on this tradition, goes beyond collective action to solve identified problems to viewing culture and systems as complex and fluid and individuals as observant and adaptable. Her core argument is that recognition of our inherent capacities for flexibility and adaptation should enable us to devise inbuilt checks and balances for action and monitoring in our workplaces. The terms 'action' and 'monitoring' shift in orientation when terms such as: nurturing, flexible and responsive practice, positive critique and collaboration, are interwoven.
In order to convince us, Wadsworth has produced a detailed text of over 300 pages in which she leads us through the history of evaluation to the advent of living systems with their emotional intelligence and built in approaches for keeping defined values and ideologies on track. She carefully integrates the standard data collection techniques but shows how these can be used to facilitate positive and creative modifications, rather than negative and imposed change, which can then benefit the majority and maintain the system in a healthy productive state. This is followed by extensive examples of how to create and maintain living human service systems using these techniques.
After years of mechanical researcher-as-expert/expert facilitator texts on evaluation and action research, this book is a breath of fresh air providing a complete rethink of these fields. The living systems approach fits neatly within traditions that embrace chaos, complexity and postmodernism with their organic and transitional states - in short, the world we now inhabit, and like these systems, the book is also organic in its reflective and dialoguing style leaving spaces for the reader to reshape and transfer ideas into different fields and settings. An absolute must read for all researchers involved in action and evaluation research and in the creation and maintenance of viable systems involving human beings.
"An integrative book by a grandmaster of the field is a treasure. Yoland gives us, not only a rich book on engaging in social research, but also a deep insight into her own thought processes of how to work with issues and questions, and to work with people who care and who want to change structures. This is a book which invites us to develop our own integration of who we are and how we work."
- David Coghlan Trinity College Dublin, author of Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization
"In this the third and final text in her life’s work trilogy [Yoland Wadsworth] displays an extraordinary capacity to integrate many different perspectives, theories, constructs and approaches within an overarching accessible framework. She puts those perspectives and approaches in dialogue with each other, and provides the reader with a way to navigate the labyrinth created by the intersection of inquiry and practice. Her own depth of experience and accomplished capacity for reflection as both a practitioner and inquirer make her insights important and innovative. Her style of writing, presenting and engaging the reader is uniquely her own–and therefore quite original…. Wherever people are engaged in trying to make the world a better place and open to undertaking inquiry as a part of that process, this book will be a welcome addition to their journey."
- From the Foreword by Michael Quinn Patton author of Utilization-Focused Evaluation
I think the value of work at this level is paradigmatic, it shifts the way we view living beings including ourselves, links the macro to the micro, reframes things in challenging ways. Helps us understand the many ways in which we are part of the whole...
You are offering a different kind of identity to the human inquirer from the 'skin encapsulated ego' to being part of an inquiring system. And helping a system maybe become more inquiring.
– Peter Reason Emeritus editor, Action Research journal [Personal communication regarding the draft original published paper]
It is marvellous. The lay-outs work beautifully. The combination of text, sidebars, exhibits and cartoons makes the book very engaging, combining important substance with inviting style. Kudos to you on persevering. It's a huge achievement and significant contribution.
Nothing else like it exists.
– Michael Patton world-leader evaluation field, USA
Impressive!! I've scanned the book with great interest... I am captivated by the role systems play in all aspects of our lives. I looked at the type material and am very eager to dive into those thoughts. Congrats on the publication—clearly a crystalization of a life's work.
– Roger Pearman International organisational consultant using Jung, Myers & Briggs
Wow, this is a wonderful review Yoland! [James Keck in New Community Quarterly]. I am ordering this book today. I do think if you had switched around the title and subtitle, it would reach a broader audience given the really big questions you are addressing here. That said, I will recommend it to colleagues who teach evaluation and qualitative methods at Brandeis University.
– Jody Hoffer Gittell, Professor of Management, Brandeis University, Heller School, Executive Director, Relational Coordination Research Collaborative, USA
What a masterpiece. I am so enjoying reading your book. It will take me a while to complete it as it is so important and tightly argued, but I haven't a single doubt about it... invigorating ideas, refreshing perspective. Long awaited.
– General Practice Policy Consultant
An excellent book – a true pathway to living systems... What you have provided is a fantastic readable commitment to whole of life enhancement.
– Dr Colin Benjamin OAM, Director General of 'Life. Be in it.'
Australia's community based health and fitness organisation
i'm sitting in [an Australian university] cafe right now with a copy of your book taking notes on research design for my doctorate :) i must say i so love the way you think and write. ive been following integral and foresight work for many years and am captivated to see many of the ideas and frameworks brought together so elegantly. i often assumed i'd have to look abroad to find this kind of approach and its a real joy to come across it right under my nose...
But beyond the theory i just love how strong your own voice comes across in the text.
it's got my vote for the coolest and easiest to read 'text book' i've come across.
– Consultant in leadership, civic and social enterprise/social change, Argentina
I have been reading complexity and systems theory for nearly 20 years, struggling to make direct connections with action research practice and social theory, and I discover your book does that in a better way than I could achieve. I think I will keep coming back to the lists of methods and strategies in the middle chapters for ideas of how to act in specific situations.
If I was teaching action research this year, your book would be the required text, and the Sage Handbook would be the main reference work.
[Also] A visiting scholar from a Chinese University (teaching Strategic Planning) is [considering] introducing Adaptive Management into his teaching program. He has seen [the] book and wants to explore how Chinese managers might use living systems thinking.
– The Late Ian Hughes former University Senior Lecturer in Community Health and action researcher in improving health systems
I acquired your book today... It is most impressive! I have been immersing myself in it for much of the afternoon and am really enjoying it. There is so much more to take in yet but I especially like your overarching concept of Systemic Inquiry and the links you make with MBTI...
You are thinking and working with fundamental aspects of human nature, action and interaction and making a practical and original contribution to a corner of mankind's understanding of itself. (It is) perceptive and integrative writing.
– David Burns Senior private consultant, business and organisation development
I have given your book as thank-you gifts to my [five-person] team and they are ecstatic with them. I also gave one to a PhD student I know and she is blown away with the scope of the work. I think this is a foundation upon which we can build some really effective practice.
– Team Leader Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program Support Service
"I can't believe the work that you've put into this book. It is just wonderful. [A] women's Bible. You're a genius.
– Joan Byrne Longtime Women's Arthritis Activist and Researcher
A note congratulating you on your book -- it is a beauty!! My copy has dozens of sticky notes poking out of it and a well-thumbed look, and I am routinely referring people to it in the processes I am involved with whether these be teaching, consulting or speaking. Thanks very much.
– Phil Crane University Senior Lecturer Social Work and Human Services, Faculty of Health
I think this would be a fantastic resource to have at [our Aboriginal research centre].
– University research fellow
Yoland Wadsworth is a genius [at presentation of living systems epistemology, seminar about psychological type]
– Jerome Winston Centre for Development and Research in Evaluation
and Program for Public Sector Evaluation International (Australia & Malaysia)
I have your wonderful book... It is a book I keep dipping into. I discover new insights every time.
These (are) wonderful ideas and it is such GREAT work.
– Experienced international evaluation consultant facilitator and teacher
I love your love of words and word origins – And apt quotations! – And your cartoons!
...And commitment to truth and change. What a wonderful thing!
– Director Living Architecture Centre
Your career and achievements warrant trumpet blowing Yoland! Your work is great, and I'm pleased you've been able to compile this book. I think it will do a lot of good for people in other countries to read about your work.
– Dr Zuleyka Zevallos Applied sociologist within government sector, administrator of Sociology at Work: www.sociologyatwork.org
The students have finished the semester and nominated your [guest lecture on living systems epistemology] session as a bright highlight.
– Bridget Roberts lecturer in graduate studies in alcohol and other drugs, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre
I made the mistake of starting to read your book and can’t put it down! I meant to go to bed by 10pm. You must be bursting with pride. It’s wonderful – so accessible. I am so looking forward to working with you later this year.
– Senior education consultant Professional Development provider
It's a book like no other! ...your intellect, spirit, heart and body combine perfectly to create something extraordinary. I'll read it for inspiration, adventure and challenge. I'll read it for stimulation and importantly for instruction too just as I did with your Do It Yourself Social Research and Everyday Evaluation on the Run books as well.
– Jane Wexler International business management consultant
This is a very complex body of work ...because it is weaving together multiple threads from different sources. Don’t underestimate the complexity of what you are trying to articulate [response to drafts of the original two published papers].
– Professor Organisational Learning and international community change
I started reading your ‘Building In’ book this weekend, very exciting and inspirational indeed.
– Michelle Phillips Health and Community Services Workforce Council Australia
The ideas are profound, clearly expressed and always practical.
– Bob Williams International Society for Systems Science list service
To see other online accessible readings by Yoland Wadsworth [coming soonish]
Yoland Wadsworth is the author of Australia's best-selling research and evaluation books (more than 58,000 copies sold) - Do It Yourself Social Research and Everyday Evaluation on the Run (both 3rd editions 2011, Routledge, London)
She is an experienced research and evaluation practitioner, methodology theorist and consultant who has worked for government and community organisations in the health, community and human services sector over fifty years. She began life as a researcher with her first survey at sixteen years, and by eighteen was hand-calculating chi squares in the Mathematics Department at Monash University as part of a sociology course in an arts degree (1969-1971) with a double major in history and sociology and a minor in psychology, and later a Masters Prelim and PhD in the sociology of knowledge (1978-1985) entitled: 'Sociologists in Work: In Academic and Social Policy-Oriented Research Settings'.
She went on to pioneer in Australia the use of critical collaborative community research in the 1970s; consumer-staff participation in dialogic evaluation in the 1980s, and 'whole systems' culture change and quality improvement using multi-stakeholder participatory inquiry in the 1990s. In the 2000s she developed a transdisciplinary meta-epistemology for use to 'build in' research and evaluation as systemic inquiry to human life. She introduced the concepts of 'kitchen table conversations' in 1984, 'culture of evaluation' in 1991; 'critical reference group' (end-user/beneficiary) in 1984, revised as 'critical inquiry group' in 2010; and those of 'inquiry capabilities', 'inquiry preferences', and 'inquiry preference reach' around the 'full cycle' of 'living systems inquiry' in 2010.
She has been program manager of three action research resource centres in Melbourne over twenty five years; held senior government roles in research and policy, including with the Policy & Research Branch of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet; co-founded the Health Issues Centre and the Australian Women's Health Network; and been a recipient of multiple national evaluation awards. Yoland is also a 1995 Churchill Fellow, a life member of the international Action Learning Action Research Association, and a Fellow of the Australasian Evaluation Society. For the past twenty five years she has had various academic appointments (including at Victoria University, RMIT University, the University of Melbourne, and the Australian National University) and a research methodology & user-design consultancy and writing business yolandwadsworth[dot]net[dot]au
She has been Adjunct Professor in the Centre for Applied Social Research, School of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning, Design and Social Context Portfolio, RMIT University; a Principal Fellow in the Centre for Health Equity, School of Population Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, and (Hon) Associate Professor, McCaughey VicHealth Centre, University of Melbourne; Public Health Resident (visiting) in the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Austraian National University; Distinguished Fellow of the Action Research Center, University of Cincinnati, and Faculty Partner in the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative, Wagner School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.
Being taken to see a lake infested with duckweed by her biology teacher, Wendy Hurle, at age fifteen marked the beginnings of her thinking about the conditions for systemic life.
The Late Donnella (Donna) Meadows' Sustainability Institute now the Academy for Systems Change
Ken Gergen at the Taos Institute
Diana Whitney's Corporation for Positive Change
Peter Tufts Richardson's use of Jungian Myers Briggs theory
Bill Harris's facilitated systems consultancy
Patti Lather's post-critical feminist social science theory
Jack Whitehead's living educational theory in action research
Jane Cull's work for Maturana's livings systems approach
Bill Torbert's action inquiry
Mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme's Centre for the Story of the Universe
Brian Walker's resilience and sustainability in social-ecological systems
Drew Dellinger's Planetize the Movement
Elisabet Sahtouris' evolutionary biology and living systems design
Gabrielle Bammer's Integration and Implementation Sciences (I2S)
Anisur Rahman and Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB)
Alan Rayner's Inclusional Research
Mary Brydon-Miller's Action Research Center, University of Cincinnati
Jennifer Green's approach to democratic social science
Bob Dick's Action research resources
Joanna Macey's approach to integral all-of-life
The late Michael White's narrative therapy
Bud Hall at the Global Center for Community Based Research, Canada
Rajesh Tandon's Participatory Research In India (PRIA)
Gilbert Rochecouste's wholistic place-making at Village Well
Susie Goff's approach to facilitating culture shift using participatory action research
Lyn Carson's active democracy
Jose Ramos's action foresight
Lloyd Godman's ecological art
John Seed's council of all beings and structural modelling (sculpting) of the systemic
Beth Maina Ahlberg and nurturing learning through the Skaraborgs institute
Richard Louv's thinking about nature-deficit disorder
Ruth Balogh and the Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN)
The Action Learning Action Research (ALARA) Network
The International Institute for Sustainable Development's Appreciative and Community development
Paul Gilding's 'the great disruption'
Mike Farris's Institute for Sustainable Management (ISM)
Bob Williams' systems thinking in evaluation resources
Jess Dart's Clear Horizon including use of most significant change technique
Sydney University of Technology's Shopfront community research centre
Movement for Children to Design for Change
Margaret Farren & Yvonne Crotty's Learning Innovation Unit, Action Research & Technology, Dublin
Institute for Development Studies' Eldis' Learning and Teaching for Transformation group
Liz Mellish's Appreciative Inquiry consultancy
Geoff Mead's Centre for Narrative Leadership
The nascent Integral Institute
The International Association for Public Participation (IAPP)
OD Professionals' Centre for Organisation Development
Tom Atlee's Co-Intelligence Institute
Art and Business meet in Maverick Minds
Leroy White and the Participatory Approaches Network for London
Les Robinson's Enabling Change consultancy
Cathy Sharp's Research For Real consultancy in Scotland
First account of building the theory and its integrating discovery/construction moment (around 4:30pm 29 July 2004 while Public Health Resident, NCEPH, Australian National University, Canberra):
Wadsworth, Y. (2006)
‘What’s a nice sociologist like me doing using a psychological instrument?’ – Integrating the MBTI’s 16 energy systems with cyclic models of action research, Australian Psychological Type Review, Vol 8 No 2, 35-45
The first internationally refereed published papers
Summarising the full theory (featuring the four corresponding cycle diagrams) and describing the 'new systems thinking' underpinning it:
Wadsworth, Y. (2008a)
‘Systemic human relations in dynamic equilibrium’ Systemic Practice and Action Research, Springer, NY, Vol.21, No.1, pp. 15-34
Wadsworth, Y. (2008b)
‘“Is it safe to talk about systems again yet?”–Self organ-ising processes for complex living systems and the dynamics of human inquiry’, Systemic Practice and Action Research, Springer, NY, Vol.21, No.2, pp. 153-170
The first international keynote address
Wadsworth, Y. (2006)
‘Researching for Living Systems’, Keynote paper to World Congress of Action Learning, Action Research & Process Management, Groningen, The Netherlands
Subsequently published as:
Wadsworth, Y. (2008c)
‘Action research for living human systems’, in Boog, Ben, Preece, Julia, Slagter, Meindert and Jacques Zeelen (eds.) Toward quality improvement of Action Research: developing ethics and standards, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, pp. 45-60
Other events and presentations
Book launch events and accompanying keynote presentations and programs of invited seminars:
Australia-NZ – 9 September to 9 December 2010
Europe-UK – 14 July to 15 August 2011
Scandinavia-Scotland-England – 31 October to 24 November 2012
USA – July to August 2014
From 2004 to the present day – More than 50 local, national and international presentations, workshops and conference keynotes to nearly 4000 people
World Congress of ISA Melbourne June 2023
Formation of Interim Foundation for Human Inquiry for Living Systems
On the 12 December 2012 a group of ten experienced organisational change consultants and practitioners came together to consider how to support and promote the new ideas. The group meets at least twice a year, and in 2014 held a successful fundraiser to ensure Yoland Wadsworth could meet the commitments of a USA speaking engagements trip. In 2015 a reading group met for three months mirrored by a Scottish reading group at the same time through Research for Real. There is a wider support network of more than thirty five people.
In 2020 a working group of the Human Inquiry Foundation for Living Systems convened to take forward a new program to bring these path-breaking ideas to a wider interested audience worldwide to assist us all navigate through the numerous unfolding climate, environmental and economic, political, personal and social crises, primarily by restoring the properties of living systems in every way within reach.