When we last met I was walking off into a rather damp and grey Norfolk sunset with my soapbox tucked neatly under my arm. Well, it wasn't long before I was packing my bag and taking the train to Heathrow Airport. What adventure could possibly persuade me to board an airplane and face my flying phobia for 11 solid hours? Well, kind reader, you will not be surprised to learn it was to work with nearly 30 coaching practitioners eager to engage in practitioner research for the good of their community! How could I refuse!
It all started with a call from Sunny Stout Rostron from South Africa who had volunteered to host the 2010 Global Coaching Convention, which they have designed under the title the Rainbow Convention. A central core of the convention program will be the outputs of groups (or pods) of coaches coming together to actively research a shared passion or concern. They had a year to do it and wanted support in setting up their activities.
The trip showed just what can happen when a community works together. Annual leave granted from my company, the Professional Development Foundation, flights paid for by donated air miles, kind hospitality at homes instead of hotels, and people giving their time and energy pro bono allowed three two-day workshops to be run in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town for the smallest fee to the participants.
I had designed the workshop to enable the coaches to "work" their research from initial idea straight through to proposal. We shared a lot of hard work, laughter (and chocolate) and I was truly impressed at the innovation that was brought into the room. I would like to take this space to share my reflections upon those fabulous days spent in such excellent company.
Everyone has a passion: All of us have a question that current books and journals can't answer but is important to us. We research because we care. We care about getting the very best for our clients; we care about our colleagues and our profession. We are blessed to be at the beginning of the profession with such opportunities for enquiry and discovery.
Everyone has a unique perspective: This perspective is akin to a spotlight that reveals a dark corner that no one else has seen. An area of coaching I thought reasonably well described would suddenly come alive as a research topic when coaches revealed just what was still missing for them and their clients.
Everyone is researching already: When we shared our experience, every person in the room was undertaking research in some form during their normal work. Coaches read, reflect, and experiment with new approaches and tools. They share best practice with each other and are constantly on the hunt for better understanding of the coaching intervention.
Everyone knew what they wanted and needed to produce: One of the real discriminators of practitioner research is the focus on an output that has a direct benefit to real practice. These outputs ranged from new models and workshops to toolkits and evaluation criteria.
Everyone wanted to share their knowledge: Researchers and coaches share many similarities and one of the most important is the joy in sharing their discoveries and seeking feedback from their peers. We all need to protect our intellectual property, but there are ways of sharing that that reduce the risk of theft.
Everyone can contribute to research: All of the practitioners are full-time working professionals, but their passion and their research are part of the day job. They are bringing them real market edge and also providing their clients answers to the questions they have today. Whether their contribution is as a leader of a pod or as a critical friend, their work will impact the final output.
The range of research people are doing is really breathtaking. We discussed coaching within townships to achieve sustainable change and how work with other vulnerable groups in Europe and America could inform this type of coaching and how to research it.
We looked at the dominant coaching agendas in the public sector and I realized how much coaches I know in Local Authorities in the UK shared similar concerns. Coaching in education was a hot topic, as it is in the UK, and dialogue with others globally will add value here. Although the issues are larger in South Africa, the commitment of the people and their vocation are shared. We looked at evaluation in the private sector and this research will really add to our global conversation of how context impacts delivery.
You can share in this journey of discovery and help your fellow practitioners by getting in touch and/or coming to South Africa this year to hear about the results. The dates are 10th-16th October 2010. Please visit Rainbow Convention to stay in touch.