The Austin, Texas African-American Quality of Life Initiative as a Community of Inquiry: An Exploratory Study
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This applied research project used the African-American Quality of Life Initiative in Austin, Texas as a case study to explore pragmatic community of inquiry principles. A community of inquiry is defined by a problematic situation, reinforced by a "scientific or experimental attitude" and linked together by participatory democracy (Shields, 2003, 511). In March 2005, a revised City of Austin Quality of Life Scorecard revealed that African-American residents experienced a strikingly different quality of life from other Austin residents. Subsequent community feedback categorized recommendations into six priority areas from which action plans were developed. Six Implementation Teams, co-chaired by a City of Austin department director and an African-American community leader, met between July and October 2005 to finalize the recommendations. The teams presented the finished product to the Austin City Council on October 27, 2005. Document and archival data analysis and structured interviews with Implementation Team co-chairs (a multiple evidence collection method) provided evidence that either supported or refuted the three working hypotheses developed to determine the application of community of inquiry principles. The findings established the use of community of inquiry principles to some degree by all Implementation Teams. Most teams created an environment that fostered "critical optimism" (Working Hypothesis 1) and promoted participatory democracy (WH 3). Most teams also used a scientific approach (WH 2) to tackle recommendations. With the exception of one team, there was scant evidence that teams used working hypotheses (WH2 c) to test recommendations. This research project focused on Implementation Team meetings during the nascent stage of the Quality of Life Initiative. Perhaps, that explains the limited application of working hypotheses.