Criteria for Evaluating Theory in Integrative Reflective Practice
Nothing so theoretical as good practice : nothing so practical as good theory
9 Criteria for Evaluating and Building Theory as a Reflective Practitioner
Derived from the work of John Heron and John G Bennett
The first two sets of criteria concerning an adequate phenomenal base and low superstructure are adopted from Heron’s psychology of personhood but are applicable to the theory and practice of teaching, leadership and sustainability too. The third set of criteria concerning isomorphism between the overlapping integrative practices of EduSynthesis are elaborated from Heron using Bennett’s systematics.
An adequate phenomenal base means a set of categories that describe each integrative practice in a way which is close to the grain of human experience and the field of practice addressed.
Its terms need to be thoroughly grounded, with a good bedrock quality, in deeply contemplated experience. They must be clearly stated and defined, at the same time evoking the grain of direct acquaintance with people in their world. Such groundedness, however, is always relative to its cultural context, that is, to the prevailing use of language and the nexus of beliefs in which such usage is embedded. (Heron, 1992, 4)
The set of categories needs to extend well over the field and not leave anything out that really needs to be in. Many theories rush into upper-level theorising and experimentation on too narrow a set (Heron, 1992, 5)
1.3 Dynamic Organisation
The set of categories needs to be systematic, with some basic dynamic principles that hold the whole thing together coherently, so that we do not have a mere aggregate of categories or a minimal map of them. (Heron, 1992, 5)
Too much elaborate theory constructed with ingenuity on top of the phenomenal base is suspect. And there is too much superstructure if the next three criteria below cannot readily be applied.
2.1 Personal Viability
The theory needs to have vital relevance to the practitioner’s own experience. Its concepts should come alive, through personal acquaintance with oneself, one’s intimates, friends, associates, students, clients and the wider public. Of course, the practitioner may lack awareness and development in this or that aspect of the field. (Heron, 1992, 5)
2.2 Experiential Validity
This is a central criterion. It means the theory is coherent with a truly radical empiricism: it is well founded in the human condition, open to deep experience and free of either sense organ bias or Absolute Spirit bias. It offers a range of experiential exercises that any willing persons can try out informally, and that can be elaborated more formally as the starting point for a full-blown co-operative inquiry, which does research with people, not on them. (Heron, 1992, 5)
The theory needs to be applicable to the human condition in ways that are relevant and effective. it needs to illuminate practice, to offer working hypotheses for living and learning. This is an extension of both personal viability and experiential validity. (Heron, 1992, 6)
Following Heron, isomorphism concerns the way theory needs to show some significant overlap of basic principles with other, related fields of knowledge and practice. EduSynthesis applies the qualitative systems thinking of JG Bennett to explore how the four integrative practices relate to one another in terms of isomorphic resonance: how the practices and modalities generate evaluative criteria for one another.
Complementarity explores resonance between practices and modalities using a two-term structure known as a dyad. Dyads show how one of the four integrative practices or any of their modalities might enhance another practice or any of its modalities. The search for complementarity elicits isomorphic resonance between two fields that form one relational dyad in a two-way evaluative process, each reciprocally providing criteria for the other.
Mediation explores resonance between practices and modalities using a three-term structure known as a triad. A triad shows how one integrative practice or any of its modalities might reconcile two contrasting or opposing practices and their modalities. The search for mediation thus elicits isomorphic resonance between three fields or practices that form one dynamic triad in a three-way evaluative process, each sensitive to the criteria of the other two.
Synergy explores resonance between practices and modalities using a four-term structure known as a tetrad. The tetrad shows how a field of integrative practice or any of its modalities might serve as the practical ground, goal, direction or instrument in relation to three other practices and their modalities. The search for synergy thus elicits isomorphic resonance between four fields forming one tetrad of interlocking theory and mutually reinforcing practice in a four-way evaluative process. This is how the EduSynthesis map is presented in terms of a field of fields creating synergy between multiple tetrads at different orders of scale, each potentially providing criteria for all.