Can citizen inquiry be inclusive?

Jessica Carr, The Open University.

Jessica Carr, The Open University.

Are people with learning disabilities regularly excluded from decision-making processes which may have a direct impact on them?

I’ve recently published research that explores this important issue (Carr, 2018), with the aim of contributing to wider discussions about how we build capacity to ensure that citizens have access to, and agency within, research (Holliman, 2017).

In my Masters, I facilitated a study that used citizen inquiry methodologies to engage adults with learning disabilities through the use of participatory research approaches (Nind, Seale et al. 2016).

The research explored how people with learning disabilities understand citizen inquiry and what levels of support are required for future work in this area.

A group of six citizen inquirers, from the Monday night social group at the Yellow Submarine Charity, engaged in a project that they designed. The project ran over four 1-hour sessions.

We used the citizen inquiry platform ‘NQuire-it’ developed by the Open University to support the various research phases project (Scanlon et al. 2010).

The sessions were aimed at gaining data on how the citizen inquirers understood this technologically- and face-to-face supported approach through ethnographically-informed observation and a focus group.

Through the analysis of the data, I found that the citizen inquirers understood the project in two main ways; what they believe a citizen to be and how the project made them feel.

Citizen Inquiry – as understood by the citizen inquirers.

Citizen Inquiry – as understood by the citizen inquirers.

The participant’s responses were generally positive, but identified a need for future research into their understanding of citizen inquiry and how capacity could be built to support the diverse needs of people with learning disabilities.

Whilst people with learning disabilities are often excluded from decision-making processes, the inclusive nature of this research and the way in which citizen inquiry worked allowed for the citizen inquirers to have a level of control over the research process, thereby gaining autonomy in their decision-making.

Carr, Jessica (2018). How do people with learning disabilities understand citizen inquiry? MRes thesis The Open University. Online:

Holliman, Richard (2017). Supporting excellence in engaged research. Journal of Science Communication, 16(5) pp. 1–10. Online:

Scanlon, E. Scanlon, Eileen; Kerawalla, Lucinda; Twiner, Alison; Mulholland, Paul; Collins, Trevor; Jones, Ann; Gaved, Mark; Littleton, Karen; Blake, Canan and Conole, Grainne (2010). Personal Inquiry: scripting support for inquiry learning by participatory design. In: Computer-Based Learning in Science, 7-10 Jul 2010, Warsaw, Poland. Online:

Nind, Melanie; Seale, Jane; Chapman, Rohhss and Tilley, Liz (2016). The Conundrum of Training and Capacity Building for People with Learning Disabilities Doing Research. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 29(6) pp. 542–551. Online:

This research was supported by the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University. I’m grateful to the Yellow Submarine Charity and the citizen inquirers for their contributions, advice and guidance. My supervisors offered support through the process: Jane Seale, Richard Holliman and Eileen Scanlon.