What is Integral Research?

Integral Research (IR) is a dynamic, systematic approach to conducting integrative research across multiple domains and scales. IR enables researchers to explore and address the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional nature of complex phenomena, supporting them to go beyond the fragmented and specialized state of contemporary knowledge production. IR draws on integral metatheory, notably Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism, to generate an approach that explores and discloses the dynamic interrelationships between (inter)subjective and (inter)objective aspects of reality. Through the use of ‘Integral Methodological Pluralism’ (see figure 1), IR allows one to combine, coordinate, and systematically integrate the multiplicity of methodologies (both qualitative and quantitative) available for scientific inquiry. Moreover, IR supports researchers to self-reflexively situate their approach and findings within a larger context of inquiry, thereby increasing the work’s potential value vis-à-vis interdisciplinary real-world problem solving. In these ways, it offers a rigorous framework that goes beyond the unprincipled eclecticism that plagues many other integrative and multi-method approaches. Click here for a synopsis of the definitions of IR from two key articles for the field (Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, 2006; Nick Hedlund-de Witt, 2010).  

The Integral Research Center is an innovative think-and-do tank supporting the global community of integral scholar-practitioners to skillfully address complex, 21st-century challenges. We are dedicated to envisioning, operationalizing, and evolving frameworks for integrative knowledge production in service of planetary flourishing (i.e., ecological resilience, social well-being, and actualizing human potential). We aim to help redress gaps in extant research programs by championing strategic research projects in relation to key challenges and opportunities for human well-being (e.g., climate change, economic and geo-political security, human health). We are committed to plugging the results of such research into real-world action initiatives together with various partner organizations, including other Centers at the MetaIntegral Foundation. Our mission is carried out through a variety of activities including:

  • Research: Conducting and supporting original methodologically pluralistic research. For example, we are currently implementing the following projects: the iTEACH project - using eight methodologies to study the transformative effects of integral education; the LIMA - developing a new psychometric assessment measuring developmental differences in the understanding of Integral Theory and Practice.
  • Journal: Publishing peer-reviewed academic articles and original Integral Research through the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (including special research issues).
  • Conferences and Symposia: Every two years the MetaIntegral Foundation, in partnership with Integral Institute, will host an international academic conference—the Integral Theory Conference. The conference provides researchers with a chance to present their findings, methods, and ideas around Integral Research as well as to network and dialogue with colleagues. Additionally, various symposia on key topics for integral research and scholarship are also offered (e.g., the Critical Realism & Integral Theory symposium at John F. Kennedy University in 2011).
  • Grants: Providing funding for research grants, both on a graduate and post-graduate level, to conduct IR.
  • Forum: Providing discussion forums for scholars interested in conducting Integral Research and exploring epistemological and methodological issues.
  • Resources: Supporting scholar-practitioners through providing various online resources and assets (e.g., articles, charts, examples, case studies, bibliographies of key topics and authors, lists of methods, guidelines for integration of methods and data).
  • Courses: Promoting graduate level courses in IR, online and on campus. 
  • Fieldwork: Promoting and funding participation in Integral Field Studies events (hosted by Integral Without Borders) that provide individuals with an opportunity to practice real time applications of integral principles and methods and bear witness to grassroots organizations utilizing “folk” Integral and action research approaches in the global south.

 

Why Our Work Matters

"[In the 21st century], there will be an urgent need for scholars who go beyond the isolated facts; who make connections across the disciplines; and who begin to discover a more coherent view of knowledge and a more integrated, more authentic view of life."   – Ernest Boyer

"The complexity of our research problems calls for answers beyond simple numbers in a quantitative sense and words in a qualitative sense."   –  John Creswell and Vicki Plano Clark

 

There is a growing recognition within the scientific community of the need for an integrative approach to researching—and effectively addressing—the complex real world challenges of the 21st-century. The unprecedented complexity of many such issues—from climate change to terrorism to global economic crisis—profoundly transcends the boundaries of our traditional academic disciplines and specialized research methodologies. That is, these real-world, ‘wicked’ problems are far more complicated and messy than can be adequately delineated and addressed by piecemeal, mono-disciplinary approaches and methodologically restricted research programs. These planetary problems are complex, multifaceted totalities—thus demanding accordingly complex and sophisticated integrative approaches that can account for their myriad dimensions, foster coordination and integration across boundaries, and ultimately generate effective and lasting solutions. In short, we need a research framework that can integrate—and bring coherence to—the cacophony of perspectives relevant to our challenges such that we are empowered to effectively address them and enact their evolutionary potentials. Integral Research (IR) aims to offer just such a framework—it is already being applied by scholar-practitioners throughout the world for example in:

 

  • international development action research in El Salvador, Peru, and Nigeria;
  • longitudinal educational research at John F. Kennedy University in the U.S.;
  • strategic sustainability leadership research in the Netherlands;
  • psychological research and psychometric development by Harvard researchers in the U.S.;
  • anthropological research in India;
  • corporate research and development in Brazil;
  • transformative leadership development research in the U.S.

IR’s unique advantages for exploring complex phenomena are rooted in its use of meta-frameworks and models, which disclose the systematic interrelationship between the multiplicity of methodologies available for human inquiry. Such disclosure thereby situates the purview of each methodology and provides a template for the coordination and integration of their otherwise fragmented bodies of respective knowledge into a larger tapestry. In this way, IR empowers the researcher in fostering a systematic and rigorous integration of methods and data sets that other leading approaches to inter-/transdisciplinarity too often lack. Thus, it offers concrete pathways through which the otherwise arduous goals of integrative and mixed methods approaches to research can be accomplished. Finally, IR is grounded in a post-postmodern research worldview that is inclusive of the realities of interiority and subjectivity, yet articulates systematic methods for maintaining rigor and validity in the face of postmodern/constructivist critiques of science. Therefore, IR emphasizes the importance of self-reflexivity—that is, ‘researching the researcher’— offering an innovative approach to accounting for the role of the researcher and the (inter)subjective lenses and injunctions through which reality is engaged. As such, IR is grounded in a higher-order synthesis that attempts to go beyond both (post)positivism and social constructivism while integrating their most important insights into a coherent approach fit for the 21st-century.

 

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