Facilitated Collaborative Inquiry: Process Overview Part 1/4

by Stephen Shimshock, PhD
Director of Systems-Data and Reporting, Casey Family Programs

Process Overview

Facilitated Collaborative Inquiry (FCI) is a continuous quality-improvement (CQI) process that engages staff in every aspect of the inquiry process. The aim of FCI is to improve child welfare outcomes by building a culture of “best practitioners.”

What is a best practitioner? It is a staff person who is compassionate when working with youth and families, curious when analyzing data and patterns, creative when finding solutions to complex challenges, and courageous when challenging social norms to improve outcomes. In the context of FCI, a practitioner is both a social worker and a social scientist. They are agents of social change, and FCI is deeply rooted in a belief that social change can only occur through social interaction.

Best Practioner

The key elements of FCI are the facilitator(s), the collaborators, and the inquiry process. The facilitator guides the group through the collaborative inquiry process and provides support. The group works together to perform the bulk of the analysis, interpretation, strategy design, and progress monitoring.FQI

  1. Identify the opportunity/gap: Data are used to identify opportunities for improvement. For example, data can show differences in permanency achievement rates across different groups of youth.
  2. Establish a baseline and set goal(s): A baseline is established using data from the past. For example, data may uncover that older youth achieve legal permanency at a lower rate than younger children. The baseline will serve as the “current” rate. The goal is then established in an X-to-Y-by-when format. For this example, “We plan to increase the legal permanency rate for older youth from 45% to 75% in the next 18 months.”
  3. Develop a theory and corresponding strategies and monitor progress: Much of the work in FCI is done in this phase, which typically lasts 6 to 18 months. Practitioners are encouraged to develop theories or hypotheses about the possible causes of the differences they uncovered in phases 1 and 2. They are also encouraged to test their theories or hypotheses by implementing strategies and interventions, regularly engaging with each other to monitor progress, and adjusting their strategies accordingly.
  4. Lessons learned and next steps: At the end of the inquiry period the participants are led through a summary session to examine their findings and evaluate their progress in comparison to the goal they set for themselves. Based on their findings and learnings, they then determine whether they need to spend more time on the opportunity they have been tackling, or whether they want to move on to identify a new opportunity to address.

FCI has been developed from many influences, including Grounded Theory,[1] Action Research,[2] CQI literature,[3] and the Four Disciplines of Execution.[4]

FCI is a strategy implemented with groups to discover pressing challenges, develop a rigorous approach for making measured improvements, share lessons learned, and ultimately build a culture of evidence-based change. It is a collaborative and practical approach to social science rooted in the belief that communities, organizations, practitioners, youth and families are all participating in a complex dynamic social interaction, each changing in ways both big and small with each interaction. As such, simple solutions are difficult to achieve. FCI aims to create a culture where good data and best practices make it into the hands of best practitioners.


[1].      Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (2012). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. New Brunswick: AldineTransaction.

[2].      Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2013). Introduction to action research social research for social change. Johanneshov: MTM.

[3].      Wulczyn, F., Alpert, L., Orlebeke, B., & Haight, J. (n.d.). Principles, Language, and Shared Meaning: Toward a Common Understanding of CQI in Child Welfare. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from

[4].      McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2016). The 4 disciplines of execution: achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.

For more information on FCI please contact Stephen Shimshock, Director of System, Data and Reporting at Casey Family Programs 206-216-4178 (

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