John Heron

my personal tribute to John Heron

John Heron was my best man, friend, colleague, mentor and teacher. He helped me work through my experience of the evaluation of the Department of Educational Studies being so inhuman and so at variance with the values of the HPRP and what I was doing, that I could not remain whilst my voice seemed to be unheard. Our evaluation report had envisioned our next stage, which had been agreed in principle, that we work towards an open style MSc based on suitable samples and progressions from our workshops. Later I discovered that our workshop programme itself almost shocked the then Director of Continuing Education at Surrey, by its nature and extent. I had wondered about joining forces with him but that could have led to further cultural challenges. So John helped me decide to take early retirement. He might have saved my life.

I became a colleague when he agreed to continue as Director of the HPRP when I created the embryonic workshop programme based on his input, skills, models and training with myself and Nicholas Ragg as Assistant Directors. I attended every workshop he offered and was one of the first students of his Facilitator Styles course as was Nicholas. As I continued to develop skills, so I took on his mantle by offering the core workshops myself: 6CIA, 6DFS and co-counsellimg, leaving him to develop advanced versions, which I could also take on later. I am immensely grateful to John for his depth of insight and skill and could only emulate him at a more basic level. All this changed my career. I was offering courses I would not have dreamed of and benefiting new groups of people, many of whom would go on to benefit even more. I shall be ever in his debt, yet will have paid that debt by passing on his skills and models to others who will express them and teach them as well as they are able.

What we left was a Centre of Excellence in the world of Experiential Education, unsurpassed in Western Europe, even today there is nothing so focussed and extensive. We set the criteria and standards of effective facilitation of Experiential Learning and Education. We delivered training to those same standards. We provided models of excellence in our practice and gave our students opportunities to practice their own ideas in our "Nursery" as well as some of the core proramme. All was inspired by John Heron.

I go on with excerpts from a keynote talk where he reviews his part in the HPRP and raises questions about whether a University is the best place to innovate like this. I must admit that I could use academic freedom with the support of my Head of Department to mount a growing programme of workshops of a completely innovative style compared to anything that had been offered before in this way. In the early 80s it became harder as business criteria were applied and new charges applied to recognise University costs. We were able to pay for our secretarial costs, academic salaries, administrative costs and room charges as these were applied, though it was time consuming to learn and apply the new rules each year so as to convince management we actually made a profit, and able to contribute to and reduce the Department's losses.

Excerpts from John Heron's Keynote Address

The First International Conference On Organisational Spirituality (ICOS)

This selection is made to concentrate on the HPRP and John's underlying values without competing with the full speech which can be found in John's archive and the full proceedings of the conference at the University of Surrey 2002.

I'm a great believer in alternative education and research centres, and I've been involved in founding quite a number of them in my time: New Paradigm Research Group; Co-counselling International; Institute for the Development of Human Potential; International Centre for Co-operative Inquiry, etc. Even within academic institutions the centres I established were strongly countercultural. The Human Potential Research Project (as I christened it) here at the University of Surrey, and the Education Department (and the Research Council for Complementary Medicine) of the British Postgraduate Medical Federation at the University of London, were radically alternative in ideology and methodology.

David Peat, the physicist and polymath, was a neighbour of mine in Italy. He wrote a very adventurous book on Blackfoot physics funded by the Fetzer Foundation, also an important biography of David Bohm (who used to sit in his own dialogue groups crouched up, anxious and fretful that people weren't doing it right) (Peat, 1996, 1997). Peat had an online discussion group with a number of senior people in science and art. One of the topics that came up was whether established academic institutions were places where significant radical change - toward what truly constitutes the generation of human knowledge and learning - can really occur.

It was strongly suggested that alternative institutions will play a vital role in empowering this kind of change. It was an interesting debate and I chipped in to it from time to time, particularly about one of the big issues, to wit, that established academic institutions have an inveterate attachment to the unilateral assessment of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Such institutions claim that it is their job, their duty and right, to assess unilaterally whether students have acquired proper and adequate knowledge. In other words, students do not participate in the assessing process: their work is judged entirely from without.

In a comprehensive model of learning, three things go together and are to be practised concurrently: learning the content of a discipline, learning how to learn, and learning to assess how well you have learned. Thus means a significant element of student self-direction in choosing content and learning methods, through setting up learning contracts in collaboration with staff. Also a significant element of student self-assessment in choosing criteria of assessment and applying them, also in collaboration with staff. Staff as culture-carriers need to pass on to their students not merely the content of knowledge, but a progressively developing proficiency in self-directed learning and self-directed assessment of that learning (Heron, 1988).

A comprehensive model of learning means integrating into the learning process at least four basic ways of knowing, not just the one intellectual/conceptual/propositional way.

First we have experiential learning: by meeting/encounter/engagement with people, places, processes and things; by participation in the being if what is present. Second there is presentational learning: by intuitive grasp of the meaning of the patterns and forms of nonverbal imagery, as in the various arts, in immediate perceiving, in memory and dreams. Third we have our very familiar propositional, conceptual learning, mediated by language. And fourth there's practical learning: learning how to do things, manifest in a whole array of skills and competencies – spiritual, psychic, aesthetic, political, interpersonal, emotional, technical, clinical, etc.

There’s more, for a comprehensive model of learning is integral, holistic. This means the four ways of learning are mutually supportive and enhancing: the soundness of each one is interdependent with the soundness of the other three. So the quality of your intellectual learning is affected by the quality of your engagement with people, places and and the natural world; by the quality of your grasp of the significance of nonverbal imagery, in visions, dreams, memory, imagination and your artistic productions; by the quality of your skills in diverse areas of internal and external life. Thus your intellectual education is radically grounded in your personal, interpersonal, ecological and practical growth (Heron, 1992, 1996a, 1996b, 1999).

This integral account of learning puts an end to the Aristotelian doctrine of intellectual excellence as the supreme educational end. For it suggests that the primary outcomes of education are transformations of your being-in-connectedness – so unilateral assessment becomes profoundly problematic when you get into the deeper reaches of human nature and incorporate them into the whole learning process. I don't know whether universities and other tertiary institutions are going to rise to the challenge of truly integral learning and survive - because of their inability to relinquish their final unilateral dominance, their absolute power to control the knowledge market. Their capitalization of knowledge says “We are the people who know who knows: we say who has got the knowledge and who hasn’t”. And it is precisely this kind of capitalization which is rendered obsolete by the alternative centres, which are better called networks, of the emerging peer to peer age.

The autonomy of such people is not that of the old Cartesian ego, isolated and cut off from the world. Descartes sat inside a big stove to get at his cogito, ergo sum - I think, therefore I am – and while his exclusively subjective self provided a necessary leverage against traditional dogmatisms to help found the modern worldview, it left the modern self alienated from the separated world it commands.

As I said earlier, I'm certainly a great believer in alternative education and research, both without and within established institutions. So here are some of my modest attempts to work with living spirit, in the latter context. I started the Human Potential Research Project at this university in November 1970. I set it up as a relatively autonomous entity within the then Centre for Adult Education - which at that time was exclusively an extramural department - with huge support from David James, who was Head of the Centre, backed up by the Vice-Chancellor, Peter Leggett, who was a mathematician and a discreet mystic. He was a member, as I was, of something called The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies, run by Alison Barnard, a devotee of Anthony Bloom, bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in London, a religious luminary and a splendid character. This Centre had regular avant garde meetings with talks and discussions about depth psychology, psychical research, the mystical path, spiritual and occult philosophy and so on.

The HPRP had a purely extramural focus. As a matter of political prudence, we made no attempt to attract intramural undergraduate or postgraduate students, but if they happened to get wind of us and turned up for our workshops, they were welcome. So our publicity went exclusively to the general public and professional groups in the surrounding community. Through the first year I ran a programme of weekend Human Relations Training Laboratories. I facilitated the unfolding dynamic of each experiental group based on a few simple and basic ground-rules to which everyone had assented. The idea was that participants would acquire new intrapsychic and interpersonal awareness, insights and skills. My guiding definition of love, for professional faciltitators and helpers, was “to provide conditions within which people can in liberty determine their own true needs and interests in co-operation with others who are similarly engaged”. It's a definition which again points to the interdependence of autonomy and co-operation, facilitated by the hierarchy of a benign facilitation which reminds people of the full implications of the ground-rules to which they have agreed.

So that was the underlying precept behind that first year of experiential learning. The next year, I added a twenty week, one evening a week, co-counselling training course. I ran it as an experiential inquiry; and in fact it was a precursor of the co-operative inquiry method which I developed fully some years later. In the third year, I started working with the medical profession, training experienced GPs to become trainers of young hospital doctors entering General Practice. When the senior GP course-organizers first approached me about a course, I said they should only work with me if they were interested in my educational model: the programme would be co-designed by the organizers, the participants and myself, negotiating to include our various concerns and interests; and that my concerns included not only this participative decision-making, but also a significant element of experiential learning using structured exercises of various kinds. They nervously agreed to the model. The course took off and became powerful experiential learning arena, especially through the use of role play to differentiate between faciltitative (you tell me) and authoritative (I tell you) interventions in the GPs’ relations both with their trainees and with their patients. In those days most of the GPs couldn’t really tell the difference: every initial attempt to be facilitative got compulsively skewed into an authoritative form (e.g. “Don't you think that what you really ought to do with this patient is…”) (laughter).

Those courses went on for some time and were great success, a breakthrough in medical education. As a result, after seven years with the Project at Surrey, I was head-hunted by the British Postgraduate Medical Federation (BPMF) of the University of London for an extremely anomalous appointment as Assistant Director to organize, run and innovate within, their Education Department. It was anomalous because it was unprecedented for someone with no medical background to fill such a senior position at the top of the academic medical hierarchy. I realized that this was an extremely hazardous prospect. I accepted the post on condition that I could write my own job-description, with signed assent to it from the Federation.

This was to be my contractual protection, because I knew that once I started to innovate, all hell would break loose (laughter).

So the Education Department within the BPMF was, like the Human Potential Research Project within the University of Surrey, an alternative education and research centre. The program of courses I put on was so radical, by conventional medical education standards, that I had non-participant doctors croaking at my door in outrage. But more importantly a high percentage of the participating doctors were liberated into new vistas of thought and practice, and medically empowered in a patient-centred way (Heron, 1984).

After the first few years at the BPMF, I launched a co-operative inquiry – and by then the model was fully developed - into whole person medicine for sixteen experienced GP's. This ran for nine months and we met every six weeks for a long weekend to review and reflect on the innovations of medical practice applied in the previous weeks (Heron and Reason, 1985). Prior to this there was a preliminary weekend at which we worked out a provisonal model of whole person medicine. It included a statement about the integration of body, mind and spirit. When it came to planning the third six-week action cycle, one subgroup said “Look, our model includes this idea of integrating body-mind-spirit, but what does this mean in practice in the NHS in our consulting room?”. So they contracted to try out different sorts of spiritual intervention for six weeks and review and revise them at the subsequent reflection weekend. Another sub-group elected to look at power-sharing with patients. This, it seemed to me, was also another way of engaging with living spirit. It was fascinating the things both sub-groups tried out. It was indeed living spirit at work. Some doctors found that if, at an appropriate time in the consultation, they could just pop in a simple question like “What do you think about prayer?” or “When you're ill where does religion figure in the experience?”, then a new depth of authentic relationship and healing potential could be opened up. A doctor once asked a patient of the Islamic faith about prayer and found out that this man spent so many times a day down on his knees praying, that extra light was thrown on the aetiology of his presenting knee problem (laughter). Patrick Pietroni and some of the other doctors participating in our inquiry went on to found the British Holistic Medical Association.

Now both these alternative education centres, within the universities of Surrey and London, offered no university diplomas, certificates or degrees for any of their courses. I chose this as a matter of deliberate policy, for both universities would have insisted on unilateral assessment as a non-negotiable precondition for granting any university qualification. And such assessment was incompatible with the kind of in-depth whole-person education which these centres practised. So in 1977, in London, five of us founded the entirely independent Institute for the Development of Human Potential (IDHP), to run two-year part-time courses, integrating experiential and theoretical learning, and offering a Diploma in Humanistic Psychology, awarded on the basis of the rigorous practice of self and peer assessment by students trained in the method throughout the course by the course facilitators.

This institute was launched by the initiative of David Blagden Marks, the second director Quaesitor, the first growth centre in London, indeed in Europe. A year after the launch, David, a single-handed transatlantic yachtsman, was tragically drowned in a severe storm when crossing the Irish sea, after setting sail on the basis of a highly inaccurate weather report. As we reeled from this tragedy, I took the rudder and became chairperson of the IDHP for a period as we refined our educational ideology and method. The IDHP is still going strong, with current couses in process, and its twenty five years of educational pioneering were celebrated by four articles in Self and Society in 2001 (vol. 29, no. 2, June-July). It has consistently affirmed, among other things, the following: experiential learning, in the spirit of inquiry, as the ground of multi-faceted integral learning – personal, interpersonal, political, spiritual; emotional competence as a prerequisite for facilitative skills (the interdependence of personal and professional development); the intentional and empowering interplay of hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy in the relation between facilitators and participants, and in the unfolding of course dynamics; the application of self and peer assessment as the sole basis of accreditation.

What is so important about self and peer assessment and using it as a basis for diploma accreditation, is that it affirms to society at large that the validating authority for personal-cum-professional-cum-spiritual development lies exclusively within the depths of each individual person, where that person is profoundly engaged with other persons in the developmental process and where that person is within an educational culture that promotes the cultivation of integral learning and self and peer assessment skills. Autonomous self-assessment is set in a context of rigorous peer assessment and institutional training. The autonomy is interdependent with peer process and institutional hierarchy. This interacting triad of autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy (Heron, 1999) is a theme that runs through my whole talk, and is, perhaps, a key to the dynamics of the emerging peer to peer world.

Let me just quickly tell you how I founded the Human Potential Research Project here. Believe it or not, it was because of seven senior police officers: they started it off. In the late summer of 1970, the Assistant Chief Constable of Surrey Police, who was also in charge of training, rang the Vice-Chancellor’s office and said: “Could you please set up a course for seven of my senior police officers, to improve relations between town and gown”. That office got in touch with David James, the head of the Adult Education Centre, and asked him to put on a five day course. David went into shock, got in touch with me and said: “Could you run the first two days, I know you're doing lectures for the Royal Institute of Public Administration?” I agreed to do it. After my two days, there was to be a day with the sociologists, then two final days with the computing unit, as I recall. Seven worldly-wise, professionally competent, senior police officers of Superintendent rank came through the door of one of the smaller teaching rooms in the lecture theatre block, on a Monday morning. I said to them: “Look, I can give you two days of lectures. But I could also do something else, which will require courage from all of us: courage from me because I've never done it before with people of your professional standing; courage from you because it's an invitation for you to explore the relation between your humanity and your professional role, through a series of simple but radical exercises, and to take some risks in the presence of your peers”. As soon as they heard the word “courage” they lined up on the edge of the pool ready to plunge in at the deep end and we were off. We had an extraordinary two day journey. They looked at what motivated them to join the police in the first place, and at what motivated them in the job today. They explored their unfulfilled ambitions as human beings. They asked themselves whether they were case-hardened; and what effect their work had on their personal life and relationships. Each took it in turn to play the role of one of his own subordinates, giving himself honest feedback on what it was really like to work under him. And so on.

After several hours of this they staggered out into the September sunshine spaced out of their minds. At the end of the five days, after their time with the sociology people and the computing unit, they had a review of the whole course. I was unable to attend this, but I was told they went on and on about the educational impact of the first two days. They even sent a deputation to the Vice-Chancellor’s office to ask why they had never heard of that kind of education before. Then I realised that here was an opening. Looking at established institutions in terms of a hierarchy of social control, the police outrank universities: if students are revolting, it is the police who wade in with tear gas and batons, while academic staff are sequestered nervously in their studies. If a radical method is commended by the police, a university must take notice. I said to David James: “If it is possible to have such a response with senior police offers, this is surely a mandate to offer this educational method to other professional groups and the general public”. And so the Human Potential Research Project was born. As I said, rigid systems are porous: there are always openings, spaces between the lines of the grid in which you can plant flowers.

Heron, J. (1984) ‘Holistic endeavour in postgraduate medical eduction’ in The British Journal of Holistic Medicine, 1:1, 80-91.
Heron, J. (1988) ‘Assessment revisited’ in Boud, D. (ed) Developing Student Autonomy in Learning. London: Kogan Page.
Heron, J. (1992) Feeling and Personhood: Psychology in Another Key. London: Sage.
Heron, J. (1996a) Co-operative Inquiry: Research into the Human Condition. London: Sage.
Heron, J. (1996b) 'Helping Whole People Learn' in Boud D. and Miller N. (eds), Working with Experience: Promoting Learning. London: Routledge, 1996.
Heron, J. (1998) Sacred Science: Person-centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and the Subtle. Ross on Wye: PCCS Books.
Heron, J. (1999) The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook. London: Kogan Page.
Heron, J. (2001) Helping the Client: A Creative, Practical Guide. London: Sage.
Heron, J. (2002) ‘A revisionary perspective on human spirituality’, at
Heron, J. and Reason, P. (1985) Whole Person Medicine: A Co-operative Inquiry. London: British Postgraduate Medical Federation.
Peat, F.D. (1996) Blackfoot Physics. London: Fourth Estate.
Peat, F.D. (1997) Infinite Potential: The Life and Times of David Bohm. New York: Addison Wesley.