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Appreciative Inquiry: A contagious participatory approach


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We were supposed to wrap up our Social Planning and Program Development class with a workshop on Appreciative Inquiry this morning. My students in Master of Science in Social Work class were quite excited to experience the workshop to culminate our study of the Generic Tools in Social Planning and Program Development. In the past meetings, I have assigned them to report on certain tools used by many development planners and practitioners both locally and internationally e.g. Problem-solving and Decision-Making, Force Field Analysis, Project-Oriented Planning, Logical Framework Analysis. It could have been my turn to facilitate their hands on experience on Participatory Development Planning thru Appreciative Inquiry. But the inclement weather condition forced us to adhere to the long weekend schedule we tried to break. Earlier, Central Philippine University decided to give its personnel and students a long week-end due to the 74th Charter Day of the city of Iloilo in August 25 and non-working holidays national holidays on August 29 and 30 to commemorate the National Heroes’ day and end of Ramadan, respectively.

While I welcome this breather, I do not want to spoil my preparation. Hence, this blog on Appreciative Inquiry or AI. It is the most recognized name describing the powerful new paradigm for strength-based organizational transformation and has been recognized as the most innovative approach in organizational development in the last decade. A participatory approach, it involves as many people as possible in the change process. AI has been considered a body of work that focuses on developing an organization’s positive core to inspire collaborative action that serves the whole system. What is? Com defines it as a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analyzing why it is working well and then doing more of it.

My first encounter with AI was through a good friend and partner in development, Bro. Andrew Escuban, who excitedly shared his new discovery fresh from a national seminar he attended. He was still the Area Manager of Share An Opportunity in Panay-Guimaras and Romblon at that time. Amused by the approach, I invited him to give lecture and facilitate the first stage of the Strategic Plan of our association. I was then serving my first term as national president of the Convention Baptist Ministers Association and discovered we did not have any vision-mission statement. Since then, I become a disciple and advocate of the Appreciative Inquiry.

The approach was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. From the website of the Appreciative Inquiry Commons we find this interesting story: “As a young 24 year old doctoral student David Cooperrider was involved doing a conventional diagnosis or an organizational analysis of “what’s wrong with the human side of the Organization?.” In gathering his data, he becomes amazed by the level of positive cooperation, innovation and egalitarian governance he sees in the organization. Suresh Srivastva, Cooperrider’s advisor notices David’s excitement and suggests going further with the excitement-making it the focus. Having been influenced by earlier writings by Schweitzer on the idea of “reverence for life”, David obtains permission from the Clinic’s Chairman Dr. William Kiser to focus totally on a life-centric analysis of the factors contributing to the highly effective functioning of the Clinic when it was at its best. Everything else was ignored. The Cleveland clinic became the first large site where a conscious decision to use an inquiry focusing on life-giving factors forms the basis for an organizational analysis.

The term “Appreciative Inquiry” was first written about in an analytic footnote in the feedback report of “emergent themes” by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva for the Board of Governors of the Cleveland Clinic. The report created such a powerful and positive stir that the Board called for ways to use this method with the whole group practice. The momentum set the stage for David Cooperrider’s seminal dissertation, the first, and as yet, one of the best articulations of the theory and practice of Appreciative Inquiry.

Richard Seel, an ordained minister in the Church of England and a freelance writer and magazine editor offers a concise introduction to the theory and practice of AI in his Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. He started to trace the reason why change initiatives does not pick up. Either, people are not involved or such initiative bring up so many negative feelings. Appreciative Inquiry takes a different approach. It explores the positive aspects in organization and uses that as a foundation for future development. A life-affirming approach Appreciative Inquiry builds on what is positive in organizational life. It seeks out stories of success and tries to ignore stories of failure.

There are two models of Appreciative Inquiry e.g. 4-D and 4-I. Seel outlines these models, as follows:

People talk to one another, usually via structured interviews, to discover the times when the organization is at its best. These stories are told as richly as possible and from them people start to discover the ‘positive core’ of the organization, what gives life to it when it is at its best. People start to appreciate themselves and their colleagues and some quite significant transformations start to occur.

The dream phase is often run as a large group conference where a cross-section of the organization is encouraged to imagine and co-create the future. They are encouraged to envision the organization as if the peak moments discovered in the ‘discover’ phase were the norm rather than the exception. “What would things be like if…?” Working in small groups, they try to put as much ‘flesh’ as possible on their visions as possible. These are then ‘creatively presented’ to the rest of the group and worked on further.

In the early days of Appreciative Inquiry the design phase was delegated to a small team which was empowered to go away and design ways of creating the organization dreamed in the dream conference(s). Although this still happens, Gervase Busche has found that transformational change is more likely to occur if the design phase is undertaken by as wide a group as possible. In this collaborative design approach the group first derive a design possibilities map, which contains, in three concentric circles, the dream for the organization, the key relationships which have an impact on the dream, and key organizational design elements which will be needed to deliver the dream.

The final phase is to deliver the dream and the new design. Because the term ‘deliver’ has a rather mechanical feel to it, many AI workers now prefer the term ‘Destiny’ which continues the future-facing theme. Whichever term is chosen, the final phase is one of experimentation and improvisation, sometimes described as ‘organizational jazz’.

The 4-I model

The 4-D cycle is not the only way of thinking about the process of Appreciative Inquiry. Some writers have offered another way of looking at the process, the 4-I model.

In this phase the principles of AI are introduced; project teams are formed; the overall project focus is decided; preliminary project details are decided.

Use the generic interviews; develop customized interview protocol; train interviewers; conduct appreciative interviews as widely as possible throughout the organization.

Collate and share the key themes from the interviews; develop provocative propositions which give a grounded vision of the desired future; validate propositions with as many people in the organization as possible.

Involve the maximum number of people in conversations which engage with the proposed new ways of organizing; implement the changes; review change in an appreciative way.


1 Comment

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