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How the Appreciative Inquiry works in our organization

Our experience can attest to the relevance of the Appreciative Inquiry. In the previous post I mentioned about the lecture of Bro. Andrew Escuban, area manager of the Share An Opportunity (SAO) at that time, to the board of trustees of the Convention Baptist Ministers Association (CBMA). We requested him to facilitate the initial stages in our Strategic Planning session after the lecture as we tried to internalize the concept, principles, process. Using the guide questions, we started the first activity of the 4-D cycle, i.e. Discover. We shared the best practices and positive experiences including what we valued most in the organization. Answers were written in meta cards, posted on the board and clustered later after discussion. It was an inspiring experience as there were no wrong answers.

Then, we proceeded to the next step – Dream for the association in coming three to five years. Similar process in stage one was done after each has done respective share. From the product of the first two stages, we were led to the next step. i.e. Design. Here, we spent some time in consolidating our answers into provocative statements. It was on this stage when we decided to end the session and scheduled another meeting to resume the process. This is another plus factor for the Appreciative Inquiry. It is flexible and not so taxing or burdensome. We enjoyed the process.

Having internalized the process, we took responsibility of the succeeding sessions and repeated the process in expanded group involving the committee members and chapter presidents. We also incorporated the inputs from consultations and informal talks with pastors. Until finally, we have presented the draft plan to the general assembly before the formulation of the final vision- mission statement and thrusts of the association. An in unconventional way, I formulated acronyms for an easy recall of the aforementioned areas.

For the first time in history or second time if records deceived us, we have set a direction for our organization. We know it is not the ideal but it is the best we ever have. Thereafter, we made breakthroughs as the members support become constant for they have shared ownership of the vision-mission and thrust as these represent their aspirations.

Approved during the May 2005 Assembly, the following vision-mission statement was affirmed during the 2008 General Assembly

Vision: An organization committed to God’s calling of fostering mutual relationship and Solidarity towards Holistic ministry, Abundant life and Responsible stewardship (SHARE).

Mission: Holistic Enhancement of the Life of Pastors (HELP) characterized by exemplary obedience to Mission, ever conscious of their Identity as servants of God, skillful in Networking and partnership for Integral and integrated Services among themselves and towards Total ministry with Enabling skills in Resource generation and other mobilization endeavors (MINISTER).

MINISTER also serves as the paradigm framework of the Association’s program thrusts, as follows: Ministerial identity; Institute, Networking, Integrated services, Spirituality, Team work, Entrepreneurship, Resource management.

Under the slogan SHARE, HELP, MINISTER, our association has soared to unprecedented heights. Summing up the vision-mission statement and paradigm thrusts, the slogan captured the ideas, needs, aspirations, of pastors. It has provided the direction of the association which broke the cyclic tradition and set the foundation for continuity.

Next post: How Appreciative Inquiry works in the Department of Social Work.


Appreciative Inquiry: A contagious participatory approach

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.

The Unlimited Christ

The Christendom has capped its Lenten observance last Sunday with a bang- the Resurrection! But the perennial bias on Passion and Death is glaring. As it were, little emphasis is given to the resurrection which is supposedly the cornerstone of faith. The passion, and subsequent death of Jesus, has been misconstrued as the key to salvation and living. Apart from Christmas, it is the most celebrated event in Christianity. No wonder, days after the celebration believers appear to go back to Passion scenario in their living. The power of the resurrected Christ has not engulfed the lifestyle of many followers. Indeed, the vestiges of the colonial past with the embedment of the virtue of suffering in the psyche of the people.

It should be emphasized that the cross is only part of the womb- to- the- tomb painful experiences of Jesus. The passion and death is the culmination of all his sufferings. Hence, the old rugged cross is not the only thing we must cherish and exchange someday with a crown. Our salvation is not the product of the suffering of Jesus just on the cross. It is the totality of the life of Jesus, exemplifying the love of God for humanity, capped by the resurrection.

From conception, he has already foretaste the cruel world system. The intrigues his earthly family encounters due to the controversial pregnancy prior to marriage. At birth, he has been exposed to vulnerable condition of the poorest of the poor, being born in a manager. His childhood experience is colored with the uncertain life of refugees to escape the persecution. Likewise, he has to adjust to the internal struggle in family relationship, as well as the immediate social environment as he keeps up the ideal living, even going against the norms.

Prior to his public ministry, he has to undergo the process of immersion. Living in a depressed community, he has seen the hypocrisy of leaders in the socio-cultural, economic and political structures. Their wanton disregard of the avowed mission to serve the people as ordained by God. How corruption and abuse of power has encroached the ideal immunity of the religious establishment. How religion has been used for business and profit. Yes, he has witness how leaders enrich themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to develop.

Jesus also knows the struggle of well meaning people in the government and other sectors including revolutionary forces in effecting change. Their two pronged vulnerabilities- stereotype from victims and antagonism from the mainstream perpetrators. Aware of their conviction, he includes some of them in the core of his disciples, mainly composed of representatives from the basic masses.

It is in this context that our observance of religious events or even public holiday should be done in the totality of the life of the honoree. It’s unfortunate that Christians have become selective in remembering the life of Jesus. The other aspects of Jesus life are seemingly neglected, especially his manhood. Some sociologists and theologians view this as manifestation of cultural distortion or vested interests. We love to think of the baby Jesus and Crucified Christ. Their images evoke compassion. More importantly, less threatening as they reflect innocence and helplessness. But we are uncomfortable of the adult Jesus who confronts everyone without fear or favor, even turning the tables of those who make business out of religion. It seems, we want to evade the Jesus who challenges us to follow his example in service.

As one clergy observes, almost all church members can easily recite John 3:16. Indeed, it is comforting to know that God loves us so much to the extent of giving His only Son for us. But many do not know what is 1 John 3:16. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Many Christians limit themselves to be mere recipients of the love of God. No wonder they fail to experience the power of the Resurrected Christ. The unlimited power which sustains the faithful followers who dare to follow his model of service at all costs.

The changing perspectives of development

Although  I forgot the source, the lesson taught by our professor on changing perspective of development   had been embedded in my mind.  From  economic growth to sustainable development, the change passed through the following perspectives: distributive justice, affirmative action, central planning,  participatory development, and sustainable development.

Economic growth connotes   increase in per capita income or increase in Gross National Product.  While  the initial benefits of growth go the rich, it is presumed to  eventually trickle down to the poor. However, experience proves otherwise. For  there  are systemic sieves that  filter the  flow to the bottom. Most often the fruits of development  are not  distributed. The economic growth fails to trickle down. Instead, it   further aggravates  the  disparities.

Such realization leads to the change in perspective involving distributive pattern of  the increase in income.   Distributive Justice provides equality of opportunity and resources that strengthen an individual’s capabilities to function towards  well-being. Subsequnetly, development is viewed as an Affirmative Action to remedy past discrimination in education, training, and employment. Some states strengthen this approach through legislations.

Thereafter, development has been associated with planning i.e. Central Planning.  While in some cases, this model has turned a backward country into a world-class superpower, like in case of Russia in 1960s, it has also limitations. Observably, some countries appear to lag behind those that undertake less centralized approach. A new paradigm emerged  promoting market economy. It espouses the philosophy that “more heads are better than one”  to sustain productive, durable change.

In development activities, the mainstream “top-down” approach has also experienced failure to elicit support from the bottom- the supposedly beneficiary. More often, the brilliance of technocrats and planning experts and the resultant beautiful plans do not necessarily solve the problem. Simply because the  supposed beneficiaries are not involve in the plan. Hence, the lack of support as  plans do not respond to their needs.

New paradigm soon surfaced, influenced by the emerging  People Centered principles. In international relief and development organizations, the  people centered practice became Participatory Development. It seeks to engage local populations in development projects. Their participation is crucial  in the creation, content and conduct of a program or policy designed to change their lives. Participation requires recognition and use of local capacities and avoids the imposition of priorities from the outside. Under this paradigm, the poor are considered  part in initiatives designed for their benefit. Their participation will assure the success and sustainability of project.

The alarming ecological degradation brought about by industrialization and technological advancements, however, ignited another shift  in development perspective. Addressing the growing concern  about the accelerating deterioration of the environment and natural resources, the United Nations created  the World Commission on Environment and Development. From the committee report,  a new word was coined which became a by word among development circles i.e. Sustainable Development.

The report entitled Our Common Future, popularly known  as Brundtland Report in honor of  the committee chair was released  in 1987. It defines sustainable development as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Subsequently, the United Nations  2005 World Summit Outcome Document identifies economic development, social development, and environmental protection as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development


EDSA Revolution and Networking

I have associated the historic EDSA Revolution with systems theory in the previous posts. This reminds me of my thesis when I took up Master of Social Work studies at the University of the Philippines- Diliman. It was a study of Networking as a Development Strategy of Non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Province of Iloilo . Since then I have internalized the learnings and live with it in my whatever development endeavors I engage in.

Networking has been used by development workers and organizers as a strategy to strengthen their ranks especially during the times they were faced with the problem of either co-optation or reprisal from the government and other traditional power holders that want to maintain the status quo. Moreover, they have to deal with the proliferation of pseudo NGOs that undermine the sector’s credibility. Set up to take advantage of funding sources for dubious or narrow purposes, they are fly- by- night organizations.

Faced with such problems and threats to their credibility, NGOs have seen the need to establish linkages and networks among themselves and with other sectors of society. Melgrito (1994) has defined networking as coordination among people, groups or organizations of various interests and orientation, working together as in a chain so as to function in a specific manner. It takes place when organizations link up together and make concerted efforts for mutual advantage and greater effectiveness towards the achievement of a common goal.

As a strategy, networking has been used by many sectors in pursuing development endeavors. Networks link local efforts for more effective lobbying and advocacy and provide venues for the exchange of experiences and resources between similar NGOs. A proper coordination of NGO activities, in networking, helps prevent unnecessary duplication or overlapping of development effort. NGOs are also protected from any form of threat because of their collective nature, while they police their own ranks through common code of conduct.

History of Networking in the Philippines

The beginning of NGO networking in the Philippines, according to Alegre (1996), can be traced from the formation of the Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI), the forerunner of the present-day National Council of Social Development (NCSD). As early as 1952, a group of social work leaders organized the Philippine National Committee of the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW). This eventually evolved into the Council of Welfare Agencies Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (CWAFPI), the umbrella organization of the various welfare and civic organizations, e.g., the Catholic Women’s Clubs, Boy/Girl Scouts of the Philippines, National Red Cross, etc. which, up to this day, cater to such sectors as traditional women’s groups, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

The early organizational formation, however, is only one part of the story of networking with particular focus on welfare agencies. Alan G. Alegre (1996) presented a comprehensive discussion of the factors that contributed to the growth and development of networking in the Philippine NGOs in his book Trends and Traditions, Challenges and Choices:A Strategic Study of Philippine NGOs.

This observation is complemented by a chronological presentation of the formation of nine mainstream national networks after NCSD in From the Present Looking Back: A History of Philippine NGO by Karina David (1998).   Hence, the history of networking in the Philippine is better understood in the context of historical evolution of NGOs in the country.

The story of Philippine NGOs generally follows the trend of the world history of NGOs- from relief and welfare endeavors to social reformation which eventually led to the transformation approach.  Alegre (1996) divided the history of NGOs into six distinct phases rooted in key points in the country’s recent past, as follows:   The Deepening American Colonial Period to Post WWII: Relief, Rehabilitation and Welfare; The Deepening Social Crisis and the Rise of New Social Movements (1965-1972); A Coping with Repression, Carving a Niche (1972-1978); Expansion and Innovation (1978-1983); NGO Support to the Surging Mass Movement (1983-1986); Ebbs and Flows of a Painful Transition (1986-1992); Maturation and Renewal (1992 to the Present).

This will be the subject of succeeding blogs.

The spirit of EDSA lives on! (Part II)

Its cathartic power continues to provide relief and refreshes hope. The over arching and encompassing spirit cannot and will never be domesticated. Its mystery remains unspoiled, not completely unfold.

Over arching and encompassing spirit

Nobody can domesticate EDSA. Even the EDSA heroes cannot claim exclusive right to the historical and mystical event in the Philippines. For the spirit of EDSA is inclusive. It is above all and encircles all.

What happened in EDSA 25 years ago reflects the truism of systems theory. Much of the systems theory grew out of the business management literature. According to Cleland and King (1972), several factors have contributed to the development of the systems theory and the system analysis into a distinct field. These factors included new ways of viewing cost efficiency, new management techniques, and the era of the computer.

The key concepts of the systems theory are wholeness, relationship, and homeostasis. Wholeness implies that the product of interaction by the elements within the system is greater than the additive sums of the separate parts. The concept of relationship asserts the importance of the pattern and structure of elements in the system, equally important as the elements themselves. Homeostasis, which is the tendency of the physiological system of higher animals to maintain an environment of organized stability even when its natural function or condition has been disrupted, suggests that most living systems seek a balance to maintain and preserve the system.

The beauty of systems theory is represented by the rainbow. While there are only three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) there is a multiplication of colors when these link, interact, and overlap. Try to separate one from the other, and the beauty of rainbow is gone. So with EDSA. It is a culmination of respective struggles participated in by the basic masses who since time immemorial always take the lead as they are ones affected. Then comes various sectors of diverse orientation, status, political and ideological leanings, colors and shapes. Youth, professionals, church people, businessmen and women, government officials, military and others. All have contributed their share in shaping the Philippine history. Try to isolate one, and the beauty of the event is gone.

The spirit of EDSA lives on!

Its cathartic power continues to provide relief and refreshes hope. The over arching and encompassing spirit cannot and will never be domesticated. Its mystery remains unspoiled, not completely unfold.

These three insights summarized my reflections on the 25th Anniversary of People Power. For the past weeks, it preoccupied my mind as past involvements flashbacked in my memory. EDSA recollections and learnings was the focus of my media activities. From radio and CATV programs to academic discussion. In my Live CATV show over CPU Channel, I invited past activists from various sectors who were participants to the pre EDSA struggles. We sponsored a University Forum for consciousness raising and internalization of the celebration.

Cathartic power

Nobody will ever deny that EDSA Revolution had provided relief to wounded and bruised nation, captive for decades by an abusive rule. Although debates over extent of healing still looms, it does not diminish the magical power of the historic event. I continue to experience this power while recalling my half a decade involvement in people’s struggle in the local context as part of the national call. Inevitably, haunting past events involving comrades, friends and the basic masses characterized the slow and painful process undertaken until that victorious day.

The feeling of gratitude to God for my survival and the thoughts of my contribution in shaping the history has been cathartic. Although my involvement pales in comparison to the intensity and period suffered by nameless and countless faces. The cathartic power of EDSA also refreshes my hope to attain full recovery from lingering illness. Chronic heart ailment, compounded by nerve disorder, has constrained my active life of service for more than a year now. The delay of complete healing makes me vulnerable to discouragement and depression. But recalling EDSA Revolution gives me new drive to conquer, if I will not give in to despair.