International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


Appreciative Inquiry: Compassionate Communities and Palliative Care

Wendy Gain is an independent consultant, facilitating workshops for developing partnerships and compassionate communities. She is also an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, partnership broker and ISO9001 Quality Management Systems Auditor. She has been a registered nurse in palliative care, a health bureaucrat and project officer in health and academic projects.

The first time I was really conscious of anything about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was in western Queensland in the middle of the heat of a long, hot, humid summer. We were a group of people that were gathering to form a partnership looking to improve the way we do things across the community. The person facilitating the workshop had asked us all to close our eyes for a moment and to dream about what that community might look like if we were to sleep for two years and then wake up. I was nervous about closing my eyes because I was so hot, bothered and tired, and felt that I might not wake up!

It was when we opened our eyes and started talking about what we saw was possible across the community and what we would be able to achieve through that community partnership that I saw the true brilliance and potential of the dream sequence for Appreciative Inquiry. I have no memory of any other part of the 5D platform for AI from that day in western Queensland. However, the experience resonated with me so much that I pursued AI facilitator training with the Centre for Appreciative Inquiry in Las Vegas.

My certification report for facilitator training focused on working with a team of health providers to improve the palliative care outcomes for Aboriginal people in rural Victoria. What was truly fascinating about this AI experience was the use of the local Aboriginal totem as the visual representation of their provocative statement.

Currently I use AI in my work with compassionate communities and palliative care as a fundamental component of one-day workshops forming community partnerships. In these workshops I get to blend my AI skills with my partnership-broker skills to guide a group of people to form their provocative statements for their vision for their own compassionate communities. Starting the workshops inquiring into experiences with compassionate connections and developing their vision for what their compassionate community will look like is a very high-energy experience.

Using bottle tops to build visions

I use bottle tops as the medium for them to build the picture of what their provocative statement looks like. Lots of bottle tops in different shapes, sizes and colours enables attendees to demonstrate all sorts of things. Nobody has a PhD or degree in bottle tops, so giving people a collection of different coloured, sized and shaped tops is a non-challenging medium for which they can come together and build their vision statement. People are innovative in their use of bottle tops. When a provocative statement talks about scaling through the five principles of partnership, they can use tops of different sizes and colours to show visually what scaling might look like. Another group have used the phrase “empowerment” and actually built a tower of empowerment using tops of multiple colours and sizes to show the start from a solid base and then the build-up in order to have a tower of empowerment for the people of their community.

Using AI, I am able to highlight the positive in those strengths-based experiences in genuine connection and in compassionate connection. The 5D platform of Appreciative Inquiry lends itself well to groups of people who do not know each other. I’ve had success in using AI to galvanise groups of people who, prior to the moment that they sat down, had not known each other, had not worked together and who worked in vastly different areas in their working lives.

Identifying principles of care

I have also used AI to work with community members to build a model for palliative and end-of-life care for people with dementia, another high energy experience for me. I am struck by the passion with which community members tell their stories and their high-point themes. I find people rarely dwell on the things that are missing, but totally focus on the good points and the things that they want to see more of in their community. Throughout the development of the provocative statement, the community groups were also able to identify the principles of care they believed necessary for them to realise their vision.

Earlier this year Positivity Strategist, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel interviewed me for her appreciative podcast series Collaborations in Healthcare.

I have presented at conferences on my use of Appreciative Inquiry and I recently presented at the sixth Public Health Palliative Care International Conference, Compassionate Communities in Action: Reclaiming ageing, dying and grieving, 13 – 16th October 2019.


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