International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Call for Submissions August 2019 issue: Participation

AI Practitioner to be published in August 2019

Topic Participation:

Participation is at the heart of learning, development and change. It is based on the belief that when people take ownership and responsibility for themselves and the world around them, we build better futures by connecting different dreams and ideas. Participation is, implicitly or explicitly, part of any AI process, and beyond AI as well.

In this issue on Participation we would like to bring together a whole diversity of approaches, views and experiences on designing and facilitating participative processes in different contexts, as a way of creating an overview, and being inspired by what is already out there. As well the issue will be a reflection and analysis of what works and explore future questions and challenges for participation.

When we think about new ideas that are being experimented with, we think of stories such as:

  • The company that had to let go of 20% of its people and did so in a beautiful bottom-up, participative process.
  • The city experimenting with its citizens not only co-deciding policies but taking renewed responsibility for what is going on.
  • A peace process that brings together parties who once fought and killed each other to build a new future.

The August 2019 AI Practitioner issue will explore the concept of participation from three perspectives / questions:

  1. Why are we talking about participation now and what is happening in the world at large that calls for more participation?
  2. What are inspiring practices that have worked in organisations and/or businesses as well as the public domain?
  3. What is the still-unknown territory for participation? Which intriguing questions or challenges ask for more practices or experiments on participation?

Call for Articles

We plan to publish three articles per question. In order to include the greatest diversity of practices, experiences and approaches we are looking for your contributions on one of the following topics or questions concerning participation:

  • An article that takes a longer-term historical perspective on participation: what shapes has participation taken throughout the centuries, and in different parts of the world? What was it an answer to at different times?
  • An article that reflects on an unfinished, or ‘failed’ initiative around participation: what can we learn from that? Despite everything else, what did work?
  • An article that reflects on (direct) citizen participation (e.g. citizen budget, youth participation in climate change policies, …) in complex matters at regional or national policy making.  What do good practices teach us on how participation of citizens will/can evolve in the future?
  • An article on the part technology is or is not playing in participation. Which new opportunities does it bring?

Ways to Contribute:

We are looking for articles from several perspectives: experts to reflect on their practice, idealists who will pledge their case for participation, representatives of different schools of thoughts who deepen their communalities and differences, and beginners in the field who bring their bewilderment to the table.

Your contribution can be in any format: an article, essay, interview or picture-story. Creative contributions and formats are definitely welcomed. The final written submission will range between 500 and 2000 words.  Art and graphics should be in high resolution and ready for publication. Poetry should be formatted for publication. Video links are also encouraged.

Submitting a Proposal/Draft:

Are you enthused by the thought of contributing to this issue? Is your brain already generating ideas and contributions?

Important Deadlines:

15 April:         Proposal or Overview/Outline of Contribution
6 May:             First Draft Due
3 June:            Final Article Due
5 July:             Contributors’ draft from managing editor of AIP for final comments from contributors

Special Edition Editors:

Arne Gillert (
Pieterjan van Wijngaarden (
Kris Snick (


Thoughts about WAIC 2019

There was no better place to be this year in February than Nice, France. The World Appreciative Inquiry Conference, brilliantly organised by the Institut Français d’Appreciative Inquiry and supported by the David Cooperrider Center at Champlain College, was a combination of great energy, thought-provoking plenary sessions and engaging workshops. It was my first WAIC as the Managing Editor of AI Practitioner, and meeting so many people who’ve supported AI Practitioner over the years was wonderful.

A particular highlight was the presentation at the Villa Massena of medals from the city of Nice to David Cooperrider and Ron Fry for the work they have done over the years.

AI Practitioner shared a stand with the David Cooperrider Center. Lots of people stopped by to say hello. The AI Practitioner daily draw for a free annual subscription drew people to the stand.

The opening plenary session, given by David L. Cooperrider and Lindsey N. Godwin, was on 8 Steps for Leading P.O.S.T.I.V.E. Change, an evolution of the article that they wrote for the AI Practitioner in June 2015, was a practical, entertaining and appreciative discourse on non-deficit, life-centric and full-spectrum strengths-powered change.

Other plenary sessions included Appreciative Living and Healing Conversations, led by Jackie Kelm and Tony Silbert; Prospecting for the Positive; and the first-ever plenary session given in English and Spanish, One-ness toward common good, led by Circe Peralta Huerta from Mexico, Lorena Merino Naranjo from Ecuador, Miriam Subirana from Spain and Felix Viloria from Columbia. The sessions were brilliantly documented by visual minuters.

Topics of the workshops ranged from Appreciative Inquiry and T’ai Chi (Eberhard Belz and Varje Sommerhage from Switzerland) through Appreciative Inquiry Questions to Bring out the Best in Families (Dawn Dole and Diana Whitney, USA)  to Generative Journalism (Stijn Govaerts, Bavo Wouters and Hans Vanderspikken, Belgium) and so many more.

The November issue of AI Practitioner, to be edited by a team from the organisers of WAIC, will be a re-evaluation, re-visioning and sharing of what has come from this 2019 conference. For those who were there, a reflection on their experiences. For those who weren’t, it will be a sharing of the rich and generative dialogues begun at WAIC2019.

We are looking for thoughts, reflections, photos and responses to keep the generative dialogue started at WAIC2019 going. To contribute, please go here.

Call for submissions – An African Perspective on Appreciative Inquiry

Call for submissions
AI Practitioner to be published in February 2019

Mette Jacobsgaard and Anastasia Bukashe

An African Perspective on Appreciative Inquiry

The initial ideas that have become the AI practice were introduced in Africa in the early 1990s. One of the most significant contributions to this was the work of the USAID-sponsored Global Excellence in Management (GEM) programme funded by the US Agency for International Development from 1994 to 2000. The GEM Initiative became a living laboratory for sowing the seeds of AI in a number of African countries. Through the years much of what has become accepted AI practice was first developed in Africa. This story was told in the August 2011 issue of the AIP.

Twenty-five years after Appreciative Inquiry was introduced in Africa we are curious to know who is using the approach? What has the impact been? Is AI being used just as another technique or has it made sustained transformations? We are particularly curious to know from Africans in Africa who have taken AI on board. What impact and changes have been made? Are there innovations that can be attributed specifically to AI in Africa?

Focus of the issue:
Profiling the variety of sectors, issues and places AI is being used on the continent.

Questions for inspiration:
How have people in Africa contextualised AI?
How do you locate AI in the African context – what lessons are there?
What is the voice of AI in Africa? What are we learning?
How do we sustain AI in Africa?

Ways to contribute:
We are looking for written contributions including creative presentations and pictures. The final written submissions will range from 500 to 2000 words. Art and graphics should be in high resolution and ready for publication. Poetry should be formatted for publication.

Submitting a Proposal / Draft:
If you are excited to contribute to this issue please send a proposal to no later than 12 November, maximum 300 words. By 19 November 2018 we will let you know which proposals will be accepted and need to receive your first draft at the latest by 4 December 2018. The final draft will need to be completed by 8 January 2019 in order to publish the journal on 1 February 2019.

Appreciative Practitioners and The Power of Discovery – Nourish to Flourish

Appreciative Practitioners and The Power of Discovery

Something new always emerges, something worth investigating! –Wick van der Vaart

Keith Storace

Of all the things my father shared with me throughout the many creative hours we enjoyed together, his most inspiring and enduring words continue to resonate with increasing meaning: “Do your best; give now; be in community.” The wisdom with which he embraced his talents, shared his skills and engaged with others emphasised the importance of relationship – and no less in the workplace.

Ultimately he understood and appreciated that how we interpret the world around us, what we ask of it and

what it asks of us in return will influence how we engage with it and the consequent discoveries that emerge. An appreciative perspective began to sit naturally with me, as it had done with my father, when I understood that at the very heart of this way of being lie three life-enhancing considerations:

  1. Allow yourself to be inspired so the best in you can be realised;
  2. Allow yourself to dream so who you are and what you can give will be clear;
  3. Allow yourself to be with others so the future can be shared and strong. At its very core, Appreciative Inquiry invites us to embrace these considerations and allow ourselves to be imbued with the promise that “something new always emerges, something worth investigating!” (Van der Vaart, 2017)

Discovery breeds discovery (by Whitney Fry)

Discovery breeds discovery and almost always begins with what we ask or what we are being asked. It is no surprise that it is a key aspect of the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) 4D model incorporating Discovery, Dream, Design and Delivery

(Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011). It is also no surprise that AI practitioners always emphasise the power of discovery, and how it is a multilayered and expansive experience. The extent to which discovery can contribute to one’s personal and professional narrative is expressed in Whitney Fry’s AI story that featured in the May 2016 issue of AI Practitioner. Working toward the prevention of gender-based violence among male refugees living in East Africa, Whitney shares the power of storytelling and the inherent discoveries that emerge:

I love seeing people’s faces light up when asked what they appreciate about their community or organization, as well as the transformation that takes place when one tells a story and realizes that the answer lies within themselves or their community. Furthermore, with each AI experience, I also learn something new: from the art of the right question to the power of story telling to the transformative potential of dreaming (Fry, 2016).

A global health consultant based in Nairobi Kenya, Whitney works toward promoting transformational change in complex environments. One of the most profound discoveries offering insight and foresight was the way Whitney experienced AI in the context of her faith, hope and gratitude:

As a follower of Jesus, AI complemented my world view and provided a practical application of gratitude: seeing positive change in unexpected places. AI in many ways was the reset button to my “hope meter,” and my vision suddenly opened from a myopic perspective of deficit details to the bigger picture of possibilities.

Whitney Fry, 2016

Discovery and the positive core (by Judy Janse van Rensburg)

From an appreciative perspective, it would be difficult to imagine discovery upon discovery, “the bigger picture of possibilities” as Whitney expresses it, without the acknowledgment and focus on a positive core. From all the stories shared with me over the years by AI practitioners and those who have engaged in AI workshops, it is the “positive core” at the centre of the 4D model that is coveted for all it is and can contribute to the ongoing transformation of individuals, teams and organisations.

I often smile at the thought that I have never experienced an organisation that didn’t have a positive core to work from, to build on, and to base its future on. It is the driving force at the heart of participants’ experiences continuously encouraging discovery time and time again. The power of discovery is evident in the way employees appreciate it as a ‘Eureka!’ moment that compels them to dream, design and deliver.

The discoveries that emerge when the positive core is embraced is an appreciative experience shared by Judy Janse van Rensburg, founding director of Irock Coaching based in Port Elizabeth South Africa. In the November 2016 issue of AI Practitioner, Judy highlighted the importance of entrepreneurs understanding that discovery emerges through the positive core giving back

to individuals and organisations an indelible appreciative perspective that empowers them to see solutions that allow them to organise the necessary changes.

Appreciative Inquiry gave hope to entrepreneurs as they focused on their positive core. Getting to know themselves as entrepreneurs empowered them to see new possibilities and take positive action. Understanding what “gives life” to a system could mean the difference between success and disaster. When entrepreneurs are aware of what gives them life and when they are at their best, they can harness that knowledge and create magic. When they are able to review their best experiences of dealing with clients, they become inspired to make more effective and strategic sales calls.

Janse van Rensburg, 2016

The wonder-filled AI experience of discovery (by Claudia Gross)

Discovery that emerges from the positive core is almost always sparked by the questions we ask. Dr Claudia Gross, an organsiational development consultant based in Cairo, Egypt presents a good example of this. In the February 2016 issue of AI Practitioner, Claudia’s article, “My AI Journey: From Learner over Practitioner to Contributor”, emphasises a wonderful (and wonder-filled)

AI experience of discovery at the heart of her AI journey:

During my AI introduction training, I experienced the magic and power

of the AI interview myself. Ever since, I’m eager to provide a similar experience for other persons. In the discovery phase of team building retreats, I love asking this question [What is the most memorable experience of you working in this team?] to connect the participants

with their team at its best.

Gross, 2016

“Diving deeper”, as Claudia writes of her team-building sessions, has enabled all involved to engage in shared narratives that unveil the strengths, values

and desires of an envisioned future for the team. Throughout the collective sharing and developing of ideas, there is always an undeniable deep insight

and connection that emerges and is embraced for all that this level of discovery promises. This promise is also the lived experience of the work Ann Hilbig has been involved with at BakerRipley, a pioneering community development organisation in Houston, Texas, USA. In her role as senior vice-president of programming and evaluation, Ann emphasises in the November 2017 issue of AI Practitioner how discovery and change begins with the first new question:

The road to change began by questioning our questions, and discovering that the answers we needed lay in a new way to ask. We asked first not what was wrong with the neighbourhoods we serve but what was right. From the answers came a new beginning for our neighbours. And we

used the same approach internally to change and strengthen our own organization. So this is a story of change that began with a first new question: What is right? – and how we created a transformational new framework called Appreciative Community Building. Hilbig, 2017

Discovering the undiscovered (by Ann Hilbig)

Discovering the undiscovered – what people value and care about most – became pivotal to the way in which Ann and her team generated the kind of life-giving properties of AI that communities would ultimately benefit from and further develop:

We knew the people we serve possess strengths and talents that went undiscovered when we only assessed what they needed. We saw people with amazing inner resources and abilities, and recognized they were seeking opportunities to fulfil their aspirations. (Hilbig, 2017)

The focus at BakerRipley on discovering the resourcefulness within communities and individuals highlights the way in which this attention strengthens resilience and ensures sustainability. When working from the perspective of being resourceful, we are looking for and discovering other possibilities that may be available as suitable solutions, as well as discovering more about our communities and ourselves at the same time.

Appreciative Inquiry at its best is undeniably a discovery of self and other where everything we have to offer is seen and put to work so that our future can be shared and strong.


Fry, W. (2016) AI: Positive Change in Unexpected Places. AI Practitioner, 18(2), 74–75.

Gross, C. (2016) My AI Journey: From Learner via Practitioner to Contributor. AI Practitioner – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, 18(1), 68–69.

Hilbig, A. (2017) Appreciative Community Building. AI Practitioner – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, 19(4), Number 4, 110–115.

Janse van Rensburg, J. (2016) AI: Creating Magic for South African Entrepreneurs. AI Practitioner – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, 18(4), 60–61.

Van der Vaart, W. (2017). What Really Matters. AI Practitioner, 19(4) 92–93.

Watkins, J. M., B. J. Mohr and R. Kelly. (2011) Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination.

(Second Ed.) San Francisco: Pfeiffer.



Thank you, President Trump

Just after Donald Trump was elected as the new president of the United States, Yasmina el Ouardani, then a 22-yearold school teacher from Amsterdam, wrote him an open letter that was published in a Dutch newspaper, the Parool. On reading her article, the staff of the AI Practitioner decided to award her the first-ever AI Practitioner award. 

Thank you, President Trump.

You might ask yourself how you could become president of the great United States, in 2017. Every day since you’ve got elected, I have to laugh and cry at the same time. And I certainly have to cry when I read the news in the morning to find out which decree you’ve signed this time. It makes me sad, and dispirited.

And so I woke up one morning, hearing about your plans to ban people from seven different Muslim countries. Of course, not the countries in which you have financial interests. You cannot take that risk.

Apparently financial benefits are more important to you than human concerns. You seem to have forgotten this last factor, momentarily. I use the word “momentarily”, because I hope that this is a phase that will pass.

I’ve already noticed that you and facts don’t go very well together. But I still want to point out that it’s not jihadism, but the lack of gun control that is the most important cause of death through violence in your country. You should be addressing this problem. And I haven’t even mentioned your plans regarding legislation around abortion.

And in spite of all this, I think that there’s reason for optimism. Your actions so far have had enormous effects, not only in the USA, but also here, in the Netherlands.

I am really pleased with that and I will tell you why …. Muslims, foreigners and other minority groups are the topic of daily conversations, unfortunately not always in a positive sense.

Nevertheless you have managed to achieve something. Something that is really relevant and important in the Netherlands. You managed to get the whole world together, in Dutch society as well. A feeling of belonging together, a team spirit, is developing stronger than ever.

And this, Mister President Trump, is the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen. So, thank you, President Trump.

Upon reading this open letter in our newspaper, we, the staff of AI Practitioner, decided that we were going to give Yasmina el Ouardani the first ever AI Practitioner Award. This AIP award is a prize for somebody who comes up with a positive and constructive counter narrative in times when the dominant discourse is destructive and negative.

Yasmina el Ouardani, the first winner, will be able to pick her own successor a year from now. When we presented her our trophy, we had a conversation with her, and asked her how she came to write this open letter to the new American president.

Yasmina: I saw different things happening at the same time in response to President Trump’s actions. And I was genuinely touched by the fact that the world united in creating a different message, a counter-narrative. I wanted to become part of this movement. By writing this letter, I hoped to enable people to look at the positive side effects of these developments. People reacted very positively to my letter, and now I’ve even received this award!

Somebody asked me whether I wanted to become politically involved, to be a candidate for city council. This was a big compliment for me, of course, but I’m not ready for that yet. If I could design the future for the Netherlands, I would focus on connecting people with each other. Connecting begins at home and at school. That’s why it’s crucial to me, being a teacher, that education should not only focus on the end results of our programs, but even more so on the way we could and should live together. If we know more about people who are different, we won’t be so afraid of them.

So, if I was a politician, the quality of our schools and education would be my top priority: investment in teachers and teaching. Apart from that, it’ still important not only to look after people who work really hard, but also people who cannot work due to personal circumstances.

Just before the elections in the Netherlands, my pupils (seven and eight years old) and I created a political party and made a campaign film. All the children had the opportunity to say what they would change in the Netherlands and in the world if they were in charge. Themes that came up were: “Being nice to everybody and to the planet” and “Making sure that children could grow up in a safe environment.” But also “I would make the Netherlands a bigger country, so we could invite more refugees to live with us.

Yasmina el Ouardani is the first winner of the AI Practitioner award. Her letter to Donald Trump is a good example of looking at politics in a different and constructive way. And Yasmina herself is a good example of a future in which connecting and curiosity will be our default mode. Next year she will pass the AIP award on to somebody else who looks at the world through an appreciative lens.

Appreciative Inquiry Thank you president Trump

Embracing an Open Mind

We – Floor and Suzanne – finished our post-master’s studies at the Instituut voor Interventiekunde this October, 2017. In our two years of study, we learned a lot from Wick: about asking questions instead of making assumptions, about the importance of building a relationship with people to be able to connect regarding the content of their questions and how being open-minded motivates people to organize. In this article, we would like to share how we met Wick and what we learned from him, as our teacher, and especially from working with him, as he took us with him to his clients.

How Wick helped me appreciate the appreciative perspective, by Suzanne

In 2013 I met Wick. I had just finished my masters’ degree in Social Psychology and was looking for a new challenge. My professor suggested the post-master’s course at the Wick’s institute. I wanted to see how the institute worked, so I took part in a workshop Wick gave. I remember him entering the room. He looked happy and bouncy. He smiled, laughed a lot, talked with everybody and didn’t act as most teachers I had met acted: he stood out because he was approachable. That turned out to be true, as at the end of the evening he suggested we would all go to a bar to have a drink and talk some more.

After first meeting Wick, I attended some workshops in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and organizational development at the institute. During that period, we had several conversations in which I expressed doubts about starting the course. I was afraid it was too vague and a bit too positive for me, especially the AI part. He understood, and invited me to be critical. “After all,” he said, “AI is not just about the positive”, (which is also the title of Gervase Bushe’s article, in which he argues that AI is about the generative). I finally enrolled in the post-master’s course in 2015.

Halfway through my study, Wick asked me to work with him on an assignment for a client. The client’s organization aimed to set up an innovation team and wanted our help in training the team members to be innovative, to have courage and to have impact. In the first meeting the start-up members of the innovation team asked Wick, “How do we attract the people we want to join the team?” and “What should the requirements for joining be?” As the clients and I began brainstorming about desirable characteristics, Wick stopped us and said “The people who show up are the right people.” I was a bit annoyed by this statement (probably because of the positivity), but the more I thought about it, the more it intrigued me.

For me, the statement Wick made that afternoon reflects what he considered important. The people who show up are the right people. Not because of faith, but because showing up is an important first step in starting something. It is an indication of a person’s motivation to join. And motivation – in psychology and in interventionism – is important.

In the post-master’s course at the institute, we learned that an interventionist has three primary tasks when helping a person, group or organization to be more effective in moving toward their goal. The first is gathering valid information. The second is to help the person, group or organization make free and informed choices based on the information that has been gathered. The third task is to increase the intrinsic motivation of the people involved by acting on the first two tasks.

Wick almost never excluded people, even though other people would ask him for requirements or restrictions.

By stating that showing up is an (or the most) important requirement Wick empowered people to push their own boundaries and just join. It felt like he was saying: “It doesn’t matter that you don’t fit the image I had in mind when starting this program/course/training. I appreciate you wanting to join, and for that you can.” He tried to not let his expectations influence his decisions, but to keep an open mind, stay curious and explore: “Come on, join in! I am curious about what we are going to create together!”

How Wick taught me to change the world, one conversation at a time, by Floor

Full of energy and cheerful. That’s how I walked out of the Instituut’s door after my first meeting with Wick. His integrity and curious manner of asking questions, inquiring what I was looking for and able to do, gave me new and fruitful ground, and trust in the path I just had chosen. That’s what Wick was capable of: helping people see their potential and dreams, wholeheartedly supporting them in taking steps to come closer to that dream.

More than a year after this meeting I joined the post-master’s course in Intervention studies, and started to work with Wick for his clients. What connected us was our idealism and sense of urgency to contribute to a more inclusive society. That is why we were asked to do a special assignment: a Dutch municipality hired us to help in creating support in one neighborhood for a planned reception facility for 400 refugees in the center of the city. Along with smaller ones, we organized two large-scale interventions where all kinds of stakeholders – from an angry neighbor to a newcomer, from an alderman to a local entrepreneur, from young to old – could exchange views.

Wick taught me that the condition required to make this a success was to organize the right mix of diversity at every roundtable: tables without majorities. These evenings we changed the world one conversation at a time. Wick led these 150 people in exchanging their experiences, ideas and visions, based on AI, and with room for contending voices. In the small conversations at fifteen round tables, people listened to each other’s insights and gave them new meanings. Relaxation about the planning of the new asylum seekers’ center came into being. Afterwards, the regional newspaper had the headline Inhabitants positive about the arrival of the asylum seeker center and We welcome the new neighbours.

What will I remember most about studying and working with Wick?

How he stole the hearts of all the participants in less than a minute time and time again.

That he was never scared of big or negative emotions: “Emotions are facts that deserve to be understood”.

How he knew how to involve even the most recalcitrant participants. When they came back after an exercise and they told him that they hadn’t followed up on his assignment, Wick cheerfully asked: “Interesting, tell me all about it: what did you discuss then?”

His trust that the answer is always in the room. When I sometimes tended to intervene, or fill the silent spaces, he showed me his ability of “hanging loose” and giving people space to ponder what things meant for them.

That a program could change completely up to the last minute before starting, and that nonetheless before the end of the day everything had still been discussed that needed to be.

That it is always the first small step that counts – not the big words.

Wick has inspired an enormous number of people. When we heard the sad news about his terminal illness, it touched us deeply. At the same time, the ways in which he inspired and energised us – and so many others –to move on, with all the knowledge, instruments and curiosity to change the world one conversation at a time became clear.

Thank you dearly, Wick. We will miss you, but we will never forget the lessons you taught us.


By Suzanne Hoogland and Floor ten Holder

The Power of Narrating and Listening: Connecting Through Stories

In the last few years, a new wind has been blowing in politics. Putin, Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, Farage: they all combine a tempting perspective for their own country with tough talk on immigrants. The words they use leave little space for imagination, as it befits politicians. They herald making the own country ‘great’ again, excluding people who don’t want to join. This article is about the value of stories in our work practice.

Every word, every one-liner a politician speaks, is a building block of a story. A story is a more-or-less coherent representation of what we see in the world around us, often not as a recitation of facts, but which is a way of giving meaning to our experience. Moreover, we tell our stories to someone who is listening to us, someone who has his or her own story to tell as well. The exchanging of stories is a powerful way to connect ourselves with others. If you listen to my story, I will listen to yours. This way, I get to know you better, I get to understand you better and a connection arises on an emotional level as well.

In the last few years storytelling has grown in the working practice of professionals (for me at least) for coaches, trainers, consultants and managers. Narrative coaching, storytelling, narrative evaluation and research: there is a bookcase full of books written about each. On one hand, the appreciation for stories is centuries old: people have always told each other stories. At the same time, it is inspired by postmodern and social constructionist theories. When we change our story, a new image of reality is born (Gergen, 1999, 2009). What’s more, this always happens in interaction, in connection with others. The idea behind intervention strategies in which stories are central is that a positive energy arises, that new connections between people are created, that existing relations are strengthened and that this combination of constructive energy and connections will be the fodder for new stories. So, organizational change takes place in shaping these new stories.

In this article I will explain this further, through a case story, in which the philosophy and Appreciative Inquiry way of working is central. Next, I will reflect on the value this could hold for coaches, trainers, consultants and managers and how it can strengthen the work practice of these professionals. I will conclude with the social and societal significance of this way of thinking, and with an appeal to our profession to let their voices be heard in the social discourse.

The appreciation of stories

In the last few decades we have seen a rise in “dialogic” interventions. Bushe and Marshak (2015) give an overview of twenty-six different interventions, including: World Café, Open Space, Theory U, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry.

These models share the attribute that the intervention is carried out by a specialist, the consultant hired by an organization to help, who does not provide a diagnosis, but organizes conversations between stakeholders in which they themselves analyse what the problems are and suggest solutions: “the answer is in the room”. This approach is nothing new. In the 1960s, Edgar Schein had already formulated the principles of process consultation (a revised edition appeared in 1999). All dialogical methods are a variant of his ideas.

As for myself, I often work with Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which I translate into Dutch as waarderend interveniëren (appreciative intervening). In an appreciative approach, the telling of stories is central (Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011). David Cooperrider developed the method in the 1980s, under supervision of his supervisor Suresh Srivastva (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). During a conference, Jane Watkins became excited by the possibilities of AI for her work for the American agency for developmental cooperation, USAID. Watkins, raised herself by Afro-American women, noticed that her work with rural women in Kenya and Tanzania was made easier and richer when these women started to tell stories about the things that made their lives worthwhile. Together with Cooperrider, Magruder Watkins developed techniques in which the question ‘tell me a story…’ was central.

Case: A box of cookies

In 2015 a municipal housing service asked if I could help the team working with very urgent cases to become more effective. We agreed that I would not just work with the people from this team, but also with several other stakeholders who were not directly connected with the team. During the introductory meeting, I asked all twelve people present, most of whom didn’t know each other well, if they would tell a story about a situation in which each of them was able to be of meaning for someone or for a family that urgently needed a roof over their heads. The first who wanted to speak about this, said that she encountered this situation every week. I asked her if she could give an example and after some urging she said that the day before a family had come to the office with a box of cookies to thank her. The mother of the family told her she now had faith in Dutch society and that she had felt heard, helped and accepted in all respects.

The employee wanted to give a general response to my question. The moment she started telling about a specific experience, something shifted in our introductory conversation. While she was telling the story, she became emotional, her voice altered, and this had an immediate effect on the others in the room. At first they were waiting for what would come, mostly focused on me. During the story the body language of every one of them changed: a lot of nodding, mumbling and agreeing. Then everyone wanted to share a personal story. At the end of the meeting someone exclaimed that it was a waste that they did this so little of this: sharing the experiences that made their work so valuable.

Three ways to connect

After the introduction we had a meeting with a slightly bigger group. I asked the participants to exchange, in one-on-one conversations, stories about situations in which they were able to help residents or colleagues. As always, animated conversations arose. Next, we distilled the core from all the stories: success factors and conditions that (could) make this team effective. At that moment a shared story emerged, created from the individual contributions. “This is what we we’ve got, this is what we think is important, this is what we stand for.” Because other stakeholders also participated in the conversations, this story could be tested. Did others think that this was and should be the added value of the team as well? The next step was to ask the group: “Imagine that everything that you’ve just discovered in your own experiences from the past, that everything that matters is optimally realized in your team, every moment of every day. What would that look like?” With this question, participants could create a story about the ideal future. They managed to agree on a shared metaphor that reflected how they saw their future.

By using narrative techniques, three ways of connection arose:

  • Connections between people who normally didn’t speak much with each other, or not in this way;
  • Connection around experiences from the past that gave confidence: in the past we were already able to make a real difference and we can use that again in the future or make it even more of it;
  • A shared image of the future, which gives direction to a shared desire: “It would be awesome if we could pull together to get this done.”

In the conversations that followed, they came up with all kind of plans to bring the metaphor into reality. To give an example: the group came up with a metaphor of toll booths on a highway. Different lanes come together at these booths; every lane has its own group of urgent cases. Besides that, there’s also an emergency lane for those people who really need a home immediately. In a follow-up session they created an emergency road service team with employees from different organizations that had responsibility for this emergency lane.

How can we create a social/community story in which differences between people are valued?

Pulling together

In this case we see that exchanging stories enlarges the chance for constructive, cooperative relations. People who normally don’t speak much with each other inquiring which success factors are already present together – in this case a team – engenders a positive atmosphere; then the participants can create a new, shared story that gives powerful direction to all kind of new initiatives. Organizational change in three sessions of two hours each.

Whether we are coaches, trainers, consultants or managers, inviting people to tell each other stories quickly leads to strong relations. People enjoy telling stories and listening to others’ lived, authentic stories. The new stories that originate in these interactions become true in their consequences when people to act on them.

Because we know how powerful the effect of stories is, it is important to think deeply about our first question. Which story do we want in this space when we ask: “How is it going round here?”, “What obstacles do you run in to?” Compared to: “What do you appreciate in your colleagues?”, “When are you at your best at your job?”

One team leader who is achieving astounding results with his team asks the same questions of all his team members each month: “Tell me a story about a situation in which you’ve done something for one of our customers.” And: “I’m going to ask you the same question next month. What answer will you give me then? What will you do yourself to get that done? And what do you need from me?”

By telling stories yourself, and how strange this idea might seem for some, there’s an increasing chance that we can create an equal, mutual relation with our coachee and our employees. “I coach you” becomes “We will pull together for a while.”

Participating in the public debate

Because stories become true in their consequences, we have to ask ourselves which stories we want to tell, which tone of voice we want to use. Many of the stories in the public debate are constructed around being wronged. Trump, Putin, Le Pen: they all promise that they will lead the wronged out of the situation they find themselves in that was not of their choosing, and not what they expected. In this, they get surprisingly little objection to the central message. Intervention specialists work with individuals, groups and organizations within a social context. The profession of intervention specialism originated just before the Second World War. The central question in those early days was: how can we acquire more knowledge about constructive forces in groups and in society (Lewin, 1948, Marrow, 1969)? This question is relevant again. The debate is sharply focusing on a struggle between people who want to act tough on abuses and people who want to converse with others. This latter group is more and more frequently described as a “pro-multicultural elite” that stands at a great distance from the problems in society.


Which questions can we ask so that people who disagree can start a conversation with each other productively? How can we create a social and community story in which differences between people are valued? These questions will become too important to leave to the politicians. Here is an opportunity and a responsibility for all positive psychologists.

by Wick van der Vaart

Translated by Matthijs Steeneveld
‘In gratitude for a lifetime’s worth of inspiration.’

This article was first published in Dutch in the Dutch Magazine for Positive Psychology (Tijdschrift Positieve Psychologie).

Appreciative Community Building – Keith Storace and Ann Hilbig

Common unity is the way I often describe the heart of community organisations. This description is especially fitting when it comes to BakerRipley, a community development organisation located in Houston, Texas USA that assists individuals and groups realise their aspirations. Ann Hilbig is our voice from the field in this issue of AI Practitioner, and shares how combining Appreciative Inquiry (AI) with Asset-Based Community Development has enabled BakerRipley develop the transformational framework aptly titled Appreciative Community Building.

In August 2017, the Atlantic Hurricane named Harvey devastated many areas situated across the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, including Houston, and the Team at BakerRipley has since been involved in supporting many who have been affected.

Appreciative Community Building

BakerRipley was founded in 1907 as a part of the Settlement House movement. It is dedicated to keeping the region a place of opportunity for everyone. Each year, more than half-a-million people walk through the doors of our community centres, senior centres, early childhood centres, career offices or charter schools seeking to turn their aspirations into reality. When they arrive, we honour their journey, consider their present circumstance, and explore their desires for the future. As we unlock their stories, we find people yearning for a future different from their past – one where they can earn, learn and belong.

Change begins with the first new question

Our own journey to becoming a strengths-based organisation is a reflection of those taken by our neighbours. At the dawn of the new millennium, our centres were floundering – lacking a transformational approach. They were struggling to survive – much like the people we serve. But the powerful ideal of our Settlement House roots remained – an unwavering faith in neighbours connecting and nurturing their dreams.

Yet, even though our purpose at BakerRipley had never seemed more important, we weren’t realising our deepest values. Too many of those we serve weren’t seeing their dreams come to life. Was it our basic approach? Was it our service model? We began to ask ourselves tough questions, face hard truths, take calculated risks – and bring about change.

The road to change began by questioning our questions, and discovering that the answers we needed lay in a new way to ask those questions. We asked first not what was wrong with the neighbourhoods we serve but what was right.

From the answers came a new beginning for our neighbours. And we used the same approach internally to change and strengthen our own organisation. So this is a story of change that began with a first new question – What is right? – and how we created a transformational new framework called Appreciative Community Building.

Our roots

During the late 1800s, cities were growing rapidly as families migrated from rural areas for work and millions of immigrants arrived from overseas. The Settlement House movement was meant to welcome newcomers and help them build a new life. Many of the newcomers lived in impoverished conditions in crowded neighbourhoods. In response, the movement focused on addressing their basic needs. More broadly, it was dedicated to promoting social justice and community development.

In Houston, the movement began with the founding of our organisation – at that time called the Houston Settlement Association – in 1907. Our founder, Alice Graham Baker, believed all residents should have opportunity for education, health, work with dignity and informed participation in democracy. Since its inception, BakerRipley has held true to a key tenet of Baker’s philosophy: neighbourhood involvement.

In the movement’s early days, settlement workers lived in the neighbourhoods. Their homes became gathering places – the predecessors of community centres. Later, new models led to the employment of professional staff rather than neighbourhood workers. Funding was provided by public and private sources interested in meeting the “needs” of the community. The result was a “needs-based” service model that remains in widespread use today.

As the 1900s came to a close, Houston – now the most ethnically and culturally diverse city in the nation – was growing. We were headed toward a regional population of more than six million people representing almost every country on the planet, creating new dynamics and new challenges.

BakerRipley maintained our commitment to providing needed services in an efficient, professional way. Community centres, a primary vehicle for services, were vital community hubs that helped strengthen the social, political and economic viability of neighbourhoods. Yet something was amiss.

The turning point

As BakerRipley approached its 100th year, we began to question the “needs-based” model. The issue became particularly clear as we started working in Gulfton – a richly diverse neighbourhood in southwest Houston full of hopeful, ambitious immigrants that represented the kind of community we could increasingly expect in the future. Focusing on what was “needed” or “broken” seemed inadequate when facing people so full of promise.

We knew the people we serve possess strengths and talents that went undiscovered when we only assessed what they needed. We saw people with amazing inner resources and abilities, and recognised they were seeking opportunities to fulfil their aspirations.

We shifted our focus to the powerful untapped strengths of people and communities – their assets. We searched for a system of identifying those assets and integrating them into our daily work. By doing so, we could assist people in choosing their own direction, finding their own solutions and building their own communities.

This shift became most evident as we worked in Gulfton. The area had changed dramatically as thousands of immigrants from more than eighty countries settled there. These newcomers were striving to get ahead. They wanted to make their community a better place to live – and by 2005, were expressing a collective desire for a community centre.

The emergent aspirations of Gulfton during this time coincided perfectly with our own organisational desire to find a better way of working with our neighbours. This became an opportunity to discover a new community development strategy.

We experimented. We learned. We worked hard. We joined the powerful tool of AI with the transformational asset-based community development approach. In doing so, we forged a new framework that we call Appreciative Community Building.

The Appreciative Community Building framework

Aimed at empowering people and communities to discover their inner resources and use them to realise their individual and collective aspirations, Appreciative Community Building provides a way for them to own their future.

We were first intrigued by an approach developed by Kretzmann and McKnight at Northwestern University Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD posits that every person has skills and talents, asserting that every time someone uses those resources, the individual and the community become stronger. By putting ABCD into practice, we could help neighbourhoods identify and nurture personal and collective assets in order to build from within.

Embracing this approach called for a strategic change in the way we worked. If our programs needed to be driven by ABCD principles and practices, so did our own internal structures and roles. Within our community centres, “centre managers” became “community developers,” reflecting the shift from a community building to building community. Community developers spend their time focused outward on the neighbourhood. We hired program developers to focus on designing services and activities within the centres. Wherever possible, we linked with other public and private partners to leverage assets and resources.

In order to base transformational change on existing community assets, we needed a systematic way of identifying those assets. For that, we use the power of AI.

AI fits perfectly into an asset-based approach to community development. It engages people in conversations about what matters most deeply to them. Both practical and democratic, it identifies what is positive, and connects existing assets to a future vision.

Our Appreciative Community Building process begins with one-on-one interviews. The many interviewees – long-time residents, newcomers, business owners, elected leaders, faith-based leaders and educators – represent the whole range of cultural diversity. Together we uncover skills, talents and aspirations – individual assets. We discover what they value most, what they envision for the future and how that vision can be realised.

From these interviews we compile data, finding key words and phrases. Basic themes emerge, as does the network of relationships existing in the community. We discover what neighbours care about, what their strengths are, and their collective aspirations – community assets. We then meet with them again in focus groups to confirm and refine what we’ve learned.

Next, we produce a Community Voices Report to publish our findings, and we present the report in a large public meeting. This report is a powerful tool that reframes the way the neighbourhood is viewed both internally and externally.

Following the Voices meeting, core community members come together to create a shared vision for their neighbourhood. Action teams form – supported by staff – to develop plans to realise that vision. Community leaders emerge and are trained, and projects are successfully implemented.

We first used this framework in 2005 in Gulfton. By asking questions that focused on the unique strengths and assets – rather than on weaknesses and problems – we uncovered a very different picture of Gulfton than was portrayed by media and researchers. We also found an extensive web of relationships that united the community. What began as interviews and community meetings became a movement resulting in a vibrant community centre – where everything from the colour on the walls to what happens within them is designed and brought to life by neighbours themselves.

We use this approach with neighbourhoods and groups across Houston. Hundreds of interviews have uncovered the unique assets each group holds, followed by the development of collective visions and action toward change. It has been exciting to watch people find their voices and take ownership of their initiatives – truly transforming their lives.

Design for a Workshop in ‘Appreciative Intervention Using Team Roles’: Belbin meets Cooperrider: A great match

An appreciative look at team roles is an obvious choice. When we are aware which roles come easily to us, and in which roles others excel, differences between people start to have value. We are able to complement each other, learn from each other, and increase the odds that our mutual efforts lead to more than the sum of our individual qualities. However, we also know that all this does not come naturally. Understanding each other, appreciating our differences and working with people who have a very different way of looking at things is a challenge.

When I talk about an appreciative look at Belbin team roles, I am basing this on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a philosophy and method introduced by David Cooperrider in the mid-1980s. During his doctorate research, he discovered that how research questions are asked has a large bearing on the outcome of the research. For instance, he wrote:

Positive questions lead to positives images; positive images lead to positive actions.

In the following years he developed Appreciative Inquiry, together with Jane Magruder Watkins and others. This approach does not focus on solving a problem; rather, we ask for stories about situations in which an individual, a team or an organisation has made a difference in reference to a particular topic.

This approach is primarily a way of looking at things. This makes Appreciative Intervention, my translation into Dutch of the name Appreciative Inquiry, suitable for use alongside any other method or model: strategic development, coaching, team development, Lean and so on. In this article I will discuss the possibilities an appreciative approach allows professionals working with Belbin’s team roles.

An appreciative way of looking at things

An important source of appreciative intervention is the social constructionist principle. This theory is based on the idea that an “independent reality” does not exist. Instead, by our constant interactions humans create a shared reality which becomes our “truth”. This means we can never have an objective image of the world around us, because we were part of creating that image in the first place, and we continue to create it as we talk about it. As Ken Gergen said: “The words we use create the world we live in.” He calls us “relational beings” in his book of the same title. We are constantly communicating with others, he states, even when we are alone – when we talk to others inside our own heads, as it were.

When we look at people as rational beings, what follows is that our identity is flexible: people adapt their behaviour according to the situation or the person they are interacting with. While we may take the leadership role on one occasion, we might become someone completely different on another. Our behaviour is based on what we ourselves bring to the table (our temperament, preference for team role or learning style, etc.) and the environment in which we operate.

And here we find the first contribution of the appreciative approach to Belbin’s work: a more nuanced view of the importance of team roles. The role we take on in a situation is largely driven by our perception of that situation; we modify our behaviour accordingly. Moreover, we often do this subconsciously. One example: because we do not want to deviate from what is customary within a certain group or context.

An appreciative approach to team roles creates a more relaxed view: no individual is always the same, and team roles can shift depending on the situation and the people we are working with. This approach prevents us from putting restrictive labels on ourselves and others, or from saying: “Well, that’s just the way I am…”

An appreciative way of behaving

An important asset appreciative intervention has brought to the field is a method known as the “appreciative interview”. This is a conversation based on a guideline developed beforehand with some of the participants. During the interview, two participants explore valuable experiences, ideals and aspiration around a set theme: cooperation, excellent customer service, customer satisfaction and so on.

An appreciative interview always starts with the request to tell a story about a situation that has proved successful in the past. Next, the participants try to find out together why this situation was a success: which skills, qualities and factors played a role? From this, the next question usually follows: if all these skills and factors were realised in the future, what would this look like? This way the participants create an image of an ideal situation – based on past success.

Secondly, I see great opportunities when we combine a discussion about team roles with this appreciative method. Using this method, we anchor the qualities the several team roles bring to the fore into concrete experiences, allowing us to focus on the question, “how we can use the various team roles to shape the ideal situation?”

An example

The works council of a large corporation asked for my help. A conflict between members of different unions had led to a severe breakdown of relations within the council. And since the board of directors had announced a series of cutbacks, the works council needed to drastically improve their internal cooperation to step up to their role as partners in this process.

As they knew about my tendency towards the appreciative approach, the works council’s board stressed that this approach was not their preferred approach. The board felt that all issues should be brought to the table and discussed openly.

I wasn’t keen on “openly discussing” a breach of trust with 25 works council members liaised to four different unions. I suggested we have an intake meeting with two representatives of each union, lasting no more than two hours.

My first request during this meeting was for each participant to introduce themselves to me by telling a story: “Which of the works council’s achievements during the past year made you most proud? Which one made you think: this is why I became a member in the first place!” After some incredulous looks, the first participant started their story. Each participant told me – and each other! – why they were happy to have joined. Every one of them was able to describe a success story that made the works council membership worthwhile for them.

After this, I asked the participants to think of someone they often disagreed with. This person was to be their partner in the next phase of our meeting. The council members present interviewed each other about their conflict. The first question was: “Tell me a story about when you were part of a conflict that had a successful outcome. What happened? Who were involved? What did you contribute?” And so on.

In this way, “conflict” was central to the interview, but I gave it a positive – appreciative – twist. We worked with four questions in all, the others being about values vital to the works council members, and their wishes for the future.

After the interview phase, the group re-joined me. Two men who had sat together immediately told me they hadn’t dealt with the assignment at all, setting aside the form with questions straight away. I asked them what they had done in the half hour they had just spent together. After some hesitation, one of them said they had had a very good talk and that he could actually understand why his counterpart was so angry and disappointed on how things were done in their council. The other answered that he had realised during their talk that he had become suspicious person, and that he didn’t want to be that way at all. He wanted to get rid of his distrust and asked the other participants to help him.

This first interaction paved the way for an open meeting in which all participants were happy to share, followed by two workshop sessions, during which the council members worked on remodelling their differences into productive assets. Mutual trust returned, and the works council became a serious participant in talks with management once more.

A design for a workshop on Appreciative intervention using
Belbin team roles

I like to start a workshop session with an interview. This creates a positive context and a framework for a discussion about Belbin  team roles. The initial question for this appreciative interview could be: “Tell me a story about a situation in which you made a difference within this organisation.” Follow-up questions can explore what the exact role of the subject was in this success story – asking different questions of people with different team roles (see below).

After the workshop participants have discussed this one-on-one, they sit together in small groups and share the success stories and the individual contributions that have been made. In all likelihood, during these group sessions, concepts that look like team roles start to emerge.

Next, participants are offered the opportunity to create an image of the ideal future. The initial question in this phase is: “Imagine, it is 1 January 20…, and you and your colleagues bring your best – every moment of every day. Team roles are complementary and every team member has the opportunity to make a difference in their own way. What does this look like?” The participants are encouraged to use lively imagery and metaphors to paint this ideal picture.

In the next step, the team comes up with ways to best use the team members’ differences. Which conditions are important? Which other people can play a part? What are the means the teams has and needs? What could be the first small step?

In this workshop design, I have made the team roles central in the steps at the core of the appreciative approach. A four-hour workshop could look like this:

15 minutes Introduction

45 minutes Appreciative interviews

15 minutes Exchange in small groups

15 minutes Break

60 minutes Belbin test and explanation

30 minutes Imagining the ideal situation

15 minutes Break

30 minutes Increasing chances of success

15 minutes Determining first small steps and round-up

Examples of questions for different team roles

An appreciative interview always starts with the question: “Tell me a story about a situation in which …” People with different team roles will tell different kinds of stories. We can adjust the initial question to a number of working style preferences, according to the Belbin model. For example:

Questions for a Plant could be: Tell me a story about a situation in which an idea you supplied led to a remarkable result. Why did this idea appeal to others? How did you get the others to successfully implement your idea?

We could ask a Co-ordinator: Tell me a story about a situation in which you achieved success with a group of people. How did you make sure the group members remained focused on your common goal? To what degree did the situation serve your own purpose?

A good initial question for a Shaper is: Tell me a story about a situation where you could focus all your energy on a project and create something amazing. How did you encourage others? Which conditions were important to effectively channel your passion?

A Resource Investigator will likely easily answer the following questions: Tell me a story about a situation in which your enthusiasm really helped your team forward. How did you influence the group? What was your contribution?

Good questions for the Implementer are: Tell me a story about a situation in which your structured and organised actions were crucial in achieving a result. What did you do? How did others respond to you? What was the result of this?

An interview with a Monitor Evaluator can start with questions like: Tell me a story about a situation in which you helped a group with your thinking power and analytical skills. Who did you connect with and how did you manage that? How did you ensure the group’s attention was focused on your contribution?

A Teamworker enjoys talking about their ability to connect with others. Questions for them could be: Tell me a story about a situation in which you influenced a group process so that the group excelled. How did you contribute to the success? Which of your own ambitions was fulfilled during this project?

We can ask a Completer Finisher: Tell me a story about a situation in which you were incremental in finishing a project successfully. What was the nicest compliment you received about this? And to what degree have you been able to create co-ownership for the result within the group?

The pattern in all these interviews is that we ask the subject to tell a story, initially connecting with the strengths attached to our subject’s team role. Our additional questions are aimed at exploring whether they have been able to utilise that strength to aid the group effort.

Belbin Magazine, publication Teamrolacademie, 2015

For dutch readers: Lees de blog van Hanneke Laarakker met Nederlandse versie van het artikel hier


About Wick van der Vaart: Making the World a Better Place

By Willem de Wijs
Willem is an organizational psychologist, and a lecturer at the Instituut voor Interventiekunde (Institute for Interventionism) in Amsterdam. He worked closely with Wick.


Wick and I met in the Nederlands Instituut voor Psychologen (NIP; Netherlands Institute for Psychologists). We became friends: we never stopped talking, preferably in a bar with drinks and ‘bitterballen’.

When Wick started his Institute he asked me to be a guest lecturer in organizational change and development.

I left Tata Steel Europe; Wick asked me to join him at the Institute. I added new perspectives to the social psychology foundation: management experience, systems thinking, and (international) profit-oriented company experience.

Wick learned from his parents to do well in the world: he described himself as being almost naïve in wanting to make the world a better place. Based on the reactions of his friends, students and colleagues to his passing away, I’m certain he succeeded.

He did so not only by being the beautiful human being he was, but also through his work as an interventionist, consultant, teacher, coach and trainer.

During the time he was studying Social Psychology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and after, Wick was involved in Jannie de Weerd’s Social Psychology of Intervening course, which he was involved in, first as a student and later as a lecturer, along with Marjoka van Doorn. This course was based on teaching students the theory, skills and practice of intervening in groups and organizations using applied social psychology and group dynamics principles.

The serious scholar–practitioner in Wick was thrilled by reading “classical stuff” by Lewin, Weick, Argyris, Schein, Johnson and Johnson, Burke, Mintzberg, Shaw, Harrison, Bennis and Sheppard, Kolb, Gibbs and Block. I am probably leaving out many others, given the thousands of books Wick studied over the years.

About twelve years ago, the university chose other priorities and the program was slated to disappear. Wick decided to start his Instituut voor Interventiekunde (IvI; Institute for Interventionism). The institute was Wick, and Wick was the institute. He enriched the course by inviting guest teachers: I was one.

In search of the roots of group dynamics and organization development, he visited NTL. He ended up, as he said, in the “wrong room”: the organization development (OD) workshop he wanted to attend was cancelled, so he was invited to the Appreciative Inquiry workshop. That was central to the further development of his thinking and practice, both for himself and the Institute.

Although Wick always defined Appreciative Inquiry as a variant of Organizational Development, he was intrigued by the difference in the dominant discourse, the wholeness and the engagement, and its potential impact on society. And, of course, he followed both NTL programs: OD and AI. Always curious for new insights and interactions.

Wick and IvI started to offer shorter and longer courses on AI, alongside the course on interventionism; he became almost “an AI guru”. It’s a term he hated, because he regarded AI as a variant of classic interventions, not a fad or a cult, and he never intended to become anyone’s guru. And by acting in that way, he was an inspiring and successful teacher for his students, and an effective interventionist for clients.

All he wanted was to work with his students and clients on interventions they could and would want to apply the very next day in their own practice. No wonder his impact at a personal and organizational level is highly esteemed: he was intent on making the world a better place.

About five years ago he started an OD intervention on the Institute itself, developing himself as well in the process. I was so lucky to be a part of and to have contributed to that journey. The course for interventionism was redesigned and certified as a post-master’s program. This October, the first group of students received their certificates. The “back office” of the institute has been organized: Nathalie van der Vaart-van de Loo, his wife, has been a strong force. Wick even became an employer for a while, to his own astonishment and enjoyment.

He worked with a group of fellow practitioners he believed in and had fun with.

He was the great connector.

He planned to innovate: new research, new generations, new ways of practice.

He planned to finally write the book about the social psychology of intervening.

He planned to be more at home with Nathalie.

He planned…

Wick is no longer the Instituut, but the Instituut will live on in his spirit: making this world a better place.


Back to top