International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


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CALL FOR ARTICLES Grief & Growth Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner May 2020

Editors: Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Please mail your Proposal-cum-synopsis & query at


“Give sorrow words … The grief that does not speak
Knits up the over wrought heart … and bids it break”
… William Shakespeare

Grief … a word that for some is even more dreadful than the word ‘death’. It is a natural reaction to loss. It is natural for people to feel sad, angry, fearful, betrayed, abandoned, lonely, sick, confused and more, sometimes for a rather prolonged duration or with acute intensity. That said, deep transformation also unfolds in the wake of loss, trauma and grief. Alongside the angry cries of “Why me”, also appear the invocations like “What does this loss ask me to do/be”, “Where does my life turn from here”, “How do I preserve/cherish deceased’s life/presence”. There are several ways grief and trauma invite one to grow larger and deeper than who one is at the time of loss.

This issue takes a constructivist approach to the complex phenomenon of “Grief”, hoping to offer a generative way to uncover the paradoxical gift of “Growth” beneath the dense layers of difficult emotions associated with grief.

Honouring the promise and potential of Constructivism, Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology, Generative Metaphor, Art Therapy, Self-transcendent healing and all such generative approaches … This issue of AI Practitioner invites you to share your wisdom about “Grief and Growth” in contexts such as family, workplace, caregiving, aging, ambiguous loss, disaster, and in any or a combination of the following forms –Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story. We would encourage you to avoid too much content, and instead focus on the generative lesson and potential.


Please submit a proposal-cum-synopsis for what you want to write about. It should

be MAX 250 words long, and outline following –

  • Proposed Title & Form (Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story)
  • Abstracts of what you want to share through the proposed article; and Keywords
  • Proposed length (1500-2000 words, excluding references)

Please mention on the cover page – Corresponding Author name & contact details; and Authors’ Bio (MAX 60 words each)

Please convey your willingness to:

  • declare originality of your article, and acknowledge/credit the quotes, citations &
  • art-work, with due consent, as & how applicable
  • improve/modify the article (including length) as per editors’ feedback
  • sign an agreement for publication with the ‘AI PRACTITIONER’ Management, once your full-length article is accepted for publication


  • 10th Jan 2020 Proposal-cum-synopsis (as per guidelines above) submission
  • 25th Jan 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted proposals
  • 25th Feb 2020 Submission of Full-length article
  • 10th Mar 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted articles
  • 25th Mar 2020 Submission of Final Articles (modified as per Editors’ feedback & suggestions) along with tables/graphics/images, if any; and Authors’ bio (MAX 60 words each) & photo

AI PRACTIONER is a scholarly, non-commercial journal that seeks to generate and disseminate learning on strength-based approaches to change, with special emphasis on Appreciative Inquiry. The quarterly issues are mostly theme-based. May 2020 is designed on the special theme of “Grief & Growth”. The journal offers a platform for articles, case studies, research work, focussing on what gives ‘life’ to a person, a system, an organisation, a community when it is most alive, most effective and most constructively capable. The authors make voluntary, non-remunerative contributions. Please discover more about journal at –

May 2020 Issue Editors

Apart from being researchers and practitioners of constructivist grief care, both the editors have meaningfully reconstructed their lives, transcending own grief, and taking it up as their life mission to help those in loss and trauma emerge wiser and stronger.

Neena Verma, PhD is a scholarly practitioner and educator of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She specializes in Leadership, Team & Transcendence Coaching. She is passionate about developing process frameworks that promote application of AI, Positive Psychology and Jungian Depth Psychology for individual, group & organizational development. Apart from Coaching & Consulting for deep, generative & systemic change, Neena is acknowledged for her service as “Transcendence Coach” and “Grief & Growth Apostle”. Neena has served on International Advisory Council of successive World AI Conferences 2019, 2015 & 2012. She is ICF-PCC credential Executive Coach; NTL Professional Member; Certified MBTI & HOGAN Professional. She serves on the Editorial Board of ‘AI Practitioner’ (AIP – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry). Apart from contributing articles & appreciative book reviews at the journal, Neena has designed & lead-edited Feb 2013 & Nov 2016 issues of AIP.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD is a Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he maintains an active clinical practice. He also directs the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which provides training internationally in grief therapy. Neimeyer has published 30 books, including “Techniques of Grief Therapy: Assessment and Intervention”; and “Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning”, the latter with Barbara Thompson. He serves as Editor of the journal ‘Death Studies’. The author of over 500 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaningmaking process. Neimeyer served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards by both the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the International Network on Personal Meaning.

We look forward to co-creating a rich & insightful May 2020 issue of AI Practitioner on the theme ‘Grief & Growth’.

In appreciative anticipation

Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Snippets from WAIC2019

We invited those at WAIC2019 to share their thoughts and experiences in the form of short snippets, woven together below.

What did you learn or became aware of you didn’t know?

There were so many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

I became aware of the transformation stories of many people, of the impact issuing from AI which these processes have around the world. I also liked the recognition given to the strides emerging in Latin America.

So many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

The K5 keynote helped me see the potential for networking in the UK.

What is possible for you now that wasn’t possible before the 2019 WAIC?

I can re- think and strengthen my network and relationships based on the multiculturality.

I have discovered accelerated learning on new paths. The speed with which I was able to obtain breadth of knowledge in just four days is something that is rarely obtained in everyday spaces.

The opportunity to get to know different perspectives voices, and dreams coming from different hearts in different places, as well as the scope and ways of life from AI, have led me to make an important decision regarding my personal and professional life: I have decided to fully dedicate myself to enable processes from AI, adding to these processes elements of plastic expression. It is thus that I offer my services to those communities with whom I develop proposals for Appreciative Inquiry and Dialogues.

Gervase Bushe’s keynote gave me resources that I can pass on to a key person I work with because it will help them understand the difference between problem-solving and generative questions.

I learned a comprehensive new map of applications for AI; and addressing my concern about new and different ways to address and promote sustainable change, beyond the 5D cycle, in different areas.

What changed because of what you experienced at the conference to allow that to happen?

My confidence level increased as I shared the work I carried out with those communities affected by the 2017 earthquake in Mexico. It allowed me to receive feedback from several appreciative co-creators. As well, going into other AI action areas, for example: being able to offer civil organisms, foundations and schools, different approaches regarding community development. [Looking at] other ways to revalue relations and that recognize all possibilities before focusing on the problems allows for sizing their scope and growth.

I have gained so many new ideas and insights that I will use in my life in all its aspects.

I was able to get in touch with practitioners of great experience and with different idiosyncrasies. Through them, I could discover the singularities and similarities in what we do, both in organizations and with people.

What particular story that happened to you during the WAIC would you like to share ?

The most superb story from WAIC2019 for me is about my own awakening, my self-awareness, that is, the people, the stories, as well as valuing and understanding what being appreciative means. It is taking the whole and giving it other ways of living the experiences and taking from them the best in order to co-create my own story and inspiring myself from the best, and thus being able to expand this way of being.

It opened a new level of trust that reinforced my intention to position AI in Latin America as a philosophy to build kinder relationships and dialogues.

I now see AI not only as a platform for change through dialogue, but a very high-level strategic platform for re-design reality.

What came alive for you at WAIC2019?

I left feeling more confident to find more opportunities to use AI after WAIC.

We all are together to achieve a world mission, all together for great goals.

I am thinking of holding things more lightly, of coming from a fun place, when facilitating.

It really empowered me to keep going on creating a much more appreciative world. You can see how the community is real, in the sense of applying a methodology, and the values underlying that methodology.

It became much clearer to me that we are biography – individual as well as a collective story – narrative and the living out of our discoveries!

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.

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