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AIM2FLOURISH: An Agent of World Benefit by Megan Buchter, Introduced by Keith Storace

At the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France I was fortunate to meet Megan Buchter, director of the Fowler Center for Business at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, USA. Although it was a brief encounter, I was heartened to hear Megan’s story and the positive impact her work with AIM2Flourish is having on the global challenges we are currently facing. There is a wonderful momentum set in motion by the AIM2Flourish program that is greatly contributing to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals designed to foster a more sustainable future for us all. Megan is our voice from the field and shares her story in this issue of AI Practitioner.

AIM2Flourish: An Agent of World Benefit

Megan Buchter is the Director of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Megan is passionate about education and helping students to see themselves as change agents and leaders for world benefit. She runs the Fowler Center’s AIM2Flourish program, supporting a global network of professors and students in highlighting stories of businesses striving to achieve the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

In general, people don’t have the best opinion of business. This worldview is shaped by the stories we hear about business in the news. Stories of scandals, corruption, pollution, hostile takeovers and unreasonably large bonuses dominate the media when you hear about business. These stories lead us to believe that businesses want to make money at any cost; that the purpose of business is nothing more than maximizing profits for shareholders. If you listen to those stories, how could you ever think the purpose of business could be anything good?

Even though terms like “corporate social responsibility”, “sustainability”, “flourishing”, and “business for good” are becoming increasingly heard, there are still many people in the world, including many business students, who don’t believe in a purpose for business other than profits, money and pleasing shareholders. The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit created the AIM2Flourish program to help students see the world differently. We teach students that companies that care about their employees, the environment and their communities actually do better financially as well.

AIM2Flourish is an experiential learning assignment, taking students out of the classroom to interview a business leader about a business that is doing good for the world and doing well financially. The mission of AIM2Flourish is to change students’ mindsets about the goal of business from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, and we do this using Appreciative Inquiry.

AIM2Flourish uses AI as an interview technique to help students see the positive aspect of business. They ask business leaders about their high-point moments, ones where they felt most alive, effective, engaged and passionate. They ask the business leader what the motivation and inspiration was behind their innovation. And they ask about the positive impact the company is making. These questions lead the interviewee into telling stories. The story behind the creation of the company or the specific business innovation: their high point story. Stories of the impact they see their company having. The result is that by asking these strengths-based questions and combining the power of storytelling, students are able to imagine themselves as leaders for world benefit.

Additionally, AIM2Flourish was the world’s first program designed for higher education to incorporate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to teach students about business’ potential to be a force for good. The SDGs address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The SDGs are interconnected and designed to leave no one behind. They are designed to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous society and planet and will take all sectors to achieve the goals – including business. Early reports stated that developing solutions to the SDGs could unlock trillions of dollars in profits. That means that there are actual financial incentives out there for businesses to do good.

The magic of AIM2Flourish is the combination of AI with the SDGs. Students learn about the SDGs – and are presented with the world’s biggest challenges. Then they search for a business that is meeting one or more of the SDGs. Keep in mind that the SDGs cover a broad range of topics, everything from ending poverty in all forms, to ensuring clean drinking water for all populations, to eliminating corruption and creating decent work opportunities are covered in this “to-do” list. Students have uncovered amazing companies, including:

  • EcoDom in Mexico is creating building materials out of plastic waste.
  • SmartPaani in Nepal is building affordable rainwater catchment systems in an area of the world suffering from clean water shortages.
  • Greyston Bakery in the United States has revolutionized an open hiring model where those in need of a job can be hired without question into their background. Greyston is working with other companies to help spread this hiring model.
  • Bureo in Chile is making skateboards out of fishing nets that they are collecting from the ocean. They are also educating coastal populations about the dangers of throwing fishing nets and other plastics into the ocean.
  • Lucky Iron Fish in Canada creates small cast-iron, fish-shaped figures that can be put into a pot of boiling water and deliver the daily recommended dose of iron.
  • Buza Ice Cream in Israel was founded by an Arab Muslim and an Israeli Jew to demonstrate that even people with differences can work together peacefully.

Each of these stories is published on the AIM2Flourish website as a means to tell a positive story about business and demonstrate the power of business to do good in the world and do well financially. And each story was written by students based on an Appreciative Inquiry interview they conducted.

It’s no surprise to AI practitioners that asking generative questions leads to conversations brimming with possibilities and inspiration. However, for many of the students being tasked with an AIM2Flourish assignment, this is their first introduction to AI and this new type of conversation. When each story is submitted to AIM2Flourish, we offer the students a chance to reflect on their assignment and process. We hear from students about the impact that AI had on them and their assignment. Students are amazed at how using Appreciative Inquiry deepens their conversations with the interviewees and allows the interviewee to share their passion.

From an Appreciative Inquiry perspective I really got inspired in how the questions helped open up and deepen the conversation.
Case Western Reserve University student, Autumn 2018

By using AI we also hear how students are able to connect with their interviewee’s story and relate those experiences to themselves.

I have known Garett for many years and had never drawn the connection between his high point experience and his current work in such a direct way. I especially appreciate his sharing that one of the most vital elements of his high point experience was feeling like his intuition was validated. This perspective has given me a boost to trust my own intuition more. I am learning about how using appreciative inquiry creates lift individually and collectively – lift that can be the scaffolding to build transformational change within organizations.
Case Western Reserve University student, Autumn 2018

As mentioned earlier, there is a magic in using AI to discover how businesses are meeting the UN SDGs. By hearing stories of passion and what’s going well within a company, students can make positive connections to the 17 SDGs.

[The company] didn’t know about the SDGs at the beginning of the interview, but through appreciative inquiry our group was able to make connections to four of the UN goals that [the company] exhibits through their innovations. Near the end of the interview the owners were very receptive to how their innovations stack up to the UN’s sustainability goals. Going forward in my professional career I know I will be interested to learn how companies aim to help to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
University of Guelph student, Autumn 2018

Finally, we see that through the use of AI students realize their own contributions to changing the story of business and celebrating the good that business is able to do in the world.

Kindness is rarely published in the media. With an Appreciative Inquiry approach, we learn to hear, to feel and how we can spread this positive action that has impact to others.
IPMI International Business School student, Spring 2017

The use of Appreciative Inquiry as an interview tool is changing the conversations that students are having with business leaders and changing their perspectives. From my own experience completing the AIM2Flourish assignment, I know that I never would have connected as well with the entrepreneurs I spoke with had I been asking more typical critical interview questions about challenges instead of strengths and about business tactics instead of inspirations. I know that my personal experience with AIM2Flourish is not unique. The students’ story below is another example. And there are thousands more like it on the website.

As students, we found that whenever we were tasked with the word “interview,” we were automatically inclined towards a type of questioning that had an uncomfortable atmosphere of grilling the interviewee with challenging questions. This type of interview, appreciative inquiry, felt so much more like a conversation that both sides of the table were willing to talk about. We are used to seeing businesses headlining in the news not because they have done something good, but mostly something that requires the public’s attention to fix. Our AIM2Flourish experience gave us a new perspective that we should put a spotlight on businesses that are working towards global development instead of those who are doing the opposite. That way it provides an incentive for them as well to do more good for the coverage and support in exchange for good practice. Our career trajectory definitely changed in a way that affirms our already pre-existing social principle that we should be working at/for businesses that we would be willing to publish as an AIM2Flourish story.
Loyola Marymount University students, Spring 2018

Business has the ability to be innovative, to be agile and to rapidly satisfy new needs. Market demand is growing for innovations to achieve the UN SDGs and what other sector has the resources to move so quickly and effectively to create new solutions? If you are an educator on a mission to teach your students about the potential of business to do good in the world, consider using AIM2Flourish as a tool. The assignment combines the power of Appreciative Inquiry with the challenge of the UN’s SDGs, leading students to recognize that business contributions are creating a more peaceful and prosperous world and to discover what they themselves can contribute moving forward.

WAIC 2019 New Voices by Keith Storace

At the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France I was privileged to meet many attendees who freely shared their reflections on why and how they embraced Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and the good experiences it continues to generate. The thread of similarity evident in each person’s story was the transformative nature of the AI experience that illuminated a way forward. A particular statement I often emphasise and that I heard echoed throughout the conference, “when we create change, that change creates us”, was alive and well in the stories people shared.

Following on from the tremendous success of WAIC 2019, I am keen to hear from people who attended the conference and would like to contribute their AI story to the Voices from the Field of the AI Practitioner: International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry. Details of how to make contact with me are included at the end of the following article.

Appreciative beginnings: Doing what matters most

Appreciative beginnings are a kind of window into what matters most to us and what may be in store for us in the future. They provide us with enough information about ourselves that we recognise an opportunity for the connection we feel to it. For me, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) became the bridge between what matters most and how to strengthen this throughout my lifetime. It celebrated my appreciative beginnings in a way that enabled me to transform my feelings into positive inquiry, or more specifically, Appreciative Inquiry.

It is always a welcome experience to listen to how AI has contributed to peoples’ personal and professional lives. Indeed it is common to hear someone say that although they initially employed the AI approach within their work environment, it quickly found its place in their personal life and transformed them in a way that celebrated the workspace even more – a kind of personal paying it forward! I see this time and time again when I enter workspaces that utilise AI, where the creative interaction within teams and organisations moves beyond the world of work into daily life. Actually, AI seems to be so integrated in peoples’ lives that work is often talked about as a vocation, not a job! When I think about the individual reflections people have shared over the years of their introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, it is clear there is something deeper going on that is inextricably linked to each persons’ emerging narrative.

Work is love made visible

Each of us has our own story of an appreciative beginning – a moment or moments in time that seamlessly connect with Appreciative Inquiry. My appreciative beginnings stem from two experiences: in my early teenage years I was encouraged by my father to think carefully about the kind of work I would like to do when I eventually completed school. At age fourteen I came across Khalil Gibran’s book The Prophet (Gibran, 1973). In it he emphasises that “Work is love made visible”. This line had a strong impact and inspired me to think about work that would enable me to live such an experience.

The other appreciative beginning was an even earlier experience when I was a young child spending much of my time up a tree – a place where my imagination thrived. It was a living, breathing universe and home to all kinds of active and unique organisms, me included. Its branches supported me as if to embrace every feeling and idea I brought into this welcoming place of nature. I remember wondering if, and hoping that, my life as an adult would also be this way.

Home to the imagination

As with my experience of the tree, AI enables the workplace to be home to the imagination and encourages exploration. Promoting the conditions that support co-creation, the AI process asks questions that “set the direction” and are pivotal to the way an organisation evolves. Ideas are shared, discussed and nourished. When we are encouraged in this way we flourish because who we are and what is meaningful to us becomes part of the collective narrative and all that we co-create. We begin to think, feel and say “I love my work!” and continue to share this love of work to such an extent that it is love made visible.

One of the keys to good generative change are creative questions typical of those inspired through the AI approach that somehow connect us to our appreciative beginnings. Indeed, AI ticks all the boxes when it comes to incorporating the dynamics of a creative question, which I have identified as follows:

Promotes innovation through encouraging interaction between our intellect and intuition;

Inspires creative thinking;

Generates creative conversation;

Conjures imagery that develops as the conversation progresses;

Always results in possibilities.

What is it that David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987) initially tapped into in the 1980s? Why and how has it become more than a solution-focussed, person-centred approach? Their work inspires and cultivates self-determined change; it not only highlights and demonstrates for individuals, teams and entire organisations ‘what can be’, it also reflects back and emphasises the positive core that emanates from the collective narrative. Their work is a reminder that we all need to be valued for what we can bring to the workspace; that we can learn and grow from the collective narrative; and that the inherent positive dialogue at the heart of Appreciative Inquiry can elaborate on our appreciative beginnings.

How to Contribute Your Story to WAIC 2019 – New Voices

As a member of the Editorial Board for the AI Practitioner Journal | International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, I have been compiling short reflective stories for the Journal since February 2016. To date, we have published over twenty articles in the Voices from the Field section from AI practitioners across the globe as a way of sharing their experiences of the AI process. In celebration of the recent World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2019 hosted in Nice, France in March this year we will be publishing articles highlighting the rich diversity of AI Practitioners.

If you would like to share your Appreciative Inquiry story with a global audience and would like more information, I can be contacted via:

Email: keithstorace@gmail.com

Phone/Text/WhatsApp: +61 432 397 526

LinkedIn

Thank you, Keith

Appreciative Inquiry: Gratitude at the heart of conversation

One of the key aspects that drew me to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and keeps me involved is the gratitude people express and the way they (including myself) feel imbued by such a thankful experience. This was especially evident in the stories people shared at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Johannesburg, South Africa 2015. The true spirit of ubuntu, “I am because we are”, where human virtues such as compassion and humanity are central, was evident throughout the conference. Looking ahead to the upcoming WAIC in Nice, France in March 2019, it is clear by the societal ambition of the conference – “Generating conversations for the common good” – that gratitude throughout the entire AI experience remains pivotal to its message and focus on building positive communities.

Appreciative Inquiry: Gratitude at the heart of conversation

Stories of deep appreciation for the way AI has transformed organisations, and perhaps more precisely the way it has transformed individuals and teams within those organisations, are always told in the context of gratitude for what has been explored, discovered, learned, shared, and what continues. A person-centred and strengths-based approach such as AI values, encourages and celebrates all that people have to offer while ensuring they remain at the heart of the change process. I’ve often commented that transformational leadership understands and supports what motivates individuals as it creates the conditions that promote healthy relationships. Indeed, motivation is the manifestation of what is meaningful, which gives us the “why” for what we do. Good leaders understand this and the AI process promotes it.

AI and gratitude

My understanding of gratitude emanates from my earliest experience of the way my father went about his daily life and how he approached the world of work in the same way. He was a well-known and much loved carpenter and French polisher, and of all the things he shared with me throughout the many creative hours enjoyed together in his workshop, 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 how gratitude carries this in a way that enables us to experience and share our talents. All in all, I realised that we had choices, among them three powerful choices that would always open the way for gratitude to surface and do its work as we went about doing ours:

  1. Choose to be inspired so the best in you can be realised;
  2. Choose to dream so who you are and what you can give will be clear;
  3. Choose to be with others so that the future can be shared and strong.

It was no surprise to me that I was immediately attracted to all that the AI approach offers. This is especially so for the natural way it evokes the kind of experience where gratitude can flourish and enable us to see with a particular clarity only possible through gratitude. Indeed, my articulation of the three choices noted above was only possible through the gratitude I experienced, and I was all the more excited and grateful when I realised that AI does everything to help them along:

  1. In choosing to be inspired, AI asks inspirational questions;
  2. In choosing to dream, AI emphasises that what we focus on becomes our reality; and
  3. In choosing to be with others, AI highlights that in every community something works.

An inspirational model

It is easy to understand the level of gratitude expressed by people who have engaged in the AI process, given its design, intention and the way it encourages individuals and teams to move beyond being on the cusp of something great to experiencing the transformational power of positive discourse. It does this by tapping into the positive core and maintaining a clear and unwavering focus on what is already working well and building on this. The five core principles of AI, Constructionist, Poetic, Simultaneity, Anticipatory and Positive, are intrinsic to its underlying philosophy and generate conversations that inspire individuals and teams to recognise and contribute their best (Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011). The overall model – the 5D cycle of Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny/Delivery – provides the process that drives change within the organisation (Watkins, Mohr and Kelly, 2011).

Specific aspects of Appreciative Inquiry emphasise that:

  • We can build on the best of the past;
  • The positive core makes up the best of individuals and the organisation;
  • We can co-create what we imagine;
  • What we focus on becomes our reality.

Questions posed set the direction and ultimately provide a window into:

  • The best within each person;
  • When people feel most creative and productive;
  • How leadership can encourage and build on what people value most;
  • What motivates people.

As noted by Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2008): “Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.”

Grateful Voices from the Field

Stories of gratitude for the AI approach are the seeds of inspiration; so much so that they foster the kind of curiosity where others feel compelled to find out more about the process and how it can be applied in their work.

Since the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in 2015, AI practitioners from across the globe have been encouraged to contribute articles to the “Nourish to Flourish – Voices from the Field” section of the AI Practitioner journal as a way of sharing their experiences of the AI process. Twenty articles in total have been published in the past three years, and a selection of grateful sentiments from some of these articles are included below:

AI Practitioner: February 2016 | Volume 18, Number 1

Title: My AI Journey: From Learner Via Practitioner to Contributor

Author: Dr. Claudia Gross – Germany / Egypt.

During my AI Introduction training, I experienced the magic and power of the AI interview myself. Ever since, I have been eager to provide a similar experience for other persons. (p. 68.)

AI Practitioner: May 2016 | Volume 18, Number 2

Title: AI: Positive Change in Unexpected Places

Author: Whitney Fry – USA.

AI complemented my worldview as a follower of Jesus, 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. (p. 74.)

AI Practitioner: May 2016 | Volume 18, Number 2

Title: AI and Strengths-based Social Work: Perfect Partners

Author: Petra van Leeuwen – The Netherlands.

Almost 20 years from the beginning of my work with the homeless women, it feels like I am still graduating … With my new implementation partner, AI, I hope to be involved in much more strengths-based social work. It is wonderful to see what happens in social work and care if we actually look at people as complete persons and build on their strengths. (p. 76.)

AI Practitioner: August 2016 | Volume 18, Number 3

Title: My Appreciation of Appreciative Inquiry

Author: Suzanne Quinney – UK.

AI is, indeed, that inner and outer journey that gently challenges us to appreciate the inherent power of that journey in taking us to where we need to be! (p. 74.)

AI Practitioner: November 2016 | Volume 18, Number 4

Title: Appreciative Approach: The Positive Gaze Upon Our Humanity

Author: Vânia Bueno Cury – Brazil.

AI is an enlightened lens through which to see and understand life. It is the way of compassion towards oneself and others, and a possible path for dreaming and gratitude. (p. 63.)

AI Practitioner: May 2017 | Volume 19, Number 2

Title: Towards Manifesting Imagination

Author: Roopa Nandi – India.

AI is not a tool – it is an approach that has the potential to drive individual behaviour and transform character. Through the appreciative lens every individual can affirm the self. (p. 104.)

AI Practitioner: August 2017 | Volume 19, Number 3

Title: Cultivating Appreciative Communities

Author: Nelly Nduta Ndirangu – Kenya.

Together with a team of professionals, we have borrowed extensively from the AI model to add value to the kind of education being delivered to children in Kenya. The approach has brought together parents, community and teachers to experience learning that is later cascaded to their children in the school setting. (p. 50.)

AI Practitioner: August 2018 | Volume 20, Number 3

Title: Creative Practices: Developing Leadership Confidence in Canadian Students

Authors: Rosemary Bell and Amanjot Gill – Canada.

…the use of Appreciative Dialogue with the placement students resulted in a much deeper and meaningful participation from them in workshops and their placement overall, which was reflected in their evaluation surveys. (p. 82.)

Gratitude breeds gratitude: when we experience it in ourselves, we wish for others to experience it as well. This is the greatest desire for humanity because gratitude serves as our ultimate guide to becoming better beings for the good of our global community and indeed, all life!

References

Cooperrider, D. L., D. Whitney and J. Stavros. (2008) Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Watkins, J., B. J. Mohr and R. Kelly. (2011) Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination (Second Ed.), San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Keith is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.

Sewing the Appreciative Thread: From Organisation Development to Educational Enrichment

I became familiar with Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in 2006 when I commenced working in the public sector, more specifically community centres and hospitals. It became clear to me that problem-focussed approaches to problem solving frequently added unnecessary layers of focus that lead to short-term, surface change and did not necessarily strengthen the individuals and teams involved in the process. This particular approach was often void of exploring individuals’ motivation in the context of their role and what was actually working within the team or organisation. Appreciative Inquiry, however, provided a window into the positive aspects of current practices and strengths-based questions that facilitated a positive and productive outlook. Having successfully used Appreciative Inquiry in various organisational settings over the years, I wondered how it could be applied as a counselling framework for higher education students experiencing severe self-doubt.

Sewing the Appreciative Thread: From Organisation Development to Educational Enrichment

Establishing and maintaining an enriching work environment relies on promoting and supporting the inspiration to create and innovate, the imagination to work through the seemingly insurmountable, and the collaboration to do what needs to be done. In my experience, an emphasis on actively encouraging individuals and teams in this way often translates into a resourceful, resilient and sustainable infrastructure that continuously builds capacity and enhances contribution. This is evident in the level of expertise that emerges, visible in the collective creativity embraced, and ultimately conspicuous in the positive outcomes for individuals, teams and the organisation overall. Introduced to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in 2006, I was especially attracted to its five core principles:

  • Social Constructionist principle: Conversations create reality;
  • Poetic principle: Narratives are deeply meaningful;
  • Simultaneity principle: Inquiry creates change;
  • Anticipatory principle: Our image of the future guides our action today;
  • Positive principle: Positive influence leads to sustainable change.

Along with embracing the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry, much of my leadership work in organisations focussed on the inspiration, imagination and collaboration generated within teams:

  • Inspiration (Resourcefulness): “Enables ideas” – strengthens the capacity to create and innovate;
  • Imagination (Resilience): “Sees solutions” – strengthens the capacity to work through the seemingly insurmountable;
  • Collaboration (Sustainability): “Organises change” – strengthens the capacity to do what needs to be done.

In my experience, the benefits of the Appreciative Inquiry approach have always been embraced by the people involved as it is a process that values, encourages, and celebrates the diversity of knowledge and invites each individual to be at the heart of the change process.

Given the nature and success of the AI approach in organisations, I became curious about how it could be applied in a therapeutic setting, specifically for higher education students. My interest was sparked when I commenced working at La Trobe University and the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Managing the counselling clinic along with developing and presenting workshops that addressed self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism and self-esteem, the clinic was receiving a high percentage of referrals, mainly from the schools of medicine and law, that were for students experiencing severe difficulty with self-doubt. This in itself was no surprise as educational institutions are a breeding ground for self-doubt which, at its most severe, sharply reduces motivation and imposes negative images of an unwanted future. One can very quickly fall into a downward spiral of doubt and lose the determination to continue along a chosen pathway.

Appreciative Inquiry in a therapeutic setting

In developing an Appreciative Inquiry approach to a therapeutic setting, it seemed logical to apply a similar framework to the one that I used in public health settings. After all, the counselling relationship relies on inspiration, imagination and collaboration. However, there is a particular and necessary kind of dialogue inherent in the counselling relationship that creates a unique experience between the client and counsellor, a sacred evolution of what is to be, ultimately, for that one individual with the hope that what is learned will be a skill transferable across a lifetime.

In order to facilitate this within counselling sessions, I developed an Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) framework incorporating the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry along with a psychological model including existential, cognitive-behavioral and solution-focussed approaches, which became pivotal in reviewing the person’s past achievements, positive attributes and desires for the future. These approaches offer varying viewpoints of the person: an existential perspective emphasizes that individuals create their own meaning; a solution-focussed viewpoint acknowledges that elements of the desired solution are already in the individual’s life; and a cognitive-behavioural perspective suggests that behaviour change is the result of change in one’s thoughts and beliefs.

Moving beyond self-doubt

Considering the person’s situation, using these three approaches along with the five core principles of Appreciative Inquiry and one of its key tenets – that what we focus on becomes our reality– the aim is to elicit positive examples in the person’s life that will assist with moving beyond self-doubt. The ApDi framework is driven by four main elements that set it into motion:

  • Conversation The counsellor is always present to the idea that what we focus on becomes our reality. One of the main aims of Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) is to restore motivation because it is the manifestation of what is meaningful and gives us the “why” to what we do. What motivates the student becomes the focus early on in the first conversation. This is aided by both student and counsellor having a clear understanding of what core belief underlies the student’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
  • Question Not only does a question provide a sense of direction, it also sets the intention. What we think about, explore, discuss, discover and learn are implied in a question. A series of questions that focus on experiences of the student’s life, past and present, are designed to elicit inherent and learned strengths that can be used to achieve future goals. Several questions consider strengths and achievements in the context of the student’s values and social connections and the role these played in achieving their goals.
  • Imagery We often imagine into the future as a guide to the actions we take today.
  • Action Our goals are only as achievable as the actions we take toward them – unless we act, we don’t experience. Action brings what has been imagined to life.

Working with higher education students from an Appreciative Inquiry perspective made sense, especially in the context of its five core principles for their focus on the strength of conversation, narrative and positive imagery, as-well-as the emphasis on co-creating the future.

Identifying core beliefs

Given that a key approach of AI is to focus on the “positive core”, it at first appeared contradictory and somewhat of a dilemma to attempt developing an AI approach to therapy with someone who’s core belief about themselves, and hence their self-image, is a negative one. I realised that, working with self-doubt, in order to access and work toward enhancing a student’s positive attributes, there must be a clear understanding of their core belief which almost always is a negative one. This became a pivotal part of the ApDi framework. Identifying one’s core belief moves the conversation in a direction that establishes “how” the person prefers to be, that is, the positive self they prefer. Once the core belief has been identified, three fundamental questions are considered:

  1. Does your core belief give you energy or does it exhaust you? (This is what you give to yourself);
  2. Does your core belief help build relationships or does it isolate you? (This what you build around yourself);
  3. Does your core belief reveal a welcomed future or an unwanted one? (This is what you see for yourself)

In the initial conversation that incorporates the three questions above, it is emphasised that “what you give to yourself and what you build around you will influence what you see”.

The entire ApDi process is a collaboration between student and counsellor, a co-creation of what is necessary to move beyond self-doubt. It involves a series of steps to achieve this that explores the student’s strengths, develops a vision of the desired future, and determines what skills and resources are necessary.

The flow of the Appreciative Dialogue framework

In essence, I have found that there is a particular flow to the ApDi framework that works well when used within a counselling context to work through self-doubt. It awakens (evokes) the power of words → that make up the narrative → that provides the perspective (context) → that conjures the image → that impacts the decision → that sets the direction (where we’re going) → that reveals the pathway (how we get there).

Conversations within an Appreciative Dialogue context continuously seek to identify, reify, sustain, and act on positive images that emerge and become pivotal to establishing as sense of self-assurance. There is always something reassuring about anyone seeking to overcome the negative and as a Psychologist this is what excites me more than anything, especially for the inspirational, imaginative, and collaborative process that drives Appreciative Inquiry for which I feel grateful to be a part of.

Keith Storace is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.

Creative Practices

In November 2017, I had the privilege of working with Rosemary Bell, Community Development Officer for the City of Toronto Canada and Amanjot Gill, Mental Health and Addictions Clinician originally based in northern British Columbia, Canada. In conjunction with the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020, Rosemary and Amanjot were focussed on the co-creation of a Leadership Development Training pilot program for higher education students on placement in areas including: social development, finance and administration. In this issue of AI Practitioner, Rosemary and Amanjot provide an overview of their work with these students as well as further application of an appreciative approach in other settings.

Keith Storace

Developing Leadership Confidence in Canadian Students

Every fall I get the opportunity to work with new placement students from a variety of educational institutions in the city of Toronto where I work as a Community Development Officer for the municipality.

As part of my orientation with them I share the frameworks used in my community development work rolling out the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020. These frameworks include: anti-oppression, asset-based, strength-based, solution-focused practices and last but definitely not least, appreciative practice frameworks. As a person who has been working for more than thirty-five years in my field, it is always interesting to dialogue with students about why my practice has evolved and expanded over the years; I am exposed to new approaches that have practical applications in both my professional and personal life.

In the fall of 2017, Amanjot Gill, a Masters of Social Work candidate from the University of Toronto, joined me for her eight-month practicum placement. She came from the Social Work Leadership and Management stream of the Masters’ program. While she was aware of and using many of the practice frameworks previously mentioned, the appreciative practice framework was new to her.

One of our joint projects was co-creating and then rolling out a Leadership Development Training pilot program for twenty-four students doing their placements in the social development, finance and administration division. These students came from a diverse list of educational institutions (both colleges and universities) and multiple programs (i.e. social service worker, community worker, Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, Master of Science in Planning, Urban Studies/Geography, Masters of Environmental studies, etc.)

From 2017 to 2018 placement students met with us once a month for an afternoon to be trained in a variety of topics (i.e. communications, decision-making at city hall, health and safety, using census data to enhance community work, networking, conflict resolution with stakeholders, working with community not for profit organizations, making the transition from placement to work, etc.)

We noticed that the students were very quiet over the first few months as we got to know them and each other. We realized that many of them were a little hesitant and unsure of themselves. Their lack of confidence was surprising. They had achieved a placement with the city government, yet some of them felt like imposters who were just waiting for someone to realize that they didn’t belong.

Managing self-doubt

It was at this time that I saw an article in the August 2017 issue of AI Practitioner by Keith Storace, a registered psychologist in Melbourne Australia entitled “Appreciative Dialogue: Managing Self-doubt Through Inspirational Discourse”. Keith’s work focused on self-doubt in higher education students. A little voice in my head said reach out and ask for help, so we emailed Keith and asked if he would share his expertise with us. Lucky for us, he said yes. Using Skype and with some careful juggling of time zones, he worked with us in November 2017 to craft a series of questions that focussed on past, present, and future along with developing a workshop specifically targeted toward our group of students.

On 1 December, 2017, having pre-read the questions Keith had developed, students came prepared to share their reflections in a paired exercise. The questions included the following:

Past

  • What are all the things you can think of that made your study pathway possible?
  • What is one of the best experiences you can think of that involved working on something with a group of people and what was your role?
  • What was a challenge you experienced in the past that had a positive outcome? What did you do and what did you learn?

Present

  • What are some of the things that you do well?
  • What are some of the key things you value most about your area of study?

Future

  • If you had one desire for the future in relation to work, what would it be?
  • How will you know that things are moving in the right direction for you in relation to work?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and how could some of the experiences you mentioned in your answers above help you achieve this change?
  • When we debriefed their discussion in pairs we asked them:
  • What are some of the things that came up in your pairs?
  • What have you learned from sharing your story with your partner that came up in terms of self-doubt?
  • What do you feel you have achieved in life with the strengths and desires that you have?

(Consultation via Skype with Keith Storace, November 25th 2017)

We then flip-charted the key themes that came out of this discussion and addressed similarities in their lived experiences.

Intentional conversation with a positive direction

Keith describes Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) as an “intentional conversation with a positive direction” and, as he indicated might happen, we found that by using ApDi to explore student values, experiences and key strengths, it motivated and supported students in working through and beyond their self-doubt. We were able to reinforce with them that:

  • “Successful careers take planning.”
  • “There is no failure, only frustration” – If you consider your so-called failure as an inconvenience or frustration, rather than a failure, and use it as part of a personally creative and innovative process, you stand to gain more rather than experiencing it as a loss.
  • “Self-doubt will not stop you, self-denial will.” – Self-doubt will not necessarily stop you from achieving something whereas self-denial is more likely to prevent the successful outcome you are working towards. This is because, in essence, self-doubt is a feeling and self-denial is behaviour.
  • “Enter the world of work knowing it is okay not to know everything.”

(Consultation via Skype with Keith Storace, November 25th 2017)

The student process worked so well for us that when we started discussions about our next project in the winter of 2018 on resident engagement, we decided again to use the Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) approach. A template for a series of one-on-one interviews and focus groups in the Jane and Finch community in northern Toronto was created using the following premises:

  • Recognizing residents’ individual and collective successes
  • Emphasizing their experience of what is working well for them, but changing the narrative in discussions and in questions
  • Validating individuals’ expert knowledge gained from lived experience of community challenges and the solutions to address them
  • Supporting them to moving toward to their best future
  • Encouraging them with an opportunity to be creative and innovative through a neighbourhood grants program for residents

A youth focus group of seventeen participants and a senior focus group of five participants were conducted from March to April of 2018. As well, nine resident interviews with youth, adults and seniors were held. These interviews took place in a variety of spaces in the community of Jane and Finch.

Sharing hopes and dreams

We asked residents to share with us their hopes and dreams for their family and community. This community has been studied often and as a result feels violated by the process. We shifted the dynamic by exploring how their ideas, skills and projects are supported in their community. We also asked them what currently works well in their neighbourhood.

The information we received from residents has been summarized and will be shared with them, other networks and planning tables. The intent is to follow up on the ideas generated and suggestions for more functional ways to provide services, meet needs and shift the stigmatizing narrative by highlighting their community assets.

From an overall Appreciative Inquiry perspective, we also decided to use an appreciative framework in the design of a workshop formatted to introduce resident neighbourhood grants on 5 April, 2018. At the local library, thirty residents and other stakeholders met one evening to hear about grant processes. Rather than focusing the whole meeting on the “dos” and “don’ts” of application writing we used the 5D approach for our facilitation:

Definition of the opportunity

Residents told the City:

  • We have expert knowledge, gained through lived experience, of the challenges in our communities and we are have the solutions.
  • We’ve got ideas to make our neighbourhoods stronger, healthier places to live, help us make them happen.
  • We want our community to reflect the strengths, assets and creative capacity of its residents.

The City has responded with neighbourhood grants for resident groups.

Discovery: Appreciate what is already working

  • What are your best experiences in your community?
  • What important local wisdom can you share today?

Dream: Imagine the best version of your community

  • Share the creative concept/new idea that you need funding to make happen.
  • How will you focus this new opportunity?
  • How will you use your energy to spark positive change in your community?

Design: The steps needed for your neighbourhood project

  • Who do you need to build partnerships with?
  • How will you build your budget?
  • How will you reach out to residents and other community members?
  • Where will you hold your event?
  • Have you thought about insurance and/or permits for space?
  • What other things do you need to do?

In conclusion, Amanjot shared that she will be moving forward with a strong tool and approach that she can use in future work place settings. She said that the use of Appreciative Dialogue with the placement students resulted in a much deeper and meaningful participation from them in workshops and their placement overall, which was reflected in their evaluation surveys. In turn, she used the appreciative lens during her studies in university, recognizing that this was beneficial to both her personal and professional development.

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.

REFERENCES

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.

 

 

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.

Cultivating Appreciative Communities

Our voice from the field in this issue of AI Practitioner is Nelly Nduta Ndirangu from Nairobi, Kenya. Nelly’s compelling and unwavering commitment to bringing communities together and, through their differences helping to create common ground, is a true symbol of appreciative practice in the world. Her understanding and creative use of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a heartening example of its universal appeal and value which, for the communities Nelly continues to work with, has reassured and consequently reinforced their sense of identity and shared meaning. – Keith Storace

Cultivating Appreciative Communities

As well as presenting this work at the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) 2015 (1), my involvement in the co-authorship of Tukae Tusemesane – Let’s Sit Down and Reason Together: Enlivening Strengths and Community (2), has greatly motivated me to apply appreciative actions in my own community.

In my capacity as a counselling psychologist, along with other psychologists, I helped lead the development of evidence-based programs that supported victims of post-election violence in Kenya; peace-building initiatives; and resettlement programs for internally displaced families in 2007/2008. This year, the Taos Institute has funded a similar peace-building program through the Kimo Wellness Foundation (3) of which James Karanja, also a Taos Associate member, and myself are the lead team. I enjoy using appreciative skills with my clients, trusting that the appreciative approach helps them to deal with unpleasant case scenarios in their lives. Together with the Kimo team of counsellors, we have tailor-made a comprehensive AI trauma-based healing program to reach out to 

affected communities that occasionally suffer from common traumatising experiences, such as being the victims of terrorism, landslides, massive road accidents and incidental fires in schools, among others.

Also along the lines of a strengths-based approach, I have been involved as the in-country project coordinator in Kenya, collaborating with William James College (Massachusetts, USA) and the Kimo Wellness Foundation in the
development and implementation of a strengths-based curriculum for students and pupils. Together with a team of professionals, we have borrowed extensively from the AI model to add value to the kind of education being delivered to children in Kenya. The approach has brought together parents, community and teachers to experience learning that is later cascaded to their children in the school setting. The role of each group is identified and appreciated for the wellbeing of this young generation of learners. This has popularised my work in schools within Kiambu and Muranga counties.

Realising common goals, appreciating differences

The climax of this work occurred during the month of February 2017, when I was invited to train 525 students from twenty-three different schools in the Mount Kenya region, at Our Lady of Consolata Mugoiri Girls’ High School, during the school’s second annual peer-counselling day. The theme this year was ‘Overcoming Youth Challenges in the 21st Century’. This led to another training opportunity, scheduled for July 2017, at the Njiiris High School, one of the national schools in Muranga county.

Given my level of responsibility as the person in charge of the Kimo team, I worked hand-in-hand with Claire Fialkov and David Haddad, both professors from William James College in Newton, Massachusetts, USA, and James Kamau, counsellor and teacher in Muranga county, in connection with their respective research focus, including ‘Research as Future-Forming: Kimo Talks’ (June 2015) and ‘Keep-Kenya Education Empowerment Project’
(March 2017). I have always encouraged my team members to utilise appreciative action skills to complement each other in our different worlds of thought, realising our common goals while appreciating our differences.

Kimo Wellness Foundation and AI

The Kimo Wellness Foundation is the brain-child of a group of community volunteers with different professional backgrounds, ranging from counsellors and psychologists through social workers, addiction practitioners, teachers
and public health workers to medical practitioners. The members either were born in Kenya or have an interest in working with the diverse communities in the country. They embrace the twenty-four internationally accepted character strengths highlighted in the VIA Survey.

The team has learned how to appreciate each other, expressing a willingness to work together without trying to reconcile their differences in terms of ethnicity, education, colour or even economic status. And as the Kimo team puts it: “We appreciate our differences; we look at the differences as strengths. When unleavened outwardly, the strengths help us to relieve human suffering among the communities within the Kenyan community. We appreciate our rich diversity of culture, always trying to make ‘better bread’ out of our rich ethnicity of fortythree different communities.” It is important to note that our country, Kenya, has had a history of ethnic divide in terms of available resources, including employment. Our target population is a mix of the various ethnic groups that co-exist in Kenya. The institutions are an all-round representation of the diversity of citizens, ethnically and politically.
Through appreciating each other, the dialogic process has offered solutions to creatively care for relationships and in reducing the destructive potential of conflict, hence realising a peaceful co-existence among children, the future of our nation. When teachers experience what they teach to children, they learn to appreciate the learners.

The Kimo team is working with schools to tap the potential toward improved academic performance in the schools. The team has come up with innovative phases to identify and assess character strengths and develop a language of
strengths, using the AI process as well as a set of character strengths and core virtues recognised across world cultures.

To start with, teachers are engaged in identifying and appreciating their own strengths, which helps avoid conflict among the teaching staff. When they learn about their different strengths, each member experiences and appreciates being complementary to the other, rather than a threat. This comes with cultivating good relationships, a healthy community and good citizenship among the diverse ethnic group of teachers. They look at each other
as “rose flowers” from one family, though with different colours. And as we say in the Kimo team: “They can walk the journey together even without trying to reconcile their differences.” This is even more so when parents become part of the learning team; they become more committed to provide for their children’s basic needs in school.

Fostering self-driven behaviour and ownership

Children enjoy being part of the larger community as they struggle to raise their voices higher for improved academic performance. Children learn to appreciate reflecting on and spreading their character strengths outwardly. This fosters self-driven behaviour and ownership in a learning community. Character strengths such as kindness, love for learning, teamwork, humour, selfregulation and social intelligence are enhanced.

I am optimistic that working with diverse communities will one day give birth to an appreciative group of citizens in Kenya, and the tread will impact positively on other African countries, and eventually out into the wider world. I believe in continuing my work as a symbol of appreciative practice in the world.

Footnotes:

(1) Fialkov, C., Haddad, D., Ndirangu, N., & Kamau, J. (2015). Tukae Tusemsane:
Let’s Sit Down and Reason Together: Enlivening Strengths and Community.
World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC), Johannesburg South Africa 2015
http://www.2015waic.com/images/Abstracts/ai15abstract00019.pdf
(2) Fialkov, C., Ndirangu, N., Karanja, J., & Haddad, D. (2015). Tukae Tusemesane:
Let’s Sit Down and Reason Together. AI Practitioner, International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry.
https://aipractitioner.com/product/
tukae-tusemesane-let-s-sit-down-and-reason-together/
(3) Further information on the Kimo Wellness Foundation can be found at the following link: www.
kimowellnessfoundation.org

About Nelly Nduta Ndirangu

Nelly Nduta Ndirangu is a co-founder of the Kimo Wellness Foundation, an International non-profit organisation based in Kenya. A seasoned, practising counselling psychologist and supervisor, having trained in addiction

counselling and testing, child counselling, teaching and trauma healing, Nelly is also the proprietor of the Kimo Wellness Counselling Centre. She holds a BA in Counselling Psychology and is earning her Masters in Counselling Psychology at the Kenya Methodist University.

AI as a Covenant with Life – by Jacqueline Wong

I was about to start a management retreat to share our findings from a discovery process when my mobile phone rang. My father was being sent in an ambulance to the hospital in an emergency as he was having difficulty breathing. It turned out his kidneys were failing and he could not breathe: he was literally drowning in his own fluids.

A year later, my mother was diagnosed with early-stage dementia. One of the symptoms of dementia is a change in personality. She was the primary caregiver for my father, who by that point had to be sustained by around-the-clock peritoneal dialysis. One of the most painful aspects of this was to witness a forty-year marriage enter its most difficult phase, the foundation of a lifelong relationship threatened by the onset of a debilitating disease. Whenever we visited, she would repeat stories of experiences in her early life, stories of abandonment, hatred and betrayals. She would relive these stories of heartache and suffering all over again. She would also often lose her temper, usually directed at my father or at their helper. He would call me as a last resort when he could no longer cope, as he would always try to buffer us from these episodes.

One time, he said to me – “If anything should happen to me, I don’t know what will happen to your mother. I must stay alive to look after her for as long as I can.” Perhaps this has been his source of strength: it has been three years now, and he is still soldiering on.

The meaning of the word “covenant” in the Old Testament of the Bible refers to two or more parties bound together by a lifelong promise. I find that it is moments like this where the practice of appreciative living is brought to its ultimate test, when it is challenging us to stay focused on what’s working, and what’s life giving and what has been. It is the rock upon which you stand when the rest of life is washed away by the tides of time. My parents have taught me what is meant by a love that is stronger than death.

As a way for coping with the increasing levels of stress I was experiencing in my own life, accentuated with frequent trips to the hospital to care for my parents, I started to turn to the practice of mindfulness. I realised through all this that, while I understood the principles of AI cognitively, I could not bring it readily into the rest of my life. While I professed to know how to live well, I was incapacitated when it came to the art of suffering well. As I observed my parents coping with their own frailty at the end of life, I realised that perhaps one of the most important testaments of appreciative living is to also know how to let go when it is time. My friends in healthcare would call it learning how to die well.

My meditation teacher said to me once “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. Much of appreciative living is to learn to let go of our mental expectations and truly accept things as they are. Inquiry is a relentless commitment to hear, see and understand the true nature of things, while appreciation is a covenant with life to know that there is something deeper and more unyielding than the impermanence of life.

In closing, I would like to share an appreciative story that strengthened me. It was written by Paula Underwood, a well-known educator and American author of Native American descent. It is called If you really pay attention. Her father, who was her teacher, would challenge her to listen to stories and retell them, as a way to help her reflect on the underlying meaning behind what people said. She recounted one of her father’s teachings in this story:

Finally, one day there was this old gentleman, Richard Thompson. I still remember his name, he lived across the street. And every time my Dad started to mow the lawn, there came Mr Thompson. And so I would stand out there. Dad says, “You might come and listen to this man, honey girl. He’s pretty interesting.” And so I listened to him, and then my Dad would say, “What did you hear him say?” And I would tell him. Well, eventually I was repeating all the stories he liked to share with my Dad verbatim. I knew them all by heart.

And my Dad says, “You’re getting pretty good at that. But did you hear his heart?” And I thought, what? So I went around for days with my ear to people’s chests trying to hear their hearts.

Finally, my Dad created another learning situation for me by asking my mother to read an article from the newspaper. He says, “Well, I guess if you want to understand that article, you have to read between the lines.”

I thought, “Oh, read between the lines. Hear between the words.”

So the next time I listened to Mr. Thompson’s stories, I tried to listen between the words. My Dad said, “I know you know his story, but did you hear his heart?” And I said, “Yes. He is very lonely and comes and shares his memories with you again and again because he’s asking you to keep him company in his memories.”

It just came out of me. In other words, my heart echoed his heart.

And when you can listen at that level, then you can hear not only the people. If you really pay attention, you can hear what the Universe is saying.

Perhaps my mother, through it all, was asking us to keep her company in her memories, and my father could hear between the words.

References
Underwood, P. (2009) The Power of Collective Wisdom. In Preparing For Collective Wisdom To Arise, Eds. Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott and Tom Callanan. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Jacqueline Wong
Jacqueline is the founder and managing director of Sequoia Group, specializing in the fields of strategy; change; leadership development; organisational Learning and sustainability. Sequoia’s mission is to create organisations that are truly worthy of people’s commitment. She is also the founder of Imagine Singapore and contributes actively in organisational development communities as an author, speaker, facilitator and resource person.

Towards Manifesting Imagination – by Roopa Nandi

What you seek is seeking you.
– Jalaluddin Rumi

I humbly borrow the above quote from the evocative spiritual poet of the thirteenth century, Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi, to share with you how Appreciative Inquiry has influenced me both professionally and personally.

I envision a world where learning and education is not only the birthright of an individual, but the essence of a being. I am a progressive design thinker, author and research scholar in the areas of learning and education, organisational learning and AI. I also take deep interest in philosophy and spirituality to generate clarity of thought and develop a multifaceted view on matters related to my work and everyday living.

As a progressive design thinker, I facilitate the process of creating environments where learning happens. Using generative questions premised on AI, I attempt to discover what works best for a system, either by identifying from the past or by imagining what is desired. To me every institution is a small-scale democracy where the environment for learning can be designed by the people, for the people and of the people for a just society, with learning central to the existence of a being.

I appreciate classical and contemporary instrumental music to stay connected with art, and prefer reading nonfiction to learn different views on various subjects. Travel enhances my exposure and simultaneously generates confidence and teaches me to accommodate differences. Popo, my dog, is a steady source of perseverance, discipline, honesty, joy and compassion that drives me to stay focused and happy. I like to be in solitude: for me it is an expression of quiet and happiness-with-self, a point where I am in deep connection, my being integrated with active thinking, where all distractions stand still, and where I can restore and start afresh. Work, Worship and Workout are the cornerstones of my everyday living.

Premised on AI, I aspire to use design thinking from ideation to fruition in institutions involved in constructing and executing policies in learning and education for a variety of stakeholders. I explore the possibilities for learning within a given context with recipients, and then align the potential available with the educators, generating a environment conducive to the needs of the learner. The focus on discovering possibilities with collaborators gives birth to common ideas, establishing a paradigm for collective working. Both on a professional and personal front, the focus is to remain generative and to create what works best for people – including myself. I look forward to doing good work that is mutually beneficial, attempts excellence, and is gratifying to all associated with the work at hand.

This brings the narration full circle. To remain conscious and keep searching for my purpose guided me to AI. To look for possibilities in every situation and work with those possibilities for an imagined future laid the bedrock of my present career. Without obstructing ideas that come to me, I consciously encourage idea generation, get into imagination and then think about how what I imagined can be manifested, given the present set of possibilities. AI is not a tool – it is an approach that has the potential to drive individual behaviour and transform character. Through the appreciative lens every individual can affirm the self.

I belong to the place I believe I belong.

 

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