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Voices from the Field WAIC 2019

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.

Having attended the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Nice, France in March this year, I was left with the thought that the more we understand our own story and the things that stir our curiosity, the more likely we will recognise all that emerges to liberate who we truly are. Every conference attendee I met reflected this and keen to talk about how they came to embrace Appreciative Inquiry. Voices from the Field for this special Issue of AI Practitioner presents the stories of three attendees: Gwendal Marrec (France), Andrea Kane Frank (USA) and Wendy Gain (Australia).

Read Gwendal Marrec’s story Appreciative Inquiry: A Real Accelerator for Commitment!

Read Andrea Kane’s story Appreciative Inquiry: RaisingHuman•Kind

Read Wendy Gain’s story Appreciative Inquiry: Compassionate Communities and Palliative Care

Appreciative Inquiry: Compassionate Communities and Palliative Care

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

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

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

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

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

Using bottle tops to build visions

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

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

Identifying principles of care

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

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

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

 

Appreciative Inquiry: RaisingHuman•Kind

Andrea Kane Frank is a licensed mental health therapist in Maryland, USA who has worked in private practice, on police-based teams, in homes, schools, hospitals and corporations. She is the founder of RaisingHuman•Kind (andreakanefrank.com).

RaisingHuman•Kind is a platform I’ve created to design systems with a kindness lens. In essence, it’s a way of approaching the energy we bring to any situation so that we can maximise the amount of kindness we bring forward in our families, at school, at work and at play. It’s a micro and macro approach. The more self-compassion we have and the more open we are to receiving from others, the more we will want to share from a place of equilibrium from within, focusing on our internal climate to maximise what we can bring forward externally. My goal is to educate people using Appreciative Inquiry tools to realise we have every possibility to bring more kindness forward for ourselves and for others with simple questions for our maximum impact.

Discovering

In my own exploration of the topic I have learned that people have preferences on how they like to incorporate kindness into their everyday experiences. Some view it as an effort in inclusion, others see it as being of service to others, some feel it best expressed through random acts of kindness. All kinds of personalities have preferences including direct interaction, informal interaction or anonymity.

Inspiring

As a child I always leaned more toward the spiritual side and, as the youngest of six, I carved my own path that didn’t reflect the tracks of my older siblings. I relied heavily on my spiritual and intuitive instincts to guide me and they have never let me down. Kindness was a natural way of being until it wasn’t.

Six years ago I suffered many losses of significant front line people in my life in one year’s time. My work in the crisis and trauma field combined with caregiving for my young family and my parents simultaneously led to a breakdown in my health and to my own inquiry. It wasn’t until I was completely sidelined by this health challenge and overwhelming grief that I started asking questions to lead me to the right healing professionals who could restore me to good health.

I met with many doctors and was blessed to be cared for in the most loving of environments. My Lyme disease doctor thankfully was able to diagnose the problem. He had also done research about how to curate environments for maximum healing. He selectively hires patient-centred, loving staff and pays special heed to environmental factors. He and his staff were a huge part of my inquiry and recovery. I could feel the loving atmosphere he took such care in creating. My weekly treatments and visits to the office became a resting place.

My spiritual side led me to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY where I studied for four days with Pema Chodrin and to Washington, DC to learn with Tara Brach. I cultivated the importance of self-compassion, allowing all parts of me to be acknowledged and integrated into my being.

More Dreaming and Discovering

Further questions allowed me to just let the path unfold. I participated in a business immersion program focused on creating a good life, pursued a certification in positive psychology, studied with the world’s leading expert on trauma healing, and attended my first Canadian Positive Psychology Conference where I heard David Cooperrider speak for the first time. I knew he would be part of what was next for me but I didn’t know how.

Through further exploration I realised that while I was still sidelined by my health challenge, there were things I could do. I could continue to rest, read, and to discover and identify my gifts and how to use them while I was healing. I also pursued body-based therapies to help move trauma from grief and losses of my own and those that I witnessed in my work. I meditated and still do. I learned how much it takes to care for yourself so that you can be present and kind to others. I had a lot of catching up to do. I learned that trauma creates an environment for disease to develop and thrive, and the importance of caring for my body on a soulful level.

Like so many others, I was focused on my output rather than my input, which isn’t sustainable for any system. My vision for RaisingHuman•Kind followed the inquiry into my own health recovery and how I was using these tools with my children and family to create upward spirals of experiences as soon as any one of us stepped out the front door. I wanted everyone’s first touch of the day to be a good one, knowing we came from a rested place, caring for one another and ourselves. I envisioned the first encounters we each had after having left home on a positive note and knew that if we were intentional, our first encounters could be positive and inspire more of the same. When I notice we need a “start over” if our morning isn’t measuring up to this intention, we state that and start again, giving ourselves permission to be human.

We continue to experiment. I asked my sons how they liked to share kindness. We put a large vase in the centre of the table and at dinner in the evenings we’d share a story of how we brought kindness forward and we’d add a bean to the jar to see our kindness growing.

We also did our own family summit, which led to a change in their school and gave them a voice in their educational needs. It was all coming together.

I’ve conducted SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) sessions at aviation and athletic companies while also assisting with implementation from the data derived from those sessions. I am grateful for Jackie Stavros’ work in this area. Kindness as a lens allowed for the whole system to have a voice in systemic change.

Designing and Delivering what’s to come

Right now, the platform is in its infancy, with a podcast launch planned, speaking, online learning and in-person training being developed. Again, I am allowing the universe to lead me as I continue to explore the constant of change and transition.

Imagining

I can imagine organisations and families making kindness practices the cornerstone for their wellbeing creating a positive contagion. I can see more compassionate systems and a kinder, more connected world.

Collaborating

So far my appreciative beginnings and journey have lead me to meeting amazing humans and to present for the first time internationally in Nice at WAIC 2019. Together with Marge Schiller and Allen Keitz we created a workshop entitled Amplifying Kindness in the Family Using Appreciative Inquiry. It’s been a springboard for me to know that people were interested and wanted topics and explorations in this area. I was able to become an AI-certified practitioner and serve on the global steering committee for Positive Education.

Listening to the nudges

Just like the words in the Cat Stevens song, “I listen to the wind of my soul”, all of these experiences unfolded from allowing the quiet to bring me answers and direction and to gently ask my spirit what it most needed in the moment. I’ve learned that kindness can’t be sustainable unless we’ve taken good care to continuously prime our internal environment and it needs to be freely given and received for it to be genuine.

I’m ready to use what I am learning to be of service to the world. Something touched me deeply hearing David Cooperridder’s journey of global service. I want to be a part of that and hope you will join me in RaisingHuman•Kind together, in caring so deeply for one another and ourselves that the result is a global rising by lifting one another. Our world is calling out for it and I’m thankful to have found this amazing community of soulful people to share the journey with me.

Appreciative Inquiry: A Real Accelerator for Commitment!

Based near Bordeaux, France, Gwendal Marrec is an organisational consultant and facilitator. This generalist engineer, mainly active in companies for the “pretexts” of environmental certifications, quality or social responsibility, makes it a point of honour to offer human-centered accompaniments, during which he includes AI and Lego® Seriousplay®.

It was quite recently, at the end of 2016, that I first heard about Appreciative Inquiry.

During my training to become a Lego® Seriousplay® facilitator, one of the participants in the internship presented herself as an AI practitioner. When I asked about Appreciative Inquiry, she explained the basics of the approach and the different stages that make up it. A few months later, I signed up for the French Institute of Appreciative Inquiry (IFai) training in Paris to discover how dialogues based on the strengths could contribute to a profound transformation of organisations.

As an engineer specialising in quality management systems, I was trained to improve on the basis of failures. Convinced that lasting changes are achieved by getting the company’s players to collaborate by making them autonomous, I already had a style of participatory accompaniment. But deep down, I was not satisfied in my job as a consultant; I was faced with a lack of commitment from the teams and the frustration of trying to force change.

The transformation of my own work came during advanced training with Ron Fry, again in Paris, in 2018, when he presented the principles of business as an agent of world benefit (BAWB). The evidence was before my eyes! Of course, organisations and companies are the actors in the paradigm shift!

Since then, I have made several interventions in the educational and corporate worlds.

First, in a school with a class of thirty-six students I had the chance to experiment with a two-hour workshop to allow the children, aged eleven, to discover how to give the best of themselves, without stress. We began with an appreciative discussion on strengths and then a second one to imagine a college in which everyone would be fulfilled. This was followed by a sharing in subgroups of nine children each before modeling the elements that would allow this dream to come true in the near future. Then each table had to present, to the whole class and the teacher, what they discovered! The effect of solidarity and mutual aid was striking, while very concrete actions were carried out by the class and its teacher.

At the moment, I am supporting a wine company in the implementation of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach. The choice of management was to launch the project in appreciative mode. After discovering the strengths and the aspiration of the company during appreciative dialogues, a LEGO® SERIOUSPLAY® workshop identified three main strategic priorities defined as: strong ambition, truly desirable and shared by employees. The next step will be the exploration of these three themes during an appreciative seminar that will undoubtedly lead to proposals with high impact!

These two examples are very encouraging for me in a complex societal context, as they each require mobilising such creativity and a commitment. The first pointed out that youth are able to deal with serious subjects such as the conditions for the development of college students. The group has also proposed actions that go beyond the school. In particular, they want to contribute to a better world by collaborating with other generations. This form of wisdom is simply striking!

The second allows a change in the management of the company, focused on humanistic values shared by its employees. The launch of a project with Appreciative Inquiry is a real accelerator for commitment!

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.

 

 

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