Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Asset Based versus Deficit Focused

What is Appreciative Inquiry?



Extract from "Appreciative Inquiry in the Praxis of Reconciliation" by William A. Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
 (Pages 29-33)

Appreciative Inquiry and Responding to Perceived Negative Events

As people first learn about AI theory and practice, they often question if AI can adequately respond to problems or negative events. The concern is that by choosing to always focus on that which is positive or life-giving, problems will not be addressed because the AI process “sugar coats reality” and fails to tell the truth of the adverse situation. This is especially a concern when there is perceived injustice within the human system or organization.

To such concerns, Watkins and Mohr respond:

AI can be used to solve problems; it just approaches problem solving with a different perspective. Traditional problem solving looks for what is wrong and “fixes” it, thereby returning the situation to the status quo. Appreciative Inquiry solves problems by seeking what is going right and building on it, thereby going beyond the original “normal” baseline.58

Problem-solving strategies arise out of the assumptions inherent within the paradigm that you use to understand organizations and human systems. In the old paradigm that views organizations as finite systems, problems “need to be tackled” and injustice has to be confronted with the truth of justice, usually through an accusation of wrongdoing. If you hold to the theory that organizations are socially constructed, then the problem solving strategy changes as you recognize “that both problems and resolutions are social constructions, created by our dialogue and generalized into social norms and beliefs. In this situation (using AI), resolution is generalized throughout the system and builds in the potential to move continuously towards our highest image of ourselves and our systems.”59

In their book, Watkins and Mohr provide a case study of the AI process that was led with Avon Mexico. Avon Mexico wanted to respond to concerns of gender inequality. Instead of using a problem solving approach which might have confronted the injustice of sexism that was inherent in the system, they began an AI process with the positive focus of: Valuing Gender Diversity. The process used the 4-D model and it transformed the organization, making it not only more profitable but also a national award-winning organization for having policies and practices that benefit women in the corporation. By recognizing that in every human system there are positive aspects which can be discovered and which can become the foundation on which the dream of a more desired organization can be built, problems are addressed.60

I would liken the AI approach to problem-solving to the use of a lever to lift an object. When faced with the problem of lifting a 500 pound rock, you can try to get you arms around it and (unsuccessfully) try to raise it up; or you can place a fulcrum and use a lever and lift the rock by pushing down on the lever. Just as focusing our efforts on the lever will accomplish the desired effect on the rock, by focusing on the positive and the life-giving aspects that are present within the organization, AI addresses the negative situation or problem.

In summary, AI responds to problems by approaching the problem from the “side” of the solution; by transforming the organization into the organization that it dreams it can be (without the negative situation or problem). Even in the most egregious inequitable situations, the “solutions” are embedded within the organization and they can be discovered through an Appreciative Inquiry of the positive life-giving forces that are present.61

Within the AI framework, effective leaders must have the necessary appreciative competencies to assist the organization to be an appreciative learning organization. Appreciative Inquiry is not just a change management tool. It is a mind set; a way for people to understand their organization; an orientation that guides human interaction within human systems. A primary task of effective leadership is to assist the organization to function within that framework. This requires participative management and a spirit of collaboration where all in the organization can participate in the dialogue which constructs an effective organization.

In organizations that are experiencing a negative situation, effective leadership is critical. In negative situations, an important leadership task is to manage the dialogue within the organization. Inquiry into the negative aspects of an organization must be done in a way that solicits positive data which can assist in the transformation of the organization. Again, the case study of Avon Mexico is illustrative. When faced with concerns about gender inequality, the initial task was to shift the focus to the positive or desired alternative  valuing gender diversity. Instead of leadership searching for examples of inequality and assigning blame and demanding accountability, the AI process began with the discovery of the opposite: tell a story of when you have seen women and men working together effectively here at Avon Mexico. Those positive images were the foundation of their successful transformation into a organization that valued gender diversity.

While the case of Avon Mexico is an AI intervention, it reflects the same AI pathway that effective AI leaders will use in responding to conflicts or negative situations within their organization. The task is not to deny or “white wash” problems as they are identified. It is not a Pollyanna approach that censors truth telling. Rather, rooted in a conviction that positive actions only flow out of positive images, a leader responds to a negative situation by inquiring: Yes, that negative situation exists; so what is the positive alternative that we desire? An effective leader responds by saying: What is our dream of being a better organization and what can we discover in our history to build that dream upon? How can we design and live that dream of an organization into reality? Effective leaders do not deny negative situations. Rather, with an AI orientation, leaders transform negatives into positives. 

58 Ibid., 195. 
59 Ibid., 197.
60 Ibid., 123-126. 
61 Ibid., 198.


Extract from "Appreciative Inquiry in the Praxis of Reconciliation" by William A. Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
 (Pages 24-29)

The Discovery Phase

“The primary task in the Discovery phase is to identify and appreciate the best of ‘what is.’ This task is accomplished by focusing on peak times of organizational excellence.”43 Using carefully crafted questions and interview guides, the participants enter into a process of mutual interviews in which stories of organizational accomplishment are solicited and recorded. Participants need to “let go” of analysis of deficits and systematically seek to glean from these stories of past accomplishment the core life-giving factors (leadership, relationships, structures, values, core processes, etc.) which contributed to those successes.

In this phase the power of story telling gets unleashed as participants come to know their organization’s history as the foundation for positive possibilities for the future. Through positive dialogue and the celebration of past success, hope and organizational capacity for effectiveness is heightened. Participants connect to one another through a dialogue of discovery and often the seeds for a positive future begin to emerge.44

The Discovery phase is for data collection and narrative exploration. “An important goal is to stimulate participants’ excitement and delight as they share their values, experience, and history with the organization and their wishes for the future.”45

The process itself has several key steps. It is necessary to identify the process participants, with a bias towards very broad participation. As previously noted, the questions to be used in the interviews need to be crafted to solicit the positive life-giving core. A guide is often needed to assist the participants in the interviewing activity. The method for doing the interview is determined by the situation. Often this is a mutual process, done one-one in pairs of participants at a process gathering.46 A plan also needs to be in place to collect and organize the data from those interviews. Working with the data from the interviews is part of the work of the core team and is used to continue the design and management of the AI process.47

The Dream Phase

“The Dream (phase) amplifies the positive core and challenges the status quo by envisioning more valued and vital futures. ...The Dream phase is practical, in that it is grounded in the organization’s history. It is also generative, in that it seeks to expand the organization’s potential.”48

The Dream phase takes the data, the narratives that were told in the Discovery phase, and “mines” them to imagine the possibilities that they contain for the future. Here the participants dialogue about the potential of the organization to achieve greatness in the future by building on its rich history. Ordinarily, this dreaming generates its own energy and enthusiasm in the participants and the sharing of dreams and generation of excitement is the first goal of the Dream phase. The second goal is to begin to identify the common themes that are present within the dreams. The necessary stance for the process remains appreciation, not analysis and judgment. The dialogue is not to identify the ideal dream for the future, but to continue the process of mutual discovery of the life- giving forces that contribute to the organization’s success.

While the context and number of participants are determining factors, most of the work in this phase is done in small (<12) groups. Keeping together the two person teams used in the mutual interviews of the Discovery phase, they are grouped with others to form “dream teams.” It is here that the “dream dialogue” occurs and common themes are identified. They create a shared picture or dream of the future, which they creatively (skit, story, picture, mock newspaper report, mock panel presentation, etc.) present to the whole group of participants.49page33image14968

The Design Phase

While the Dream phase was involved with creating a macro-vision of the organization, in the Design phase the move is towards a more micro level of imaginative possibility. “The Design phase involves the creation of the organization’s social architecture. This new social architecture is embedded in the organization by generating provocative propositions that embody the organizational dreams in the ongoing activity.”50

An underlying step in the Design phase is to determine the elements that are going to be present in the social architecture of the organization. Examples of these elements are: leadership or management style, roles and relationships, organizational values, vision and purpose, operating processes, etc. The simple question that guides this phase is: What has to be in place for the organization to realize its dream?

“The Design phase defines the basic structures that will allow the dream (or vision) to become a reality. Like the other phases, the Design phase requires widespread dialogue about the nature of the structures and process. This is what is meant by co- constructing the organization’s future.”51 For this phase of the AI process, participants are invited work in self-selecting groups. Work group or design teams are formed around the dreams which have been articulated, which in turn reflect the topics of the AI process. The freedom given to the participants to choose their area of interest ensures that energy is maintained within the work groups and contributes to the transition to the next phase.

This phase is “driven” by the writing of provocative propositions or possibility statements. The design teams may begin with participants writing individual statements, but the goals is to arrive at shared statements. Always articulated in the present tense, these statement present a vision for the future by painting a picture of what the organization looks like when it positive core is being expressed in all aspects of the organization.52

A good provocative proposition stretches and challenges the organization, yet remains in the realm of real possibility. It points the direction for the organization to move from the best of “what is” to the best of what “might be.” They represented the desired future of the organization, which is stated in bold, affirmative terms.

The Destiny Phase

The Destiny phase takes the dreams for the future, which have been expressed and designed through the provocative proposition, and makes them a reality as the participants are “invited to align his or her own interactions in co-creating the future.”53

The Design and Destiny phase are significantly intertwined. In an open-space planning and commitment session, the Design teams present their provocative statements or vision for the future and ask for the support of those gathered. Individuals and groups discuss what they can and will do to contribute to the realization of the organizational dreams, which are presented in those provocative propositions. This creates a relational web of commitments that are the basis for future action. These self-selecting groups then plan the next steps for creating the social architecture required to sustain the institutionalization of the desired design.54

This (destiny) phase is ongoing. In the best case, it is full of continuing dialogue; revisited and updated discussions and provocative propositions; additional interviewing sessions, especially with new members of the organization; and a high level of innovation and continued learning about what it means to create an organization that is socially constructed through the poetic processes in a positive frame that makes full use of people’s anticipatory images.”55page34image13680

The successful AI process results in a transformed organization. It creates an organization that has developed the competencies to sustain appreciative organizing. They are continually appreciating the best of their actions. They are willing to be self- challenging to achieve even greater life-giving possibilities. They have developed the ability to dialogue and collaborate in a manner that allows them to continue to co-create a desired future and to continually be the author of the book of their organization. In short, they have become appreciative learning cultures that function in the new paradigm in accord with AI principles and practices.56

Before I move on I want to add one final note on the AI process. The 4-D model has become one of the standard approaches for using the AI process. However, Watkins and Mohr have modified the approach to include a preliminary or initial phase. They have created a 5-D model by including a Definition phase. It is during the Definition phase that “the goals of the process, including the framing of the questions and the inquiry protocol, the participation strategy and the project management structure are developed.”57 I think that it is a significant modification in that it embodies two key AI concepts: All questions asked are fateful, in that they have an effect on the organization and the intervention begins (simultaneity) with the first question asked. Because of this, I think that my project began with the first conversation that I had with the pastor of the parish and the narrative in the next chapter will reflect this 5-D model.

42 A more complete description of the 4-D Cycle can be found in the Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, chapters 4-7.
43 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 38. 44 Ibid., 39.
45 Ibid., 86.

46 Other methods for doing the interviews are possible.
47 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 87-99. 
48 Ibid., 39.
49 Ibid., 112-116. 
50 Ibid., 40.
51 Ibid., 143. 
52 Ibid., 142.
53 Ibid., 41.
54 Ibid., 41, 176.
55 Watkins and Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry, 45.
56 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 181. For a more complete account of appreciative organizing competencies see: Frank Barrett, “Creating Appreciative Learning Cultures,” Organizational Dynamics 24, no. 1 (1995):36-45.
57 Watkins and Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry, 25. 


Extract from "Appreciative Inquiry in the Praxis of Reconciliation" by William A. Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
 (Pages 20-23)

The Appreciative Inquiry Process

Watkins and Mohr write that within the practice of AI, there are five generic processes for applying the underlying theory to a framework for organizational change. They are:

  • Choose the positive as the focus of inquiry;
  • Inquire into stories of life-giving forces;
  • Locate themes that appear in the stories and select topics for further inquiry;
  • Create shared images for a preferred future; and
  • Find innovative ways to create that future.35
These processes are called generic as a way of emphasizing their flexibility and the need to adapt them to specific situations or contexts. Part of the attractiveness of AI theory is that it supports and recognizes the uniqueness of each context and organization and practitioners are encouraged in facilitating change within an organization by adapting the practices used elsewhere. As opposed to one defined AI model, through the application of the principles and generic process in concrete situations, AI practitioners have developed several models which bring the generic processes to life. Through the collaboration of AI practitioners and a sharing of their work results, there has been and continues to be a progressive development in the practice of AI.

The original process model was developed in 1987 by the originators of AI theory, David Cooperrider (then a doctoral student) and Suresh Srivastva (his academic advisor). While their theoretical work began with a concern for how to approach the building of generative theory, it moved quickly into a process for intervening with groups. That original model was expressed as a contrast to the model of change management in the old paradigm. That original model was later adapted to create what has become the widely used model of AI practice, the Four-D Cycle (see Figure 1.1). While it is widely used, Cooperrider is clear that AI is more than the 4-D Cycle. “The cycle is simply a tool that allows the practitioner to access and mobilize the positive core. The positive core lies at the heart of the AI process. In this respect, the positive core is the beginning and the end of the inquiry.”36 A description of steps in the 4-D model will follow, but first we look to the important task of defining the topic of the inquiry process.

Choose the Positive as the Focus of the Inquiry

“To understand AI at a fundamental level, one needs to understand these two points. First, organizations move in the direction of what they study. Secondly, AI makes a conscious choice to study the best of the organization, it’s positive core.”37

Because an organization will move towards that which it studies, the choice of the topic is a critical first step. Watkins and Mohr writes that the AI process begins when the organization consciously chooses to focus on the positive. Because an organization is likely to act out of the old paradigm and to unconsciously choose to focus on the negative issue or problems that they are facing, it is the work of the AI practitioner to help the organization to identify a positive focus and to make that topic choice.38

“Selecting the affirmative topic choice begins with the constructive discovery and narration of the organizations ‘life-giving’ story.”39 While there is great room for variability, a typical AI process would be limited to three to five topic choices. While those topics can be pre-selected by the practitioner in cooperation with the leaders of the organization, there is a strong bias that the topics be “homegrown” through a mini-AI process with a representative sub-group (topic selection team) of the organization. That process would be to discover what factors have given life to the organization when it was functioning at its best in the past and to begin to dream and design a vision for the future.

That process with the topic selection team would be built around the following foundational AI questions:

  • Describe a high-point experience in your organization, a time when you were most alive and engaged.
  • Without being modest, what is it that you value most about yourself, your work, and your organization?
  • What are the core factors that give life to your organization, without which the organization would cease to exist?
  • What three wishes do you have now to enhance the health and vitality of your organization?
Ideally the topic selection process would be a one-to-two day process. The goal is to work with the topic selection team, which will later becomes the steering team for the overall AI process, to foster dialogue and mutual deliberation. Using a mutual interview process that utilizes the questions listed above, data is collected and then in small groups the team works to identify common themes and to formulate the positive topics for the AI process. While topics can be anything related to the goals and aspirations of the organization, they must meet the following criteria:
  • Topics are affirmative and stated in the positive;
  • Topics are desirable. They identify the objectives that people want;
  • The group is genuinely curious about them and wants to learn more;
  • The topics move in the direction that the group wants to go.41 

35 Watkins and Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry, 25.
36 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 30. 37 Ibid., 29.
38 Watkins and Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry, 54.
39 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 32.
40 Ibid., 32.
41 Ibid., 37. 

Monday, October 5, 2015


Extract from "Model of Discernment for the Election of Leadership" by William Nordenbrock, C.PP.S. (Pages 50-52)

Appreciative Discernment is a “baptized” version of the change theory of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). As a theory of organizational dynamics, AI began at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH) in the late 1980s. While this article does not allow for a full description of the theory, it offers a radical different way of understanding organizations. When “baptized” and used as a process of discernment, it is rooted in several important beliefs.

The first is that we are to participate in the plan of God and be co-creators of the Reign of God. We are not passive recipients of the Good News of the Reign of God—we are called to create it. Discerning our faithfulness, individually and as a community, is to recognize that we have a particular vocation or mission in that plan of God. Secondly, God will always be faithful to us; God will not leave us orphaned. In terms of the discernment of our future, what this means is that God will give us the gifts that we need to fulfill our mission. Faithfulness is not that we do everything, but that we use our gifts or charism to the fullest. When we have identified our charism, we have identified our mission.

The process of Appreciative Discernment is illustrated in the diagram on the next page. The process begins with Discovery. In this phase of the process, which is focused and revolves around a positive topic such as A Faithful Future with Good Leadership, we look to the past and the present to discover the ways that God has blessed us. What gifts has God given us that we are to use to build the Reign of God? We discover our positive core or charism−what do we look like at our best? We do this through the soliciting of stories of our best experiences of community and ministry.

The second phase is to engage our imagination and to Dream. Through sharing and dialogue as a community we arrive at a shared vision for a hopeful future that stretches us beyond the good that is already present in the community. A guiding question is, “If we take all the gifts/ blessings that God gives to us and use those gifts to the fullest, what would be possible?” It is in this phase of the process that we define the community context in which we must elect leadership. Here we answer the question, “Leadership for what?”

When we have defined a dream or vision of our faithful future, we must then Design the way to live our dream into reality. What has to happen for the dream to be realized? Are there changes that we need to make to our structures, policies, procedures, practices so that the dream can be realized? Here we begin to acknowledge the ways in which the leadership relationship is lived out and the various faithful ways that individuals share in the responsibility. This is about accepting the responsibility to be the co- creators of our community. We are able to construct/create the community that God calls us to be. 

It is here that we start to ask, “What kind of leadership is needed for the community to live towards the dream that we have chosen?” More than a list of qualities that we hope the superior will have, it is also about how all the members of the community can fulfill their shared leadership responsibility. In the design process we must plan concretely for the future. Through specific plans of action, with assigned responsibility and accountability, we set our course for the future.

Finally, we know that having a plan is of no benefit unless we implement that plan and start to Do it. In this phase of the process the emphasis is on what the individual is able and willing to do to effect the implementation of the design to live our dream into reality. We ask the members to identify their personal gifts and determine how they might be used most beneficially in helping the community. For what part of the action plans will they accept responsibility? The task is to invite and encourage all in the community to make a commitment to bring their gifts to the service and leadership of the community. 

As stated above, the Appreciative Discernment process is only one possible approach. While other approaches can be used, the necessary and important step is that prior to discerning their selection of leadership, the community accept the responsibility to define the desired future of the community, because it is only within that context that we can answer the question, “What are we electing leadership for?” 


Extract from "Appreciative Inquiry in the Praxis of Reconciliation" by William A. Nordenbrock, C.PP.S.
 (Pages 17-20)

The Importance of Appreciation

When you bring together the Anticipatory Principle and the Positive Principle, you have the foundational theorem of AI; that is, positive images lead to positive action. There is solid research to support this theorem as the basis of an organizational change strategy. In his classic article, “Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis of Organizing,”29  Cooperrider gives a more complete summary and cites that research, which I only briefly touch on here.

Medical research has shown that positive images, projected as a positive belief, have real healing power. Known as the placebo effect, “between one-third and two-thirds of all patients show marked physiological and emotional improvement in symptoms simply by believing in the effectiveness of the treatment, even when the treatment is just a sugar pill or some other inert substance.”30 Research continues on the mind-body pathway, but what can be demonstrated is that anticipatory images lead to real results or effects. Appreciative Inquiry incorporates the placebo effect into its theory by concluding that, like for an individual human, what a human system or organization anticipates and believes about it future, will have a concrete effect on the future that will be created.

Research into educational methodology has demonstrated the Pygmalion effect. Simply, teachers were told that a selected group of students had exceptional ability. In fact, the selected students were randomly chosen and had no greater ability than the rest of the class. However, in time, the selected students did begin to outperform the rest of the class, not because of any innate superior intelligence or ability, but solely because of the expectation that had been created in the teacher. “The key lesson is that cognitive capacities are cued and shaped by the images projected through another’s expectations.”31 Because the teachers expected the selected students to perform better, they projected that expectation and the students responded to the positive image that the teacher had of them. This reveals a relational element in the positive image-positive action pathway and it has important implications for organizational leadership and for interventions that are motivated by a desire to transform a human system.

While not yet conclusive, some recent research has pointed to the link between the positive emotions that accompany positive images, as a causal factor in the choice that a person makes to perform a positive action. “Somehow, positive emotions draw people out of themselves, pull us away from self-oriented preoccupations, enlarge the focus of the potential good of the world, increase feelings of solidarity with others, and propels them to act in more altruistic and positive ways.”32

All human systems (and individuals) have a continual inner dialogue. Like an inner newsreel, the system is continually recounting the memories of the past and bringing various accounts of current and future scenarios into a dialogue which seeks to interpret and bring meaning to those events. That inner dialogue is influenced and expressed in the narratives (the outer dialogue) of the organization, but it is primarily an inner expression of the shared beliefs about the organization that are held by the participants and influences the unconscious choices of the participants. In that dialogue the human system brings into a dialectic both positive and negative statements and the outcome of that dialectic becomes the guiding image of the organization. Studies show that in healthy and effectively functioning organizations, there is a 2:1 ratio of positive to negative images. A mildly dysfunctional group might have an inner dialogue where the ratio of positive to negative is equal.

The AI process seeks to introduce positive images into the organization’s inner dialogue. “The AI dialogue creates guiding images of the future from the collective whole of the group. It exists in a very observable, energizing and tangible way in the living dialogue that flows through every living system, expressing itself anew at every moment.”33 

The use of questions within the process of AI is to influence the organization, by guiding the dialogue of the organization towards positive images. Simply stated, if you are able to change the dialogue, you are able to transform the organization.page25image15592

Sociological research also affirms that a positive image of the future has a dynamic influence on the organization. The Dutch sociologist Fred Polak held that the single most important indicator of the health of a social system and the most important variable in understanding cultural evolution, is found by observing if the system holds a positive image of the future. Simply, “when there is a vision or a bright image of the future, the people flourish.”34

Based on a wide spectrum of research, AI has emerged to challenge a long held paradigm of organizational theory. Appreciative Inquiry needs to be understood as new frame of reference which requires a new model for working with organizations and for designing and implementing strategies to assist an organization to achieve a desired transformation. I turn to that model now. page27image15512

29 Cooperrider, David L. “Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis for Organizing,” in
Appreciative Management and Leadership: The Power of Positive Thought and Actions in Organizations,
ed. S. Srivastva and D.L. Cooperrider (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990). 91-125 
30 Cooperrider, Whitley and Stavros, AI Handbook, 10.
31 Ibid., 10.

32 Ibid., 11.