Monday, November 16, 2015

Appreciative Inquiry in community settings

The following ten tips offer advice for successfully applying Appreciative Inquiry in community settings. They cannot substitute for a well-considered 4-D process. They are, however, guidelines to make certain that Appreciative Inquiry fits and is appropriately adapted to your community. In short, the tips can help bring out the best of your community members, helping them articulate a future that serves the greater good.
1)    “Communitize” your approach. Focus the AI process on what matters to the community. Choose a Change Agenda that
is broad, compelling, and consistent with your community’s overall culture and purpose. Remember that the only right way to do Appreciative Inquiry is a way that will work for your community members. Schedule meetings and projects during “down” times, or link to existing events that are meaningful to your community. Design a variety of processes that are attractive and accessible to the many people you want and need to be involved.
2)    Prepare committed champions. “You need both the key and the gas to make a car run,” said Marietta, citizen leader of Focus on Longmont. Take time up front to build commitment and congruence among your formal leadership (those with authority and resources, or the “key”) and the day-to-day project coordinators (those who will bring the process to life, or the “gas”). Cultivate multiple champions from around the organization, so that you’ll always have that base of support from both formal and informal leadership. Train them, so they understand both what they’re doing and why, so they’re comfortable discussing the process with others and getting them engaged.
3)  Be purposefully and radically inclusive. From the very beginning, invite generational, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity into everything, from project leadership to advisors to process participants. Intentionally bring subcommunities and subcultures together in the process. And be sure to offer a wide range of ways for people to participate to accommodate different work schedules, lifestyles, interests, languages, and needs. 

4)  Fan the affirmative flame. Never underestimate the power
of the positive. It engages people’s hearts and sustains their energy. Share the positive stories you collect over and over and over. Keep bringing people back to community strengths and successes. Appreciate and recognize people’s efforts as well as results, especially the efforts of the regulars and those who keep the momentum for change alive. 

5)  Keep reaching out with information and opportunities. With communities of hundreds or even thousands of people, never stop reaching out. Communicate everything. Keep experimenting with different ways of imparting information, always focusing on “what it means” and “what’s in it for everyone.” Create many, many, many different ways and forums for people to participate. Follow up with people who participate, and keep them informed. Engage the local media and create video, still, and written records of key events. Circulate them far and wide. Keep the process front-and-center for as long as possible. 

6)  Plan for continuity and transitions. Before you start the pro- cess, ask, If we were gone tomorrow, how would this continue? Then organize your Appreciative Inquiry around the answer. From the beginning, seek out and engage the people who have responsibility for the desired outcomes. Consider in advance what systems, structures, and funding mechanisms will be 
needed for the plan to be carried out and lead to positive results. Establish checkpoints in both the planning and the implementation phases. Regularly take inventory of achievements. Celebrate and publicize them.
7)  Invest the time, enjoy the return. Without question, whole- system community planning using Appreciative Inquiry is time intensive. It takes more time than you think, yet over and over again, community members say it was worth what
it took. After three years of leadership with the aging services planning process, Michele Waite reflected, “I had no idea how time-consuming this initiative would be; but still, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.” The more people you engage, the more time it takes. But the investment of time and energy in appre- ciative interviews and in having community members share stories and make meaning of their own data yields unimagi- nable benefits. When people hear the stories from their com- munity, they learn who they are and they see what they can become—personally and as a community. 

8)  Be open to what emerges. It is impossible to predict all the twists and turns you will encounter when using Appreciative Inquiry as a large-scale community-planning process. We have had more people show up than the room could hold. We have had naysayers ask for the microphone. We have had local media show up—sometimes to support, and other times to question a process. Some of these events are challenges to overcome, but most are extraordinary expressions of com- munity support and caring activism, calling forth the need 
to adapt and innovate. So be open and responsive to the new directions and opportunities that emerge along the way—and the people who bring them. You too may be surprised and in awe of the many gifted people who will work ceaselessly and in surprising ways for a better future in their communities. 

9)  Provide ongoing education and training in AI. Thorough train- ing in Appreciative Inquiry for project leaders and champions helps them make good choices as they design and lead their planning processes. The need for education does not stop there, however. Ongoing education and training is a key success factor for AI-based community planning. The more people who learn about AI, the better the change process will go. Consider offering educational opportunities tailored to community leaders as well as to various member groups. Throughout the planning process new people will join, and they can also benefit from training. Finally, once the plan is complete, community members will need new and different tools to maintain positive forward movement.
10) Make Appreciative Inquiry a daily practice. Appreciative Inquiry–based planning begins a process of community trans- formation that will continue only as long as it is nurtured. Continue to ask yourselves, How can we apply this to the everyday life of our community? Carmen Ramirez from Longmont said it well: “When we do as much inside our departments and organizations as we’ve done outside in the broader community, we’ll finally reap the whole benefit that Appreciative Inquiry has to offer.”

Source: Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry (pages 260-263)

Story-telling that leads to a place of possibility

“Appreciative Inquiry is intentional inquiry and directed conversation and story-telling that leads to a place of possibility. Possibility is fresh, new, and sacred. The story is the genesis of all that is human. Societies are stories, as are companies, schools, cities, families and individuals. There are bricks and mortar and flesh and bones, but all of it comes from a story. Even the flesh and bones of one person comes from a story of two people uniting to form another. I can think of a many moments where groups reached a profound spot with Ai and touched a sense of freedom. Usually one person would say something like, "From what we heard in these stories, we could_..." and there follows a collective deep breath and then silence as people consider the new "we could". Possibility sits in the room as a space of silence and then thought fills the space. Where does the thought that enters at that time, which has a feeling of vitality and newness, come from? It does not come from the person who spoke because that person would not have developed that thought without the conversations that led to synapses firing in a certain way. The thought is not merely a product of the collective because an individual must form the thought. The thought comes out of relationship, conversation, and newly created images. This "thing called Ai" is one of the finest ways to experience the power of language and to hone our skills with words, ideas, and stories. There are times when the possibility is so stunning the group has to sit in silence if just for a couple ticks before saying, "well, yes, maybe, why not, let's do it." There must be a gap that arises in the field of the known to entertain the unbridled possibility of novelty. There is a break in the routine story and supporting conversations so something new can creep in. This is the opening where novelty can arise. With no gap, we only have the billiard ball predictability of continuity. The openness to new ideas is not coerced. People don't have to force each other to listen to other's ideas and possibilities: minds are opened because the nature of the stories are so compelling and energetic.” 

Steinbach, John. Contribution to the AI Listserve, July 2005