An organization is not a collection of problems to be solved but a mystery to be celebrated. Appreciative Inquiry is a process of…affirmative questioning that collects and celebrates the good news stories of a community; these stories serve to enhance cultural identity, spirit and vision.
Cooperrider & Srivastava
Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry
At the November Affiliate Board meeting, several of us reflected upon the present state of the Affiliate movement. We are now more than half way through a three-year experimental period and our twentieth anniversary is fast approaching. What have these twenty years meant for us? Is a regional model beginning to take shape? Does a regional model provide a good fit for us and help to cultivate what we hope will be a vibrant future?
In 2008, when the Affiliate renewal committee first presented the idea of a regional model experiment, it called for evaluation of the model at the close of three years. Early on, both Board members and Regional Coordinators believed it was important to give space and time for the model to unfold in a way that it would be shaped by the grassroots experience of Affiliates in their Chapters. Many good and creative experiences have emerged during this time and had we moved too quickly to an evaluation focus, some of these experiences might have been dampened or even lost. At the close of 2011, however, we will need to move to some sort of evaluation. In planning for this, we have been reviewing various methods utilized by other organizations. In our search, we discovered several useful evaluation tools, but the method that appears most helpful is that of Appreciative Inquiry.
Appreciative Inquiry is an evaluation method that assesses the present state of an organization by ‘discovering’ what is working well and what gives its members meaning and fulfillment. A key premise of AI is that a group will manifest what it focuses upon and grow toward what it persistently asks questions about. Many of us assume that an evaluation necessarily identifies the weaknesses or areas for improvement of a group. While there are circumstances in which such a process is necessary, it may not be the best way of calling forth the potential for good and creativity that exists within an organization. AI does not disregard problems, but demonstrates that focusing upon the positive and life-giving aspects of a group allows greater momentum to be unleashed to move an organization forward in a positive way.
Appreciative Inquiry involves a four-step approach in evaluation:
- Discovery – gathering of stories from the group’s experiences that affirm the good that is present and unleash the potential for growth and innovation
- Dreaming – visioning is not hampered by the past or an uncertain future but is also grounded in an organization’s reality and emerges from the ‘discoveries’
- Dialogue – the fruits of the dreaming stage are now shared; genuine dialogue builds organizations and satisfies the human hunger to be understood and valued
- Delivery – the transition from ‘where we are’ to ‘where we want to be’ leads to a commitment to implement the fruits of the process for overall growth
As Board members reviewed several “case studies” of organizations that have utilized Appreciative Inquiry, we became convinced that it would be a useful tool for evaluation of our current experimental model and also help us to begin envisioning the next twenty years of our Affiliate movement.
In the months to come, we will assemble an Appreciative Inquiry committee that will plan for evaluation of our regional model and also begin to reflect upon how we might deepen engagement and growth in our wider Affiliate movement. The many stories we have shared with one another over the years, whether through NSFA or when we gather in our Chapters or for regional, national or international meetings, already speak to our collective experience of a movement rich in community with a passion for spirituality, action and global vision. Many of us hope that these will continue to grow and find new forms of expression.
In anticipation of our future, I believe that much of our shared visioning will come when we gather for a very special MAC celebration at Stony Point June 23-26, 2011. It is our hope that each Chapter will be represented by at least one member as we commemorate our founding. As we approach twenty years, there is much to be appreciated and celebrated in our Affiliate community. May we continue to be ‘companions on the journey’ for one another as we move forward into our collective future.
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