"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Appreciative Inquiry"

Thinking Forward Together: Helping Organizations SOAR!

Why do 60 to 80 percent of organizational change efforts fail?[1] Most fail because they do not engage those most impacted by the change and therefore do not generate the energy needed to create the change desired. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry encourages us to: “Imagine an organization where there is a shared vision, and everyone helped create the plan to move towards that vision.”

Global Learning Partners Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET), Jay Ekleberry, has guided numerous organizations through a powerful, Appreciative Inquiry-based SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) process. Through this process, an organization employs a variety of methods and connects with as many stakeholders as possible to:

  • identify current strengths,
  • name ways to build on those strengths, and
  • co-author, with its community, how those strengths and opportunities inform what the organization should aspire to be.

The shared accountability and commitment created during the process provides the energy needed for the change effort to have impact after the process.​

This dialogue-based process has been proven successful across a wide range of both for-profit as well as social-benefit organizations, large and small. One inspiring case study of the Thinking Forward Together process comes from the Wisconsin Union. Through the process, the Union worked closely with the broader community to define a strengths-based vision for their future and create results measures that they renew annually.

Recently, The River Food Pantry completed a SOAR process that included development of new succinct statement of their Mission (what we do), Vision (what we reach for), and Values (what motivates us). Using an appreciative and inclusive approach, the team named aspirations and goals for each aspect of their priority work together.

Data now confirms what we knew intuitively: positive emotions resulting from a focus on strengths can promote an upward spiral toward optimal individual and organizational performance.[1]

There are a variety of ways to engage in the SOAR action research process, from a one-day summit to an extended, multi-month data gathering effort. Each organization needs to decide for itself what will work best given its context.

Two things that make the SOAR process work for any organization are:

  1. Scalability- Appreciative Inquiry, and the SOAR process, have proven to be scalable to any size organization, having been successfully applied to small staff local community programs up to immense human systems like the US Navy and the Canadian national healthcare system.
  2. Approach- Every SOAR process should be customized for the human system using it – this is not a one-model-fits-all process. One of the axioms of Appreciative Inquiry is “as many people at the table as possible.” SOAR is best accomplished when an organization commits to learning the principles of the process and conducts the inquiry while creating a variety of engagement methods throughout the process. 

 

Who do you know that can benefit from this sort of process?

* * * * *

Jay Ekleberry has been a Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET) with GLP for many years. Recently, Jay completed his tenure at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he guided the Division of Social Education’s organizational development processes, assisted in student leadership training and directed a variety of non-credit programs. He is the co-creator of a two-day course “Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry” that he has facilitated for many groups over the last decade. The course (of course!) is grounded in principles and practices of dialogue-based learning as taught by GLP.

For more insights into guiding such an approach in your organization, or to inquire about support for that process from Jay, email him at jay.ekleberry@wisc.edu .

[1] Journal of Change Management, 12/2011, Volume 11.4

Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
  2. Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.  
  3. Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
  4. Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
  5. Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
  6. Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
  7. Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.  

 

What tips or tools can you add to this list?

 

Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: Maximizing Generativity with DE and AI

Some things just naturally fit together well.  Consider the well-worn example of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for instance.  On their own, each ingredient brings something to the table.  Sliced bread.  That’s pretty cool!  A non-perishable paste packed with protein and loads of sugar?  Yes please!  And jelly…I mean, what’s not to love there?  And yet mix them all together and you have something truly transformational—a delightful little snack whose very mention elicits positive emotions and rumbly tummies in both the young and old alike.  (Unless you have a nut or gluten allergy.  Or are on a low-glycemic diet.  If so, just try and roll with the image as I’m getting to the point shortly.)  The earthy savoryness of the peanut butter highlights the sweet notes of the strawberries harvested at the height of their ripeness.  The soft chewiness of the bread soaks up the spirit of the jelly, and sets off the occasional crunch of the peanut butter.  (Yes, I am of the crunchy peanut butter ilk!)  In short, the sum is greater than the individual parts, and each ingredient actually serves to further bring out the best in the other.  And this is exactly how I see Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Dialogue Education (DE) these days!

My Learning Journey

One year ago I started Case Western Reserve’s Appreciative Inquiry Certificate in Positive Business and Society Change.  Through a mix of classroom instruction, field work, Business as an Agent of World Benefit interviews, and a written capstone paper, I found that my learning journey had a profound impact when I paused to reflect on how AI and DE bring out the best in one another.  (For those of you who are relative newcomers to AI such as myself, I invite you to check out this fantastic summary written by Jackie Kelm.  For those of you for who are unfamiliar with DE’s learning-centered approach to teaching, you can find out more here.)  Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Cleveland to complete my certificate and learn from the experiences of my global cohort members.  As with all deep learning, it was exhilarating and it was exhausting, and I am filled to the brim with both possibility and questions!  In short, this was my year in review:

Throughout this learning journey I saw many overlaps between DE’s core principles and practices and those of AI.  While I was able to directly explore some of these within the timeframe of this certificate program—such as applying an 8 Steps of Design process, and applying learning needs and resources assessments and achievement-based objectives to all AI work projects—I am looking forward to diving deeper moving forward.  I was intrigued by what AI outside of the context of a summit could look like…how it might be applied to all aspects of organizational life.  Little by little, I started experimenting with applying the principles in different contexts, inspired by—what else—questions!  For example:

  • What does an unconditionally positive question look like in a client meeting?
  • What can I do to help further develop an appreciative eye, personally, within GLP, and with the organizations we work with?
  • As questions themselves are interventions, what can I ask to incite positive change?
  • How might I create more opportunities for developing shared visions of the future?

Rather than seeking out opportunities for large-scale AI summits (which was how I entered into this journey), I looked to the daily tasks and interactions I already had such as meetings with potential partners, staff supervision, team meetings, annual reviews, client work, and community member gatherings.  One preconception that I had to overcome early on was my belief that there was a prescribed way that one must do AI.  In all honesty, I was doing my AI work in a bit of a closeted manner.  Though I was applying my learning directly to my work, I found myself doing it in a way that made the most sense and was most beneficial given my context.  I was reluctant to share or talk about what I was doing with other cohort members out of a misplaced fear that I was not doing so with fidelity to the “AI process”.  (My internal chatter often sounded a lot like this: Four Ds or five Ds?  Shoot, what if I only have time for one D?  What if it only makes sense to focus on two Ds right now?  What if I just want to employ appreciative questions to quickly identify life-giving forces to inform a totally different process all together? This is prime for an AI summit but I don’t have the time or resources!)

After several conversations with Dr. Lindsey Godwin, an AI expert based here in Vermont and, unbeknownst to her, my mentor throughout this process, my fears were assuaged and my focus redirected from process to principles.  “How about examining how you’ve honored the core principles of AI?” Lindsey suggested.  [Cue the “Hallelujah” music in my head.]  What a liberating feeling being able to serve as a co-creator of new methodologies of AI as applied to my work at GLP!  (As a side note, I often hear this same fidelity concern from practitioners of DE and would agree: it’s easy to get hung up on the process, but it’s really all about how you honor the principles and practices of DE!)

What I’ve Experienced

Through the integration of both AI and DE into my practice, I’ve experienced a deeper level of curiosity and have seen increased generativity in group settings.  I am mindful of the powerful ability we each possess to reframe a situation and appreciate it in a different light, one that enables us to see the possibilities before us.  (What if all teachers applied an appreciative lens as they supported students in their learning?  What if all learners and organizations were invited to discover their core values and work towards a shared vision?  How can we support one another to make this happen?)  My passion for this work has been reignited, my understanding of partnerships in a world of abundance has been reframed, and I am looking forward to exploring my many questions moving forward.

A few of my questions are listed below and I’m genuinely curious…

  • What would you add to the list?
  • What can you share with all of us all based on what you’ve seen and learned from your experiences?

Questions for You

  • How have you seen the core principles and practices of DE and AI support and transform one another?
  • How might we further integrate an AI approach in our practice as Dialogue Educators?
  • At their best, how do the DE principles of safety, transparency and mutual accountability show up within AI?