Sometimes, the biggest ideas arise when people gather together to ponder many small questions. That's the premise behind a meeting methodology called “appreciative inquiry,” which is designed to discover an organization's strengths through peer-to-peer questioning, then come up with real-world solutions that add both to an organization's bottom line and to society at large.
AI's co-creator, David Cooperrider, has been teaching his organizational development ideas for some 28 years, since his days as a doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University where he collaborated with his adviser, Suresh Srivastva, to devise the AI approach.
Cooperrider, nowdirector at the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, continues to build enthusiasm for the AI movement. High-profile successes include using AI to help bring consensus to a United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit back in 2004; a growing AI Conference, which last year drew 500 people to Orlando (with case studies on the agenda from such companies as Boeing, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Hewlett-Packard, and Wal-Mart), and a recent External Impact award given to Cooperrider from the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education.
“What we're finding, quite simply, is that the more you study the true, the good, the better, the possible within living human systems, the more the capacity for positive transformation,” says Cooperrider, who has facilitated AI summits around the world.
Appreciative inquiry works best with large groups. Cooperrider has run summits for hundreds, even thousands, of people, and not just employees or members, but stakeholders, customers, and suppliers. The summits are like massive brainstorming sessions where participants are equally engaged in strategic planning and decision-making.
The Four D's of Change
Intimate, face-to-face dialogue is at the core of AI, providing the foundation for the “four-D process”: discovery, dreaming, design, and destiny. From these small conversations emerge big, bold ideas over the course of the summit, typically a three-day process. But it all stems from carefully crafted questions that Cooperrider has developed to unearth ideas, discover strengths, and move the conversation forward.
Phase 1: Discovery For the first step in the process, participants pair up to ask each other questions designed to map the successes and strengths of the organization and the individuals. Pairs share their stories with the others at their table, and eventually report to the group as a whole.
Phase 2: Dream The dream phase is the time to envision the organization's potential, to consider what it will look like 10 or 20 years in the future. Small groups are asked to develop their vision and present it to the group in a creative way. Participants are asked to listen closely and take notes, looking for ideas that interest them. These future visions are the basis for the parade of project initiatives to follow.
Phase 3: Design The design phase is about creating initiatives and building prototypes to bring the dreams to reality. “This is in your hands,” Cooperrider told participants at a recent AI-designed meeting for the American Society of Association Executives. “This is not the typical, ‘Thanks for the ideas. We'll take it from here’ meeting. It's yours to create.” Participants choose an idea that interests them — big, small, or something in between — and team up with others with a similar concern to brainstorm and develop prototypes and models. Each group prepares a report on their initiatives — what they will be called, how they will work, what they will look like, what the objectives are.
Phase 4: Destiny The last phase involves drafting an action plan to launch the initiative. Project teams meet to flesh out their ideas and develop post-conference plans.
Adherents praise the AI process for its focus on an organization's strengths rather than its problems, and for its inclusive approach to creating change. For more information, go to the Appreciative Inquiry Commons at http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu. The site is full of articles, case studies, and discussions. To contact Cooperrider, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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