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‘What is’ and ‘What Could Be’ Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 12:01 am By: Rafael Ríos, Executive Vice President

What could happen if individuals, families, communities and organizations were fully engaged and used their collective strengths to cooperatively achieve their vision or their desired future state.

Imagine a world where election debates could be a series of short conversations leading up to the elections meant to enliven generative dialogue with a positive intent, where our leaders adopted a tone of hope, possibility, and encouragement.

Visualize a place where organizations identified individual and team strengths learned from them and applied that knowledge in other areas.

All of these are examples of Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry is a collaborative, strength-based approach to both personal and organizational development that is proving to be highly effective in thousands of organizations and communities in hundreds of countries around the world. It is a way of bringing about change that shares leadership and learning - fully engaging everyone in the organization.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a strategic management approach celebrated as the most important innovation in organizational development of the past decade.

It is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. By focusing on strengths, you can evolve into a true “center of excellence”.

Appreciative inquiry involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system's capacity to heighten positive potential. AI assumes that every living system has untapped, rich, and inspiring accounts of the positive. It makes the assumption that human systems, individuals organizations and groups, are not like machines that can be taken apart and fixed, but rather are social systems. As such, they are more like organisms—living, breathing entities that stay healthiest when they are focused on their positive life-giving characteristics. Link this "positive core" directly to any change agenda, and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized."

Appreciative inquiry requires a change in mindsets. We as a society have been trained to look for the root causes of problems or identify performance gaps and then fixing them.  In AI we go out to find what works and then implement the systems to reproduce it.

AI is an approach to organizational analysis and learning that is intended for discovering, understanding, and fostering innovations in social organizational arrangements and processes. In this context, AI refers to two things: a) A search for knowledge; and b) A theory of collective action designed to evolve the vision and will of a group, an organization, or society as a whole.

All organizations have something about their past to value. This element must be appreciated in order that change becomes a positive experience. The AI process helps one to honor the past (continuity) and search for newness (novelty) in order to embrace movement toward the new future (transition).

The organization’s positive core can be found by looking at its…achievements, strategic opportunities, product strengths, technical assets, innovations, best business practices, positive emotions, financial assets, organizational wisdom, core competencies, visions of possibilities social capital, business ecosystems, e.g., suppliers, partners, competitors, customers.6

It is here that we can find those things that give us satisfaction, provide meaning from our efforts, give us pride in our work, our organizations and our communities. Here we find those things of which we would like more.

The AI process involves four stages which have been labeled discovery, dream, design, and destiny known as the 4-D Cycle.

The Discovery phase is a diligent and extensive search to understand the “best of what is” and “what has been.” It begins with a collaborative act of crafting appreciative interview questions and constructing and an appreciative interview guide.

Appreciative interview questions are written as affirmative probes into an organization’s positive core, in the topic areas selected. They are written to generate stories, to enrich the images and inner dialogue within the organization, and to bring the positive core more fully into focus.

The Dream phase is an energizing exploration of “what might be”: a time for people to explore their hopes and dreams for their work, their working relationships and their organization. It is a time for groups of people to engage in thinking big, and thinking out of the boundaries of what has been in the past.

The Design phase involves making choices about “what should be” within the organization or system. It is a conscious re-creation or transformation, through which such things as systems, structures, strategies, processes and images will become more fully aligned with the organization’s positive past (Discovery) and highest potential (Dream).

The Destiny phase initiates a series of inspired actions that support ongoing learning and innovation—or “what will be.” Since the entire 4-D cycle provides an open forum for employees to contribute and step forward in the service of the organization, change occurs in all phases of an appreciative inquiry process.

The Destiny phase, however, focuses specifically on personal and organizational commitments.

Appreciative Inquiry presents a refreshingly enabling way of relating to ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’.


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