Appreciative Inquiry Based Guide to Mutual Ministry Reviews
Practical Appreciative Inquiry based strategies to effectively resolve grief and resentment.
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Appreciative Inquiry, (AI) as an organizational development process, was developed by David Cooperrider and his associates at Case Western Reserve University School of Management in the mid 1980s. It grew from Cooperrider's research into discovering what works and what gives life to an organization rather than looking at the problems an organization may have.
AI has since been developed into a systematic process and used extensively in organizational development. However at its heart AI is more than just an organizational development tool it is a way of looking at and interacting with the world. Jane Magruder Watkins an expert in the field describes AI in this way:
"Appreciative Inquiry is an articulated theory that rationalizes and reinforces the habit of mind that moves through the world in a generative frame seeking and finding images of the possible rather than scenes of disaster and despair."
Jane Magruder Watkins
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While some aspects of Appreciative Inquiry are distinct and novel, AI has close parallels to other schools of thought in the behavioral sciences. Typically what underlies these commonalities is an emphasis on positive, life giving factors, and a reliance on a participative, generative, process of interventions that enable people to discover their resources to co-create a preferred future. Some of the parallels are:
In our work we have synthesized these approaches along with appreciative inquiry and the field of contemplative spirituality to create the Appreciative Way which we have in turn applied to a variety of endeavors:
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Appreciative Inquiry has proven to be an effective process for enabling individuals and organizations to perform at their best. It has been used successfully by a wide group of people in diverse organizations such as fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and churches.
Some examples include:
In these diverse organizations and in other situations AI has been used for a variety of purposes, such as:
Because of its effectiveness and fundamental respect for the dignity of all persons in an organization Appreciative Inquiry serves as the basic philosophy and process of the Clergy Leadership Institute's work.
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Because of its focus on the future and the positive aspects or an organization, Appreciative Inquiry has been accused of ignoring or avoiding current problems. The accusation is however unfounded at least in principle. Einstein taught that we cannot solve a problem from the mindset that created it. Appreciative Inquiry is used to create that new mindset. AI is also used to find the resources necessary to solve problems.
GTE was one of the early major corporations to use Appreciative Inquiry in its organizational development. Tom White, GTE's President described the relationship between AI and problem solving:
"Appreciative Inquiry gets much better results than seeking out and solving problems. We often concentrate enormous resources on correcting problems. But when used continually over a long time, this approach leads to a negative culture.... or a slip into a paralyzing sense of hopelessness. Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating mindless happy talk. AI is a complex science designed to make things better. We can't ignore problems - we just need to approach them from the other side."
Tom White, President of GTE Telephone Operations
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Imagine a church that has numerous factions with conflict between these groups. A consultant is engaged and told the chief complaint: "There is too much fighting going on between the groups in our church." The simplest goal would be to reduce the fighting by engaging in conflict management. In traditional problem solving approaches the origins of the fights would be explored and some equitable solution striven toward. The danger is that in the exploration of the origins of the fights people feel blamed and become defensive which in turn leads to a deepening of the rifts and exacerbates rather than solves the problem. But even if the conflict management was successful, what would the end point be? How much fighting would be acceptable?
From an appreciative perspective it is impossible to effectively work on a negative goal. The problem is not that there is too much conflict, the problem is that there is not enough cooperation. Rather than working on reducing the conflict we would be seeking ways to grow the group's cooperation.
The first step in solving a problem is to create a positive goal.
In the above scenario an appreciative approach would be to ask: "What would you have if there was no fighting?" or "What would you like to have instead of the fighting?" In all likelihood one of the responses will be: "The different groups would be cooperating." Increasing cooperation would then become the goal for the intervention. With that goal in mind the discovery phase of the intervention would be oriented toward gathering stories of the times when the groups had cooperated. From the basis of these stories the way the groups are structured may be modified to enable greater cooperation.
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Many problems are problems because of the way the situation is perceived or defined. The word crisis in the Chinese language can have two meanings: danger or opportunity. If we look at situations as dangerous then we are likely to respond in fear, which in turn will limit our options and creativity. If we look at situations as opportunities to learn something new about the abundance of God, then we will respond with curiosity, and openness which in turn will lead to creative responses to the situation.
One way of viewing problems is to see them as an association between limited resources and the demands of a given situation. Solutions occur when we associate appropriate and effective resources with the demands of a situation. If however we focus our attention on the lack of resources we will quickly become entrenched in our deficit thinking and become despondent. On the contrary if we begin to inquire into the organization's resources, by exploring past best experiences of resourcefulness we begin to establish new associations between resources and demands. The practice of appreciative inquiry continually focuses attention on the resources and what is possible and strengthening these associations rather than the deficits and what is not possible.
For example: It is not uncommon in board meetings for someone to raise a suggestion of a future program which is met with an immediate "we can't do that". This instinctive negation is then often followed by an equally instinctual response from another member "Why not?" At which point the discussion becomes a litany of rationalizations about why the program could not be implemented. A more fruitful question to the "Why not?" would be: "What would you need in order to be able to implement the program?" Now the conversation is oriented toward exploring the resources necessary to implement the program. Such a conversation is likely to be creative and expansive with new possibilities and resources discovered. It is also possible that the group will come to a decision not to implement the program because they don't have the necessary resources, however such a decision will be an informed one rather than a decision based on resistance.
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Although appreciative inquiry was developed as an organizational process it has been effectively used with individuals. The work of Milton Erickson and the subsequent solution focussed therapies based on his work are in many ways separate but parallel developments in two different fields. One field being that of organizational development the other being individual and family psychotherapy.
With its emphasis on best experiences and deeply held values, appreciative inquiry is very effective at helping individuals discern their own mission and purpose in life and is used extensively in the coaching and career development fields.
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While it is possible to gather considerable knowledge about appreciative inquiry, it is the experience of the CLI faculty that Appreciative Inquiry needs to be experienced and lived rather than thought of as a body of knowledge or a technique to be acquired. Participants in our training programs both in religious and secular settings have often described the transformation of moving from a problem orientation to an appreciative orientation as a conversion experience. This is perhaps not surprising if we consider any conversion to result in a profound change in the manner in which we view ourselves and the world in which we live. It is this type of conversion that we seek in our training programs in which we not only teach about appreciative inquiry but we have our participants engage in a personal appreciative inquiry of their own life and ministry.
Consequently the most important appreciative inquiry resource lies within the user. It is the faculty of beholding. Of beholding with wonder and awe the riches that God has bestowed upon us as his children and the recipients of his love.
Over the past few years many books have been written about appreciative inquiry and its application. Here are a few links to additional resources that will help you discover the resources that are within you and the organizations that you work in:
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