What does it look like when you put Appreciative Inquiry into action? I’ve made lots of posts the last few months about Appreciative Inquiry, and I wanted to tie a bow on this series with a post to serve as both a content guide and an action plan.
Content We’ve Shared:
There are Ten Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry. Here they are with each of their exploratory posts:
- In every organization, some things work well.
- What we focus on becomes our reality.
- Asking questions influences the group.
- People have more confidence in the journey to the future when they carry forward parts of the past.
- If we carry forward parts of the past, they should be what is best about the past.
- It is important to value differences.
- Organizations are heliotropic: They grow toward their source of energy.
- The language we use creates our reality.
- Outcomes should be useful.
- All steps are collaborative.
If you’d like to hear about a case study, I shared my own research into a congregation where I was working, where Appreciative Inquiry helped me lead our group to significant renewal.
If you want to give this method a try, here is a simplified view of what it has looked like for me in practice.
- Decide if the group you’re going to study is small enough that you can do it yourself, or if you should enlist extra people to help you with the process. If it’s a single life group, demographic, or Bible class, you could probably do it yourself. If it’s your whole church, you need more people to get involved.
- Formulate your questions. If you’re involving more people in the process, be sure to train them in the purpose of the questions as well as in the assumptions of AI. Questions should arise from the assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry. Everyone should be asking the same questions so your results are more reliable. Some good ones would include:
- When you think of us at our best, what comes to mind? Who is there? What are we doing? What’s going on?
- What is it that you value about us? What makes you keep wanting to be part of us?
- What is it that we’re good at doing? How do we distinguish ourselves in a good way?
- When things are going well, what helps them go well?
- If you could make one positive wish for our future, what would it be?
- Ask your questions and record the results. There are several ways you could go about this:
- Do individual interviews, recording responses on notepads.
- If it’s a small enough group, you can ask your questions of the entire group. You might use a whiteboard to record what they are saying.
- Do focus groups where a larger group is split into smaller groups and your helpers ask the questions and record the responses of the individual groups.
- Compile and compare your research. Read through all the responses, looking for themes to emerge. If you invited others to help you in this process, share research. Talk about themes that each of you were noticing. What are the things you heard the most? Allow for your group to reach some consensus on what you heard collectively.
- You should now be in a position to know what it is that people have enjoyed the most, what has felt life-giving to them, and therefore what they’ll want to keep as part of their experience moving forward.
- Whether on your own or with your group, begin a brainstorming process for how you can move forward, showing honor to these things that have been most valued and helpful.
- When you have formulated an idea, see about sharing it with the larger group. Don’t neglect the Three Ps of a satisfying change. All steps should be collaborative, so people should be given an opportunity to participate if they desire. People do appreciate receiving a rough draft so that they can help craft the overall direction.
- From here, it is time to listen to feedback, revise, and begin working toward your plan for implementation of your shared vision.
- At this point, you should have a plan for a specific direction that the group will feel is consistent with who they are, and is a way forward they are mostly willing to support.
- Divide up tasks, assign to competent volunteers, provide the desired timeline, and empower them to implement.
- When a goal is reached or a notable landmark is accomplished, celebrate everyone who helped make it happen, then move on to the next one.
I have used this process to lead to congregation-wide renewal and change. I have used it just as successfully to lead to the revitalization of the Bible class in which we participate. No group is too large or too small.
Get people remembering what is good and the good becomes their focus. When they receive positive energy from reliving the better parts of the past, they’ll be more motivated to work toward a good future. When people remember God’s past goodness, focus on what they do well, and take unified ownership of their future, good things happen.