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Possible Uses of Appreciative Inquiry in IF Discussions

Interactivity Foundation discussions, both those within sanctuary projects that result in reports on policy concerns and those within the shorter public interactions that discuss those reports, rely on processes that work well within the frameworks they were designed for. On the other hand, there are some discussion circumstances where IF process might benefit from some additional techniques. I think this might be the case where we are working with more than our usual six to ten participants and where those participants are basically unknown to each other and arrive unfamiliar with the process and the purpose of discussion. This might be especially true as our public discussions come to rely more on external groups organizing discussions and recruiting participants for IF.

I recently attended portions of training sessions on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) organized through the Office of Human Resource Development (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and the Wisconsin Union. Jay Ekleberry and Mary Hoddy led this two-day training and prepared extensive materials and exercises based on many discussion and development resources.

AI is a highly collaborative, deeply participatory, and system-wide approach to organizational development. But it differs considerably from some traditional organizational development methods in that it actively seeks the positive and energizing insights that arise from relationships and information. It builds skills on sharing, listening, discovering, dreaming, designing, and evaluating and sustaining change. In other words, it builds a darn good discussion participant (and I daresay, citizen).

I have been involved in IF projects and public discussions where some participants arrived with these skills and others sometimes “discovered” them (often no thanks to me). It has often been the case that having two or three participants “modeling” such skills can elevate the overall group’s discussion. On the other hand, I have seen unproductive discussions traceable to the lack of the above skills and/or the facilitator’s inability to nurture those skills in the course of a project or public discussion.

Looking back on my various projects and public discussions, it feels like much of my sense of coherent and relatively pain-free outcomes are attributable to participants who internalize these skills as values. So, I wonder, might it be worth our while to more deeply consider AI-type skills as we organize projects and public discussions?

The might occur in the following ways:

  • Build AI-type skills in introductory sessions of IF discussions and incorporate it into IF process.
  • Rely on “partner” groups to prepare discussants in AI-type skills.
  • Develop relationships with other AI-type discussion and organizational development groups as “feeders” for IF participants.
  • “Customize” AI-type skills into preparation for particular projects and partnerships.

The IF process and AI-type skills should prove a good fit. Indeed, some of our process seems to assume these skills (and sometimes we “luck” into a group that already has them). In practice, I feel, our actual development of those skills is sometimes hit or miss. Is this type of skill development part of our mission? That is less clear to me, but it seems like it is one part of the puzzle of how deeper and more meaningful democratic governance discussion might be encouraged.

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