The Power of Appreciative Inquiry

Last week I attended the Partnering into the Future conference – an event co-hosted by Queensland Health and the Gold Coast Primary Healthcare Partnership Council – and came away with an insightful revelation.

It happened during the course of two workshops I ran on the Appreciative Inquiry approach to building capacity to partner. Basically, the approach requires people to think about their strengths and the things that have worked in the past. The aim is to help them think about what they believe is possible for the future and to aid them in working in that direction.

One of the things this approach gets people to do fairly early in the process is interview each other in pairs, relating experiences they’ve had where things have worked at their best. With this in mind, I got participants to think about times when they’ve partnered successfully with others and to also think about what made it work well. This is opposed to the conventional approach, which involves talking about all the problems and issues and thinking about how they might be solved.

Although I went into the workshops having a firm belief in the power of Appreciative Inquiry, I think I underestimated just how powerful this process can be. This was illustrated in the last exercise I conducted. During the session, I noticed one particular pair engrossed in an incredibly intense conversation. I only learned afterwards that it was a mother and her son. Very emotionally, she later reported that she’d told her son some things she’d never shared with him before. She also learned a lot from him as well. Both said that this structured interview process had really enriched their relationship.

Importantly, the Appreciate Inquiry school of thought also stipulates that the things most influential in our behaviour today are our images of our future. This profound cornerstone led to another notable workshop experience, this time involving a very dedicated Torres Strait Islands healthcare worker. She said, “people often say to me, ‘why do I keep doing what I’m doing?’ I haven’t known how to answer them but now I do. My answer is, ‘I have an image where indigenous people are much healthier and happier and more confident.’ That’s what keeps me going in spite of the challenges.”

For me, there’s no doubt that Appreciative Inquiry is a very powerful tool for encouraging people to work together and build relationships. It’s definitely a process I’ll be looking to explore even more in the future.


This blog was first posted 27th April 2010 on Twyfords website

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