Appreciative Inquiry: Design, Article 4/5

Appreciative Inquiry is a progressive organizational approach that embraces a simple philosophy: What you feed will grow.

PART 4: Design

Positive things do not come by nature. For positive things we have to make an effort. We must make the effort. Nobody, no one else, can do that. So everyone, hope for a better future, a happier future, if that is our wish. The present generation must make every effort. It is our responsibility. ~His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was founded in 1980 when then-doctoral student David Cooperrider was conducting conventional diagnosis at the Cleveland Clinic. Cooperrider, who was so impressed by the Clinic’s success, inquired about factors that contributed to the Clinic’s strengths, not weaknesses. He was overwhelmed by the positive feedback emerging from his intervention, even though he had only asked questions relating to how the company became successful. Since then, the approach has grown in depth and scope and has been used as a philosophy and methodology for embracing and causing transformational change in many global organizations, including governmental and international governing bodies. The process comprises four steps, or the “4 Ds”: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny.

4-D Model

Step 1
“What gives life?”
The best of what is.

Step 2
“What might be?”

Step 3
“What should be the ideal?”

Step 4
Destiny/ Delivery
“What and how?”

An Appreciative Inquiry conference was recently held in Nunavut to embark on an organizational renewal to make the College more responsive.

Nunavut Arctic College (NAC), Nunavut’s only post-secondary educational institution, has a mandate to meet the educational needs of a widely diverse population. This responsibility requires the college to maintain a high level of credibility and professionalism in all of its activities, and to work to ensure the safety, comfort and success of all Nunavut Arctic College students. NAC’s wide-range of top-quality courses and programs are based on the traditional values of Nunavut’s people, and are designed to help students pursue life-long learning and personal development in an increasingly modern society.

Headquartered in Arviat, NAC has locations in all 24 of Nunavut’s 26 permanent communities, including campus locations, community learning centres and research centres. Each location is responsive to its unique needs and people. Courses and programs offered range from Educational Assessment and Counselling to Adult Basic Education and Literacy Program­ming, from Home Management Courses to Cultural and Traditional Education. NAC staff must work diligently to ensure that the institution lives up to the values of accessibility, relevance and contribution to strong communities.

With such a challenging mandate, diverse audiences and clients, and a new organization in a new territory, Linda Pemik, Director Academic Affairs, had her hands full when the College decided to embark on a general organizational renewal that would make the College more culturally responsive. With her prior knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry, she and other senior managers flew to Ontario to take part in an introductory workshop, and brought the Appreciative Inquiry approach and philosophy back to Nunavut.

As Linda Pemik explains, “Appreciative Inquiry was culturally appropriate as there are similarities with the Inuit approach to change. There is a similar philosophy.” Appreciative Inquiry, like the Inuit philosophy, focuses on appreciating the best in the world and in others. They both do not view people as problems but rather focus on the tools we have at hand and how to make them work better. There is an acknowledgement that development occurs naturally over time, and you have to change in the direction you want to move. Focusing on a positive outcome will increase the chances of arriving there.

NAC has worked diligently and deliberately through the first two stages of Appreciative Inquiry. In Discovery, appreciative interviews were conducted with many people who were geographically dispersed. Through this process in 2005, NAC brought its entire staff together, face to face, for the first time since 1998. While the outcomes of appreciative interviews are generally energizing, this exercise led to some unique unforeseen positive outcomes, notably that the college was so pleased with the results that they are now organized to come together, face to face, every three years to renew and refresh as a staff population.

With the theme of “Building on Common Ground,” a dream was envisioned from the AI interviews. NAC staff saw an educational institution that would develop Inuit knowledge, and incorporate the past and present harmoniously into its programs and course offerings. Traditional Western and Inuit knowledge would be incorporated in a balanced approach and there would be an overwhelming focus on student success.

This took NAC into the third phase of Appreciative Inquiry: Design. In the Design phase, participants move out of the “how did we?” and “what if?” thinking and into the “how do we?” phase — when structure is placed around the dream to begin to realize the vision. In Design, the key is to identify system elements, such as key relationships and structures, so that high leverage areas can be employed and enhanced. Out of this work comes a Design Statement, not unlike a vision, for the change that is about to take place.

NAC is now analyzing their strategic partnerships, stakeholders and business configurations to arrive at Design Statements for each key component. This is where we start to climb down out of the clouds and blue sky approach and get our hands a little bit dirty doing the detailed work.

The following is a Design Statement created at a Health Care Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2003:

Patient-Centered Care: We will create patient-centered care by:

  1. Establishing an atmosphere of respect by promoting honesty, truth telling and complete information sharing as the core value.
  2. Empowering patients with knowledge of their responsibilities and rights, the “ideal functioning” of their care team, and the skills to provide feedback to their care providers.
  3. Empowering patient’s families and friends with the knowledge of the healthcare system and the skills to advocate for their loved ones.
  4. Establish a Patient Care Coordinator role to customize care plan with and for each patient and to facilitate understanding and agreement between the patient and their care team. (Coordinator evaluated only by the patients and their families — gold star program, patient rights cards, extra mile cards, etc).

Another example comes from the U.S. Navy, created at a Leadership Summit in 2002:

The Navy is a magnet for this nation’s diverse talent because we embrace, celebrate, honor and reward diversity in every facet of our organization and offer unlimited opportunity for personal and professional growth in the workplace. Because of this, we are the world’s finest government institution and combat force, and are an inspiration and role model for that which is exemplified.

As you read these Design Statements, you might be thinking, “This is not the way it really is — that organization is not really doing all of those things!” You would be right. These are visions, aspirations, lofty goals — they are not the reality. At least not yet. But without ambitious targets and dreams, it really wouldn’t matter much which way you strive — to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, if you walk long enough, you will arrive somewhere. But the question remains: is it where you wanted to go?

To return to Nunavut Arctic College, they have seen some success realizing their Dream through Design. New programs, such as a maternity care program and a mental health care program, are balancing Western and Inuit knowledge and traditions. The college is exploring ways to involve elders in every program across the territory. They are developing new tools to encourage reciprocal communication to inform and connect and share valuable lessons learned. While there are still challenges and the change is happening gradually, there are things happening to benefit the College, its students and the communities that would not have happened otherwise.

With Appreciative Inquiry, the best of “what is” has been unveiled through Discovery, the best of “what is to be” is revealed through Dream, and then the strategic components are broken down and visions are crafted through Design. The next and final stage of Appreciative Inquiry is Delivery — actually following through on the Design, to make the Dream a reality and implementing that positive change.

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