For the past couple of months, the OERC has engaged in an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) interview project to get feedback and advice from users on to our services. Appreciative Inquiry was developed in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva as an approach to bring “collaborative and strength-based change” to organizations. The methods are designed to collect information emphasizing positive aspects of an organization and vision for a better future. Probably the best known AI tool is the interview, which covers three basic areas:
- A peak experience of the interviewee.
- Why the interviewee found that experience so valuable.
- What the interviewee wished could happen to bring about more exceptional experiences.
(You can find the OERC’s adaption of these basic questions here.)
When people are first introduced to AI evaluation processes, they skeptically ask if this approach doesn’t lead to positively biased data. I would say no, because we are asking for descriptive rather than evaluative comments. I call the interviews “constructive conversations without criticism.” You come away from the experience thinking “what could be?” rather than “what’s wrong?” The feedback was painless to me, because our users made recommendations in wishful, rather than judgmental, terms.
I also think AI is a superior way to get frank advice from users if they generally like your organization. When asked for feedback, particularly in interpersonal situations, interviewees may not want to offend the organization’s staff or, worse, cause negative repercussions. When you ask people to talk about dreams and wishes, their imaginations are engaged and fear of being critical falls away. They are free to give you great ideas for moving forward.
If your organization is about to embark on strategic planning of any kind, I highly recommend the AI approach. You can get more information about AI methods at the Appreciative Inquiry Commons or the Center for Appreciative Inquiry websites. For an excellent book on applying AI to evaluation practice, check out Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry by Preskill and Catsambas (Sage, 2006).
Note: The OERC will post results of its AI project in a future blog post, when we have completed our analysis.