by Ian Saunders, Antony Aitken, Ray Charlton and David Flatman

What has worked/succeeded in the past?

At any stage in change, it’s always worth reflecting on what has worked well in the past, in similar circumstances.

That has value at two levels:

  1. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel
  2. You have more confidence if you have been there before.

And yet... beware!

Is it really the same? Do you want it to look the same?

Appreciative inquiry

All the concepts of appreciative inquiry inform us that telling positive stories from the past creates an environment in which people become more innovative and accepting of change. They become caught up in the expectation of success, rather than weighed down by the memory of failure.

And this is not about some overly-cheerful, pretend, smiling and patronising encouragement. This is about recognition of where success came from, who really did the work, what people felt like when they had been through the difficulties at the beginning and had reached a new level of confidence in themselves.

Appreciative inquiry contrasts a traditional approach to change management – typically, asking ‘What problems are you having?’ – with an approach closer to ‘What is working around here?’

‘Problems’ assume that there is a stable, normative solution to a given set of constraints. Appreciative inquiry makes no such assumption – rather it believes that social order is fundamentally unstable and emergent.

Here are some further insights into the concept of using appreciative inquiry.

  1. In every society, organisation, or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organisation or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence and comfort in journeying to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  6. If we carry parts of the past forward, these should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

Problem solving versus appreciative inquiry

There is more on this in the Organisation Development topic. See Appreciative Inquiry.