Exploring the Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Playful and Uplifting afternoon at “Positive Psychology Summit: UK”

Exploring the Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Playful and Uplifting afternoon at “Positive Psychology Summit: UK”

Title slide from presentation: Positive Change That Sticks: Organisation-Wide Improvement Through Appreciative Inquiry
© 2024 Frederika Roberts | Slide from Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024

This blog post was originally posted as a LinkedIn article.

At Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024, I was honoured to be given a 2.5-hour Friday afternoon slot to give delegates a practical taster of what Appreciative Inquiry (the original AI!!!) is all about.  Given that most AI Summits live and die on the basis of the preparation process with a small representative group of participants (the Definition phase), and that they tend to last at least a day, often 2-3 days, this was quite a challenge, but one I rose to with playfulness and curiosity.

Working with a room full of Positive Psychology practitioners and students, I was fairly confident that delegates would embrace the challenge with me and “trust the process” (as Jean-Christophe Barallis and Jean Pagès memorably kept telling us during our AI Practitioner training as part of the Anglia Ruskin University MSc in Applied Positive Psychology).

Let's start with a brief overview of what Appreciative Inquiry is all about

Instead of dwelling on problems, AI focuses on strengths, successes and possibilities. This powerful approach to organisational development, created by David Cooperrider, is founded on the concept that by shining a light on what’s working well, we can co-create positive change and innovation.

Dictionary Definition of Appreciative Inquiry from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/English, showing the meaning of the words "Appreciate" and "Inquire" (or "Enquire" in British English.
© 2024 Frederika Roberts | Slide from Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024

Additionally, instead of a rigid structure, AI has infinite adaptability and flexibility. It can be used in all sorts of situations, from education (see article about my AI research in a brilliant primary school) and business, to community development and personal growth, including in one-to-one coaching settings. It can be customised to fit each setting it is used in, making it a dynamic tool for change.

During my taster workshop earlier this month, we shared an incredible journey of creativity, connection, and laughter.

Prior to the workshop, I had set four Affirmative Topics (positively-framed topics to generate hope, curiosity and excitement) for participants to choose from, which they did by “voting with their feet” – getting up and moving to a part of the room designated for each topic.  These self-selected groups then began their pair- and groupwork as I guided them through the process with the support of the AI Interview Guide I had created.

Slide from PP Summit UK 2024 Appreciative Inquiry Taster Session. The slide has the title "Your Affirmative Topics" followed by the following four items: 1. Joyful Collaboration 2. Inclusive Wellbeing for All 3. Empowering Positive Change 4. Being Valued as Agents of Positive Change
© 2024 Frederika Roberts | Slide from Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024
Image represenging a mock-up of an A4 booklet that is the "AI Interview Guide". The booklet has a yellow border, the "Positive Psychology Summit: UK" logo, then in Purple the words "Appreciative Inquiry" followed by the sub-heading in yellow "Taster Mini-Summit". Below this is the logo for The Happiness Speaker and below again, a purple rectangle (white inside) with rounded corners, the title "Affirmative Topic" in purple, and a green line in the space for participants to write their chosen topic.
© 2024 Frederika Roberts | AI Interview Guide for AI mini-Summit at Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024

In the time we had together, we focused on the Discovery and Dream phases of the AI Summit, allowing participants to:

1.      Uncover the Positive Core of the community assembled in the room (the strengths, positive attributes, best practices etc they collectively identified through asking and answering powerful questions in their pairs and groups,

Slide from PP Summit UK 2024 showing a visual representation of the Appreciative Inquiry Positive Core, plus bullet points explaining what this is.
© 2024 Frederika Roberts | Slide from Positive Psychology Summit: UK 2024 CLICK IMAGE FOR VIDEO

2. And create powerful visions of possible positive futures to share with the rest of the room, with a view to connecting beyond the mini-AI Summit / taster workshop to turn some of those dreams into reality.

So, what happened?

By prompting participants to ask and answer carefully-crafted questions, the Appreciative Inquiry mini-Summit unleashed everyone’s creativity. Participants came up with amazing ideas and solutions. It was fantastic to see how focusing on what inspires and energises us can unlock new possibilities and let our creativity soar. The taster workshop was designed to create opportunities to share ideas and collaborate. AI encourages open dialogue and curious exploration around broad topics, so ideas flowed freely and everyone was able to contribute. We ended up with a beautiful mix of different perspectives and insights, creating a rich tapestry of ideas and innovative presentations.

Even with my experience as an AI Practitioner, I was blown away by the final presentations, after just 20 minutes to prepare:

We had a performance of a poem of many verses with matching beautiful slides, a mimed performance with hastily-created creative props demonstrating the “dropping of the mask” when everyone is included and accepted as themselves, and two brilliant and lively poster presentations.

Collection of 6 photos with, at the centre, the title PPSUMMIT:UK 2024 Appreciative Inquiry: Dreams
© Frederika Roberts and specific images, as marked above, Martina Gannon & Jane Jennison

Of course, Appreciative Inquiry is not just about organisational or community change and improvement, it’s also about building connections and relationships. Throughout the workshop, participants bonded with each other, forming connections based on shared aspirations and experiences. I am hopeful and quietly confident that these will lead to future collaborations and support. Last but not least, we had a blast during the workshop. Laughter filled the room as we engaged in fun activities and exercises!

But don’t take my word for it! See what participants and organisers said:

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