In 2007 David Fitch offered an overview of the work that Mark Lau Branson is doing around appreciative enquiry. Alan Roxburgh likewise applauded the benefits of using”appreciative enquiry” in local congregations as part a transformation process. Alan suggested AI as a tool which enabled people to be “listened into speech.”

Mark’s book is Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. After an afternoon reflecting on the potential of narrative therapy as a healing process, and making the further connection to memory, and hope, and salutogenesis – I was ready for some further reflection on processes of communal healing and growth.

Here’s what David wrote:

“Mark Lau Branson presented a workshop where he talked about the work of leading transformation in congregations. It described the contrast between typical church “problem solving”, (i.e. go into a church, study the problems, talk solutions and then propose a plan to implement solutions) – and Appreciative Inquiry — asking questions about where God has been at work and then stoking the imagination as to how to further participate in these ways as a body. He called the latter interpretive leadership. He said the deadest churches he had been had still been places where God had been wonderfully at work, but there were no witnesses.

“He said every epistle of Paul (except Galations) begins with a thanksgiving prayer. Branson asked, “when you begin like that, how does that shape your imagination?” He said starting out with appreciative questions about where God is working shapes the imagination totally differently than starting out by asking what’s wrong with this church, where have we failed? What are the problems in this church?” He described powerfully a community getting engaged missionally in their neighborhood. I came away stoked! I recommend his Memories, Hopes and Conversations.

Appreciative Inquiry is a systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system (ie. in our case an organization) when it is most alive, effective and constructively capable. AI is the art and practice of asking questions, of asking the “unconditional positive question.”

The more positive the question, the longer lasting, more powerful and energized the change process.

The underlying principle of AI is that organizations grow in the direction in which they inquire. The is that “inquiry is intervention.” Enquire into the negative, into the gap .. and that is what you will achieve. In AI, the premise is that every living system has a positive change core, so that if we can find it, understand it and grow it, we will be supporting growth and change in a positive, humanistic way. We grow what we notice and attend to. (In biblical terms “we become what we worship”).

You can hear echoes of other streams of thought here, but it is true that healing is very difficult for people who are consistently negative, and it is equally striking that the focus of our medical system on disease rather than health has produced more therapies rather than more healing. We need alternative imaginations in order to make the shift to communal engagement, and these have to be both storied and hopeful.

A search for “appreciative” on GOOGLE brings up a lot of articles in the business and leadership sector and images like the one at left. More reflections to come; I see AI as a powerful framework and a hopeful too.