catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 3 :: 2006.02.10 — 2006.02.25


Problem? What problem?

Author Eric Jacobsen writes in Sidewalks in the Kingdom about his experience of shopping for a new bike, after moving to a more bike-friendly area. Suddenly, his awareness of bicycles was heightened and he found himself seeing bikes everywhere. There weren’t any more bikes than there had been before he started looking?he just began to see in a new way.

I’ve had a similar sensation with the concept of Appreciative Inquiry, which is something my husband learned about while taking classes at Goshen College. Since becoming acquainted, I’ve begun to see how the concept can be applied in a number of situations. Appreciative Inquiry?or AI, as its known to its friends and practitioners?began as a business tool that has since evolved into a new way of inspiring and coordinating change in many social institutions. Rather than focusing on “problem-solving”, AI emphasizes the importance of a positive communal vision that is achieved and maintained by being attentive to signs of what is desired. The basic theory is that if you focus on the problem, you get more of the problem; if you focus on what you desire, you’ll get more of your desire.

As an application of the concept, we can look at race relations in a community. While there must be space for articulating the feelings of hurt and anger caused by injustice, what good would come of an interracial group that gathered to address racism only to spend all of its time raising instances of prejudice in the surrounding community? A more productive approach would be to identify the vision the group has for racial harmony and then to begin affirming and creating the institutions and opportunities that will culminate in that vision. Mahatma Ghandi’s admonition comes to mind: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” AI is a process of helping people ask, “What do we desire?” rather than, “What are we condemning?” and focuses on what we can identify in organizations and individuals as the best and most life-giving qualities, rather than the worst and most life-taking. AI is being used throughout the world to inspire change in towns, schools, businesses, churches and other community settings.

Another practice that has come to my attention through Rob’s time at Goshen that operates out of some of the same principles as AI is World Caf?. Here is a basic description of this model:

The World Caf? is an intentional way to create a living network of conversation around questions that matter. It is a creative methodology for hosting authentic conversations in groups of all sizes. You join several other people at a caf?-style table or in a small conversation cluster exploring a question or issue that really matters to your life, work, or community. Others are sitting at nearby Caf? tables or in small conversation clusters exploring similar questions at the same time. You won’t be sitting for too long, however, because half the excitement of being part of a World Caf? conversation is the opportunity to move to another group or Caf? table, visit with new people, and cross-pollinate ideas and insights. As the conversations connect together, collective knowledge grows and evolves. A sense of the larger whole becomes real. The wisdom of the group becomes more visible.

?The World Caf? is based on the assumption that people already have within them the wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges. Given the appropriate context and focus, it is possible for these participants to access this deeper knowledge about what’s important.

World Caf? has six principles for conducting a successful conversation:

  1. Create hospitable space.

  2. Explore questions that matter.

  3. Encourage everyone’s contribution.

  4. Connect diverse people and ideas.

  5. Listen together for insights, patterns and deeper questions.

  6. Make collective knowledge visible.

Stories of World Caf?‘s accessibility and effectiveness abound, as the conversation model is being used in groups from a dozen to a couple thousand and settings from churches to government buildings. Those who are interested in learning more and potentially conducting a caf? can visit the web site where a Caf? Guide is available for download, as well as stories of its use and success.

I guess what appeals to me most about these relatively new methodologies is that I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the negative effects of what AI and World Caf? are trying to counteract?that is, a paralyzing focus on what’s wrong. And perhaps that reason is even contradictory to the principles of AI and World Caf?. Let me try again. I believe there’s a need among those who have a sense of the reality of God’s Kingdom for a new way of thinking and talking about how we can cultivate that Kingdom in our present place and time. We can complain all we want about the mega-church movement, the “civic” religion that is passing for Christianity among the mainstream, corporate degradation of environmental and community structures?and the negative effects of all of these things are apparent. But ultimately, what do we have to fear? Let’s instead work toward discovering our unique roles alongside Christ’s transformation of this world into the New Creation. Fortunately, such tools as Appreciative Inquiry and World Caf? exist to help us take on the process of this discovery in community with one another.

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