An interview with Hannah Pia Baral about her experience with Appreciative Inquiry as a professional development approach to developing leadership:
Hannah, how have you used Appreciative Inquiry?
I did a masters paper at AUT that used Appreciative Inquiry as an approach to examine our professional practice. At that time I was working as a manager for a private training provider. It took a while to convince me that this is a valid method as I was used to a problem-solving approach to identifying gaps and fixing problems. In the end, I realised that this was an effective approach to evaluate one’s own practice from a positive angle by starting off with asking questions based on my own strengths, successes, values, hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is typically presented as a cycle of four phases known as a 4-D Cycle:
- Phase 1: Discovery of people’s experiences of their group, organization, or community at its most vital and alive and what made those experiences possible
- Phase 2: Dreaming together to envision a future in which those exceptional experiences form the bases for organizing
- Phase 3: Designing appreciative systems and structures to support the manifestation of the co-created dreams
- Phase 4: Destiny or delivery, which involves in implementation of those systems and structures in an ever-expanding positive-feedback loop of appreciative learning
But why did you choose Appreciative Inquiry for this process?
Although I did not personally choose AI as an approach, I was pleased that I had the opportunity to discover it through my postgraduate studies. Initially it felt like a ‘wishy-washy, feel-good’ exercise but I soon discovered that this approach has a lot of grunt and depth. I have since seen Appreciative Inquiry used by political and educational organisations to evaluate projects and activities. I think people who are new to AI should give it a chance before making judgement on it.
How did you go about it?
As part of my assignment I interviewed colleagues I worked closely with. I asked them specific questions like: When am I at my best? My most valued qualities? And on a perfect day, what would my professional practice be like? I also kept a reflective journal for the duration of the academic semester.
What did you find out using the AI approach?
I realised that my professional life is an extension of who I am as person. My professional life does not define my identity and it should not dictate my life. I was able to explore some of my strengths as a leader and what I was good at. This allowed me to more closely focus on the areas I should further develop in my professional practice. Interestingly, the feedback from my colleagues matched the areas that I thoroughly enjoyed in my job. I also found myself asking big questions like ‘what is my life purpose?’, ‘does my professional life define my identity?’, ‘why am I struggling with work/life balance?’, ‘am I still aligned with the organizational values?’, ‘what type of work environment am I best suited to?’. The process became a personal journey of discovery and reflection not confined to my professional practice.
How would you describe the benefits of AI for you?
Human beings generally draw their strength from affirmations, positive feedback and knowing their purpose in life. For me, I found the process really valuable in exploring my own personal and professional identity, and in developing a longer-term view of my own professional and leadership development. The outcome is a major paradigm shift in my own thinking which has had a significant impact on others around me and on my own professional practice.
As a professional developer, I make extensive use of collaborative groups to generate and share knowledge. Stephen Downes says some pejorative things about groups, but I’ve recently seen some positive spin-offs from collaboration involving groups of educators from different institutions.
As part of the DFE project, I’ve seen how a small group of educators from a cluster of institutions can share and compare good practice from within their respective institutions and work together on a synthesis. For example, drawing together systems and tools for managing flexible learning development – individually these have some big gaps, but they can be synthesised to create something much more comprehensive and useful.
Rather than groups being a force which automatically homogenises everything into a bland conformity (Stephen’s ‘metal ingot’), they can build on the diversity of members and their shared goals to produce work of value which respects diversity. The results can be far more effective than the individuals could develop on their own.
I suspect one key factor is the effectiveness with which the group self-manages the tension between the diversity of its members and the shared goals to which they are working. In other words, the institutional capability is partly reliant on the personal capabilities of the individuals within the collaborative group. This illustrates an issue I raised in an earlier post: what is the relationship between individual and institutional capability? Systems and resources alone are not enough, and developing institutional capability must incorporate professional development which helps develop individuals’ capability as well as their skills and knowledge.
Wikis are great for presenting factual information, and Mediawiki is widely used for this. The only problem I’ve found with managing my own wiki is having to deal with all the spam that an open wiki site attracts.
My current Mediawiki site is my second attempt: this time around, it’s not a collaborative wiki, since it’s really there for my own personal publishing needs. And there are plenty of other collaborative wikis around.
Recently I’ve been playing with ideas around how Mediawiki could be used to implement a simple adventure game. Partly because I enjoy playing with the software, but also because I’m always keen to find ways to include problem-based learning into my professional development activities. So I spent a few hours developing the Learning Design Challenge.
It’s primitive – my first thought was to include a graphical component but I’ve decided I rather like the text-only format. Something to do with the relative ‘imaginative openness’ of text for the reader: maybe that’s why graphical novels are only a small part of the fiction market.
I’ve abandoned the idea of including objects that individual users can pick up etc – this would require a major coding effort. And the whole point of this is it’s very low-tech and very easy to implement!
In an earlier post, I described the concept of read-write learning in which learners generate knowledge in their own words. Web 2.0 software such as blogs and wikis are ideal for such activities. Engaging learners in collaboratively developing resources provides an opportunity to make prior experience and knowledge explicit, and develop a shared understanding of key concepts. It also helps establish a relationship based on equality and learning from each other. Working in a professional development context often entails a more applied focus than a purely academic programme. The emphasis is on ‘changing practice’ rather than ‘imparting a body of knowledge’. So the potential for deeper and more contextualised learning enabled by read-write learning processes is highly appropriate.
In my experience in professional development in education, read-write learning processes using blogs and wikis can help lead to a shared body of knowledge which is broader, deeper and better contextualised to participants’ needs and interests than any individual ‘expert’ is able to provide.
Possible drawbacks include:
- participants may contribute ‘faulty knowledge’
- participants may be reluctant to contribute – ‘give me the answers’
- the problematic role of the ‘expert’ – how and when does the facilitator intervene?
But I believe these should be seen as opportunities for further development rather than reasons to avoid collaborative authoring. Simple web-based tools such as wikis and glossaries can provide useful environments for building resources collaboratively.