An inspiring conversation, opened by Chris Corrigan:
A question for those of you who hold the deep design pattern of Pro Action Cafe...
For the second question - what is missing? - participants in several recent Art of Hostings have expressed the desire to word it more appreciatively, with more what Paul Z Jackson called "a solutions focus". The wording that seems to emerge over and over is "what would make this project more complete?" and variations on that theme. I have found that question to work very well and was wondering if there was something in the original wording that seems essential to the form? What is the thinking here?
Immediate response Chris -- I like it! "what would make this project more complete?"
I should add that I'm one who sometimes gets annoyed with what I experience as the orthodox tyranny of the appreciative frame and and have joined with others in talking about authentic inquiry rather than appreciative inquiry.
Some things do suck, to use technical language. They do need to be named as problems. And there's what I experience as a well-intended but nevertheless disingenuousness in trying to make everything appreciative.
That little rant aside, thanks for this framing. I like it!
I really like the idea of Authentic Inquiry. Can I use that?
I do however wonder about the "orthodox tyranny" of the appreciative frame. My experience has been that there can be some confusion about the strengths paradigm, that can lead to a frustrating Pollyanna perspective. An appreciative frame does not mean disregarding the negative, indeed my understanding is that David Cooperrider added the "Define" part of the AI process to reflect the importance of defining the problem. This part of the process can take up the majority of the time. As you say, naming the problem, is really important, and, for me at least, part of the AI process. Having defined the problem it seems to make sense to look for strengths that are in the system that will enable the problem to be dealt with. So yes, some things just suck, and a really good way of dealing with those things is to use the strengths of the system.
I also completely agree that the strengths paradigm has its limitations. Any strength taken to the extreme can become a weakness. (Indeed any virtue taken to the extreme can become a vice, e.g. responsibility to control, justice to vigilantism, courage to foolhardiness, but that's a slight distraction about Virtues Ethics.) It is also crucial to consider context. What is a strength in one context can be a disaster in another - the Cane Toads in Australia are a tragic example of that.
Anyway, yet another rant. In terms of the proaction cafe, I don't mind the sharp edge of "What is missing?", as a bit of a sword cut through the temptation to believe our own bullshit. Having said that I also like Chris' suggestion.
Manish Jain from India and I came up with Authentic Inquiry at a Berkana Exchange gathering some years ago and it is one of the many things I would like to do some more work and writing on. I think it is the core of appreciative inquiry. In the US, where our greatest cultural competence is as problem solvers, there's something important about the discipline of looking for strengths and possibilities as a way of steering away from the problem orientation.
AND, as you say Stephen, just naming the problem -- putting it out in full view -- and then not getting distracted by it as something to directly fix or solve is important!
A dear colleague of mine also suggested "What else?" as a substitute for "What is missing?"
I love its simplicity.
‘What else?’ is a question much used in Solutions Focus, especially when discussing what’s worked well when dealing with similar issues in the past. It’s worth reminding people of previous successes, their relevant resources and so forth.
The more attention we give to something, the more prominent and significant it becomes. Talking about problems, barriers, gaps and items that are missing tends to enlarge these. To the extent that these things are constructs (not physical parts of the tangible world), this is time wasted if our aim is to make progress towards other (more desirable) constructs, such as desired outcomes, use of resources, what we’d like to see happen next.
The questions we ask can have a big impact on what people talk about. What they talk about goes a long way towards co-constructing the future.
What a beautiful explanation. So clear and clever.
Thank you so much.
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