There is an understandable bias to view development from a Problem Solving Perspective. This approach has in many ways been the bedrock of consultative relationships and whereas it is a genuine step towards identifying potential; areas for development, there is an appreciable risk that in so doing we set aside the invaluable recognition of what it is we are doing well.
There is an alternative approach that might make a more positive contribution to increasing understanding and capacity to develop a positive change agenda that meets some of the challenges and opportunities identified above.
There is a series of techniques and approaches within the framework of “Appreciative Inquiry”. The process sets out to enable participants to develop a clear focus on where they want to be, based on the successes and highpoints of the past. In short, “Find out what we do well and do more of it!”
It is posited that because the successes are grounded in actual experiences there is a greater pre-disposition to using them to add much valued territory to the development map. This helps participants to walk away with a sense of achievement and possibility.
The process is not immune from criticism: it might be suggested that we might engage in an impossibly optimistic “feel good exercise.” And there is a response:
“A customer satisfaction survey indicates that there is a 94% satisfaction rating. How many times do we dwell on what went wrong for the 6% instead of focussing our energies on what went right for the 94% and get on with doing more of that
However, in order to succeed, it is important that participants “suspend cynicism” as they enter the process: the benefit? That they begin to engage in and develop what is being done well, rather than attacking or defending those elements that are causes for concern.
We know that this process engages people and focusses on their capcity to excel. Appreciative Inquiry is inclusive and can be applied in Public, Private and Voluntary Sector Organisations.