Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Appreciative Future Search: Involving the Whole System in Positive Organization Change

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Appreciative Future Search: Involving the Whole System in Positive Organization Change

Article excerpt

Introduction

Large group interventions have become an essential component in organization change efforts in many organizations today. They are favored because they include and give voice to greater numbers of stakeholders, promote whole system organizational learning, produce faster and more sustainable change, generate higher levels of commitment from organization members, and achieve business results. All indications are that this trend will continue at an ever-increasing rate as new hybrid forms of large group interventions are developed and tested. The external environment continues to put enormous pressure on organizations to change almost instantaneously, and many of the traditional methods of change implementation (top-down, bottom-up, representative groups, pilot tests, survey feedback) are simply too slow and unable to generate the creativity, innovation, and commitment needed of organizational members.

In the last 20 years or so, a variety of high-involvement, high-velocity large group intervention approaches have been developed, tested, and proven effective. Bunker and Alban (1997) identify twelve methods for whole systems change: Search Conference, Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change, ICA Strategic Planning Process, The Conference Model, Fast Cycle Full Participation, Real Time Work Design, Participative Design, Simu-Real, Work-Out, Open Space Technology, and Large Scale Interactive Events. Add to this list, the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit Meeting (Whitney & Cooperrider, 1998).

Drawing their theoretical inspiration from the areas of systems theory (Bertalanffy, 1952), socio-technical systems theory (Emery & Trist, 1960), values theory (Maslow, 1943; McGregor, 1960), social psychology (Lewin, 1951; Katz & Kahn 1978), group dynamics (Bion, 1961), and, more recently, social constructionism (Berger & Luckman, 1967; Gergen, 1994), large group interventions are designed to involve the whole system, internal and external, in the change process (Bunker & Alban,1997). They are collaborative inquiries into organizational history, systems, practices, and processes that create alignment around strategic direction and action. They are well planned, highly organized, and usually facilitated by outside experts. They have been used effectively to promote innovation and foster change in record breaking time with hundreds of organizations corporations, non-profits, governments, communities - in a variety of applications, such as organization development, organization redesign, restructuring, strategic planning, visioning, values clarification, process improvement, customer service, global learning, formation of collaborative alliances, and others. Some organizations have even begun to use these large group interventions as a way of managing on an on-going basis.

This article provides a graphic illustration of how two whole system change methodologies Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search - were combined to shape the strategic direction and organization design for a large, global non-profit organization (American Baptist International Ministries). It begins by providing a brief introduction to Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search and illustrating their points of intersection. It then moves on to demonstrate how the two methodologies were used to involve over 1200 stakeholders worldwide in helping to shape the strategic future and design of International Ministries. At the heart of this initiative was a three-day "Appreciative Future Search Conference" that brought together from around the world and across cultures and languages over two hundred International Ministries staff, missionaries, and youth to set priorities for the organization's future. As a result of the event, International Ministries radically altered many of its primary institutional objectives and strategies and dramatically redesigned its organization to advance the new priorities. The article concludes with an examination of the underlying O. …

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