Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

From Local Conversations to Global Change: Experiencing the Worldwide Web Effect of Appreciative Inquiry

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

From Local Conversations to Global Change: Experiencing the Worldwide Web Effect of Appreciative Inquiry

Article excerpt

Introduction

Most conversations - much like politics and news - are local. Yet in today's global society linked by technological and relational networks, local conversations are rapidly transmitted to new ears and distant lands. As organizational executives and scholars become more aware of the power of language to shape organizational realities (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Astley, 1985; Gergen, 1994), the importance of how conversations get started, spread, and influence organizational action is increasingly being recognized as crucially important (Hatch, forthcoming). Furthermore, the task of discovering and developing methods of organizational inquiry and change that unleash the power of positive conversation throughout the system is rapidly becoming a core competency fox executives and O.D, professionals. This paper illustrates how appreciative inquiry (AI) has sparked a grass roots revolution of positive conversation and change in global organizations.

The illustration begins with World Vision, a large private volunteer organization (PVO) operating relief and development efforts in over 100 countries. Like many PVOs, World Vision's mission is to bring relief to areas with the intense suffering of war, famine, genocide and natural disasters and to develop the capacity of communities interested in extending their reach to sustainable agriculture, health, and education. Success in these environments requires collaboration across dividing lines of culture, geography, religion, sector, and economic status. Consequently, PVOs like World Vision are ideal organizations in which to study innovative approaches to systemwide change in diverse, complex environments. For the practitioner, new modes of organizational change are needed in order to address the growing number of global problems and to race ahead of them to grasp the greater number of positive opportunities. For the scholar, PVOs provide a dynamic laboratory for understanding how positive conversations generate solutions within an environment and spread across diverse environments globally to enact change.

For World Vision, the conversation begun in Romania was heard in Chicago where the discourse was picked up and extended to major cities across the US. Simultaneously it expanded from East Africa to Australia, Canada, West Africa, and other locations around the world. Key staff brought the conversation to their new organizations. Representatives gathered for training. Successes were celebrated and documented, enlarging the webs of dialogue. Each conversation intersected with other conversations, begun at various times, with diverse people both near and far. As each web intersects with the next, the conversation continues to develop. Appreciative inquiry, by creating a worldwide web of positive conversation, is facilitating the spread of a generative organizational change process that is extending across the globe.

Appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987) is a form of organizational change that is distinguished by its positive assumptions about people, organizations and social relationships. It begins by asking unconditional positive questions that spark positive conversations and action in organizational systems and networks. Elsewhere, we have suggested that it does this in five ways (Ludema, Cooperrider, & Barrett, 2000). First, it breaks the hammerlock of industrial-era hierarchies and bureaucracies by releasing positive conversation within the organization. Second, by inviting participants to inquire deeply into the best and most valued aspects of one another's life and work, AI builds an everexpanding web of inclusion and positive relationships. Third, as positive vocabularies multiply and people strengthen their ability to put them into practice, AI creates a self-reinforcing learning capacity within an organization. Fourth, by expanding dialogue about positive, innovative possibilities, equalizing relationships, promoting generative learning, and providing broad access to decision-making and organization design, AI creates the conditions necessary for democracy and self-organizing to flourish. …

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