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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

Apr 11, 2023

In today’s episode Nikki talks to Ann Nkune about her rediscovery of Appreciative Inquiry. 

Ann is a facilitator working with charities, social enterprises and the public sector helping people to increase their impact and be sustainable. Her work over the last 10 years has been parent friendly start up and career development programmes for women operate in the environmental and social impact sector. 

Ann describes a Linked In post that she recently wrote about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) where she was able to connect with other AI enthusiasts to talk to about it, help her work through the complexities and challenges and think about what more she could do when facilitating. And how she had fallen back in love with it having not used it for a while.  

Ann talks about the premise of AI and how most theories of change are about identifying a problem or risk. Whereas AI says that change is much more likely to happen when people understand where their strengths and the strengths of an organisation are, and can have a level of enthusiasm and optimism that change is possible. So AI increases the positive energy that comes from a group even when there are tricky things so they can see their way through the difficulties.  

She describes some examples of AI and the process which starts with a topic and going through 4 stages; DISCOVEREY (proud/pivotal moments and skills and qualities), DREAM (allows people to step back and see the big picture and how she encourages people to be creative) - Ann shares an example of creating playdough toilets! DESIGN (what is the reality and what are the options) and DELIVERY (commitment to action and major projects that are required to get to the dream stage).  

Ann tells Nikki how she had rediscovered AI in lockdown when doing goal setting online. She remembered how she first started to use it several decades ago and how she was initially quite cynical about it, but that AI gave the people she was working with a new perspective.  

She shares her observations and different uses; for individual discussion e.g. mums of young children as a way of capturing their strengths, bringing together people in teams to build relationships in new ways. She describes how energising it is in a group and to be visionary even if they don’t think they are.  

Nikki asks how her thinking about it has evolved....Ann says she has a recognition that where situations are complex and there is anxiety or conflict that there needs to be a pre-briefing, something that happens pre-process so that people have an opportunity to vent and get things off their chest, and process so they can decide what is crucial to bring in and what can be left out, and to understand what is going to happen in the process.  

She also describes how she discovered Time to Think by Nancy Klein and the thinking environment and how this requires a particular type of listening and questioning. Operating the AI process using thinking environment principles really improves it. She also considers conflict and Non Violent Communication as a potentially something to use before AI. She is also a fan of mindfulness as a way of preparing for these conversations.  

Nikki asks about the preparation and getting to know the context when using AI . Ann says she doesn’t do this as much as she used to when she felt she needed lots of facts. But now she needs to know that people are in the right frame of mind to do the process. She prepares well but doesn’t get too bogged down in the details.  

Ann shares some examples of using AI – individual work with women who have taken the leap from prevaricating to putting something in place and taking practical steps (using AI and the Lean Canvas). In terms of organisations she has done quite a few team building sessions, building relationships between board members and staff, allowing them to work more effectively.  

You can connect with Nikki Wilson on Twitter @NiksClicks 

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