The first meeting of the coalition on the east side was kind of a meet and greet. They didn’t want to start with a formal meeting following a strict agenda. Too many had been burned by past collaborative experiences for that. Instead, they met for lunch, talked about the increasing demand for services at their organizations and how none of them were fully able to meet this demand. They decided to work together and chose an appropriate name for their coalition, Taking Action Together. As they considered their next steps, a couple of the members suggested the first order of business be the conducting of a needs assessment for their community to determine just how bad the conditions were in their community and how many other organizations were experiencing greater demands for services than their resources allowed them to meet.
Unbeknownst to each of these coalitions, their destinies were already being decided as well as how they would approach their work.
And all of this by one single decision.
Consider these famous words penned by Robert Frost,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both...”
Indeed, there are two divergent paths we can travel as we consider community change and how to proceed as we address our problems and issues. But as Frost aptly observed, we can’t travel both, we must choose one.
The path most commonly traveled focuses on what’s wrong with a community, what’s lacking there, and what it needs. It’s a deficit-based approach and views communities (or organizations) as collections of problems to be solved.
The alternate path, the road less traveled, begins by discovering the good in a community. What are its strengths and assets? What’s right here and what’s currently working? With this as a starting point we make greater progress towards our desired future. This is an asset-based, or strengths-based, approach.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). It’s research based and has been used in a variety of settings. AI builds on the assumption that has proven true throughout history, human systems move in the direction of what they most frequently and persistently ask questions about.
If we ask, what’s wrong here? the wrongs are magnified and seem to grow and often, people quickly lose hope and feel overwhelmed by the adverse conditions they see. You see, as AI practitioners contend, the questions we ask determine both the direction in which we will proceed as well as determining what we will find on that journey. I’ve traveled the what’s wrong here road many times and the scenery and outcomes are predictably familiar.
However, on the contrary, if we ask, what’s right here? we find assets, strength, and hope for making progress. We can proceed further faster by focusing on the positive core.
Back to Frost,
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
As you consider how to approach the work you do, either in your organization or in collaboration with others, why not take the road less traveled and pursue the positive path of Appreciative Inquiry? It will make a world of difference and you’ll find the journey more enjoyable as well.
Want to learn more about the power of Appreciative Inquiry? Please let me know or visit the AI Commons website.