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Tool #1: Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (or AI) is a participatory strategy where large numbers of people – citizens, employees, stakeholders, or sometimes entire organizations – are asked very specific questions. People come together to answer these questions by sharing their personal stories and values about what they appreciate within their workplace or community. The resulting heartfelt conversations and sharing of stories are used to guide, inform, and create improvements and new directions for the group to pursue.

Some examples: showing gratitude or appreciation to a team of family caregivers, to members of a youth basketball team, to an organization excelling in community service, to neighbors who have beautified a public park, or to businesses that have sponsored community events. Wherever change or innovation is called for, an Appreciative Inquiry strategy can apply.

A fundamental principle of Appreciative Inquiry is that building upon what is already working, and asking direct questions about what people appreciate, fuels constructive change. The momentum for change comes about through affirmative communications that create positive emotion, social bonding, and program momentum.

By offering stakeholders a direct role and an influential voice to “dream and design,” Appreciative Inquiry builds upon the informed and sustained vision, experience, and commitment of its members. This support and engagement is particularly important during times of change, crisis, or vulnerability. Appreciative Inquiry, both because of its participatory nature and because of its consistent focus on what is beneficial and worthwhile, is particularly effective at guiding and creating positive, sustainable results.

This approach stands in contrast to “problem solving,” where groups are invited to explore the nature of problems, and to solve them. Appreciative Inquiry does not elaborate upon problems, or what is wrong – instead, it elaborates, appreciates, and invokes positive action, seeking to build forward, towards the good. (For an in-depth look, visit this Appreciative Inquiry link at AI Commons.)

Tool #2: Appreciative Assessment

Appreciative Assessment (or AA) is another capacity-building strategy built upon appreciation. In using it, appreciation is directed toward the skills one has, as well as the skills that one is developing. During the Appreciative Assessment process, learners are taught, guided, and challenged to appreciate the growth and application of their own skills. Using AA to bridge a personal strength into a new area of learning creates momentum and confidence. In this way, AA shines a light on the present abilities and emerging future capacities of its students.

As one case in point, Mary-Anne Neal,  an Associate Faculty member of Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, teaches school principals to use AA. She has created a table, below, which offers clear examples of the language of Appreciative Assessment.

Some Examples of Appreciative Assessment in Action

Table of examples

Can you see how the questions in the table can initiate discussion and validate a student’s learning experience? They open a discussion, rather than closing one down in the name of exclusive authority. Actually, Appreciative Assessment shares the authority of learning, allowing self-assessment and the self-awareness of the learners themselves, to guide and nourish their learning process.

Students, or any community learners, also benefit from ongoing feedback about their learning. Here are some examples of techniques through which students can start to recognize and build their own skills:

  • Projects
  • Self- and peer assessments
  • Portfolios
  • Holistic rating scales
  • Observations
  • Student-composed questions

By incorporating some of these examples, teachers may benefit from using Appreciative Assessment in training and capacity development. Learners can come to see themselves as strong, capable, and independent. This can be especially useful for people of any age, who may have experienced consistent barriers to education.

Ultimately, when learners and community members see themselves and their evolving skills with appreciation, then levels of confidence, engagement, motivation, and achievement are enhanced. This is essential for independent learning and thinking. In addition, with an appreciative assessment of their own skills, learners are able to enrich their productivity. In this way, AA enlivens participation, and enthusiasm within community, both of which are likely to lead to greater accomplishment.

Or as Mary-Ann Neal concludes: “Appreciative assessment reaffirms the power of relationships to motivate, inspire, and ignite passion for learning. It facilitates authentic dialogue between teacher and learner, thus engaging the student, strengthening the learning experience, and perhaps illuminating otherwise overlooked aptitudes.”

(Please see this Appreciative Assessment link for a longer article with more strategies and information.)

Tool #3: 90-Day Gratitude Journal

The 90-Day Gratitude Journal is a tool to help individuals build a gratitude habit in their daily lives. Gratitude habits have been shown to increase happiness, self-esteem, and help individuals conquer personal challenges. This document walks through a step-by-step approach to build a habit of gratitude journaling for at least 90 days.