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Appreciative Enquiry – A Positive Approach to Quality
There are two contrasting approaches to developing quality in services and personal relations. There is a problem solving approach which looks at negative outcomes and attempts to fix them to maintain the systems operation. Second is a positive strengths based approach. This approach seeks to out the best in situations and attempts to promote these positive outcomes across the board. The second approach is called Appreciative Enquiry.
We can probably all think of examples of each kind. Management can issue edicts from high up about changes of procedures in response to a problem situation which has arisen. Alternatively, a group of people (including the manager) consult with each other seeking out which processes have been successful. These successes can then be disseminated this throughout the organisation and their work. This approach requires a listening, empowering manager who gives ownership to people for their own positive ideas, while being minimally directive of the meeting.
The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services has released a paper covering this modern development. The paper incluces a fair amount of detail with examples of successful applications.
Practitioners of Appreciative Enquiry encourage people to take a non-judgemental approach in discussing their work. This aids in discovering strengths, what works well, and how to use this to improve overall quality.
The aim, of course, is to avoid getting bogged down in negative discussions, and ultimately to reach an action plan for implementation. The authors of the report point out that it is not simply encouraging positivity, but developing positive actions to implement the positive ideas. They see it as a possible antidote to the current crisis situation in social care, where there is an appetite for improving services in the context of low funding and increasing demand.
Applying Appreciative Enquiry Methodology
I can see a wide range of opportunities to apply Appreciative Enquiry. For example to improve personal relations, the quality of social care and self-development.
One example is in the regulation of services. Some inspectors sadly adopt a checklist, negative and problem focused approach. They see their role as uncovering problems and making recommendations to sort these out.
The opposite approach is to highlight and discover strengths which can then be fed back to the service in a positive empowering way. This will encourage and promote the further development of quality. This approach involves more emphasis on talking with people and following where the talks lead. It's not just a pre-planned program of interviews and checking records.
Another example is in self-development which could be in the professional context or in our personal lives and relationships. This could involve speaking with a trusted other person to identify which activities skills and resources have worked well in the past and how these can be built into our future lives and relationships.
I agree with the authors in this report. Appreciative Enquiry does show promise at this time when services have a hunger to improve their quality, and when there are many developing pressures for change.
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