Here’s an easy way to help a team or small group identify the themes emerging from their appreciative interviews.
And actually, this format isn’t just applicable to Appreciative Inquiry – you could apply a variation of it with any facilitation method that you use if you want to help a team or small group reflect on what they’ve discovered and make the knowledge of individuals available to the whole group.
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When you’re working with a small team it’s easy to give them ways of identifying the significant themes coming out of the Discovery interviews.
How I typically do it, remembering that we’re using appreciative interview questions asking about best experiences in relation to the topic, for what the interviewee values about that experience, the conditions or enabling factors that made that good experience possible, and wishes for the future, is this: I ask interviewers to write headlines for the stories, values, enabling factors, and wishes for the future, on separate post-it notes. So you would end up with at least 4 Post-It notes from each interview.
Each table of six or eight people sticks up all their Post-Its on a wall or flipchart under the headings Stories, Values, Enabling Factors, and Wishes. That gives us a ‘cloud’ of Post-Its summarising what came out of the interviews, so that a table of six or eight people can all take a look at it, see what’s similar to what came out of their own interviews and what’s different, and as a group identify what the most important themes are.
If you have a larger group, so there are two or three tables in the room, they can also take a look at each other’s clouds and notice what’s similar and what’s additional to their own findings.
Where there’s more than one table, each table can briefly present their themes to the rest of the room.
The important thing about identifying the themes is that it’s done by the group – not by the facilitator or outside consultant.
The significance the group attaches to each theme that emerges will be the result of two things: how frequently the theme emerges from the interviews, and how strongly people in the group feel about it.
Make sure that all of the data from the interviews is captured – by collecting the interview sheets that people have made notes on, and by taking high resolution photos of the Post-It clouds.
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