Appreciative Inquiry is unrivalled in my experience as a way of engaging people in change. You can feel the atmosphere in a group change within moments of starting a round of appreciative interviews, as if people were waking up from their normal ‘working trance’ and suddenly giving the whole of their attention to the person they are working with and the task in hand.

An engaging, exciting topic for the Appreciative Inquiry process certainly helps. If people are inquiring into something that catches their imagination and that matters to them, it’s going to be easy for them to engage with the process.

But not all needed changes are inherently exciting. Many business processes, necessary as they are, do not in themselves make the heart beat faster. How can we use AI to stimulate generative thinking about topics that are hard to engage with emotionally?

Recently I was facilitating an AI session at a women’s prison, around the topic of improving the prison’s drug dispensing regime. The benefits of improvement would be substantial, as the dispensing process took several hours every day – time which the security staff and healthcare workers could certainly use better elsewhere. But the process itself – routine, repetitive, and mostly maintaining the prisoners’ medication at current levels rather than leading to any improvements in their health – was not an inspiring topic to contemplate.

So, what to use as a topic for the initial appreciative interviews? As any AI facilitator knows, the appreciative interview is the heart of Appreciative Inquiry, building understanding between people with different roles (in this case, healthcare and security officers interviewing each other) and generating a positive, creative mindset from which to come up with improvements – so it’s important to get it right.

Very briefly, I thought of asking people to find out their interview partner’s best experience of the current dispensing regime. Dismissing that idea as uninspiring, perhaps we could do something with their best experience of being involved in a change of procedures? No – still too dull.

What I asked them to start with was their best experiences of working at the prison. Some amazing and inspiring stories emerged, and twenty minutes later the room was buzzing and people had opened up to their interview partners. 

From this opening conversation about a quite general topic, the group was now in the right emotional state, and enough bridges had been built between the normally somewhat separate perspectives of healthcare and security staff, that they could give their full attention to the specifics of what was working in the current regime and come up with creative ideas about how it could be changed.

So – if you want to use AI to change some quite detailed and on the surface unengaging procedure, it’s a good idea to start with something more general, that everyone has had some significant experiences of, and that everyone can tell some emotionally resonant stories about.

How To Use Appreciative Inquiry To Engage People With ‘Dry’ Or Technical Topics

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