Connecting Appreciative Inquiry and Transformational Learning A

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Connecting Appreciative Inquiry and Transformational Learning A Powered By Docstoc
					Sara L. Orem
Student, The Fielding Graduate Institute
For OD Network Student Competition

    Sleeping with the Enemy: Using Rational/Objective Methods to Enhance
                       Appreciative/Constructivist Process

Making the world a better place:

All humans want a better world. Our brains and hearts allow us to envision and

act for the good of that world. As our global population reaches beyond 6 billion,

perhaps there are as many versions of “better world” as there are people. All

would likely include as criteria adequate food and shelter, safety from harm,

access to the tools for personal betterment, and a community in which to grow,

share and communicate. In the more developed countries such as our own,

some have these ingredients but not all. As a world citizen who works in and

studies organization development, my contribution to a better world includes

developing and using more universally available tools for fulfilling basic and more

advanced individual and community needs.

Two such tools have been refined over the last fifty years. David Cooperrider

and others within Case Western Reserve‟s Department of Organizational

Behavior defined the newer perspective, Appreciative Inquiry, as a response to

the pervasive rational problem-solving orientation of organization development.
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Cooperrider and Srivastva first published their theory and application of this

perspective in Research in Organizational Change and Development in 1987.

Obviously, solving problems is useful and necessary, yet, overused, it limits

perspective and initiative. Appreciative Inquiry‟s way is expansive, exploratory,

and unconditionally positive. It has been used to explore and design

participatory change in communities, government and non-government

organizations, and corporations the world over.

The other methodology, Transformational Learning, was popularized by Peter

Senge in The Fifth Discipline (1990). It was theorized and practiced by Mezirow,

Argyris, Schein, Schon, and others since the early 50‟s. Chris Argyris defines

learning as effective action, when we detect and correct error. We know what we

know, he says, when we can produce what we claim we know (1994, p. 3). He

characterizes incremental learning as single-loop where the learner corrects

mismatches between intentions and outcomes within an existing framework

(worldview) by changing an action. Transformational learning, on the other hand,

is double-loop.   In double-loop learning the learner reflects on her actions,

seeks feedback, causing a change in her worldview and actions.

Some adherents to transformational theory would characterize it as rational and

objective, where the learner is an objective observer of her own actions.

Adherents to Appreciative Inquiry describe it as a social constructionist

perspective, one where relationship and exploration play a primary role over
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objectivity and problem solving. Yet, I will make the case that used together,

they can provide more powerful learning and change opportunities than either

perspective by itself.

Transformational learning is a cluster of methodologies meant to lead not just to

adaptive (Senge, 1990) or “informational” learning (Kegan, 2000) where the

learner adds to his knowledge about something (what we know), but to a kind of

learning where the learner‟s knowledge of self changes and his new

understanding changes the way in which the learner learns (how we know).

Four Lenses of Transformational Learning:

Dirkx (1998) defined four lenses through which we might view Transformational

Learning. Transformational theorists and practitioners trace the creation of

transformational learning to Paulo Freire. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th

Anniversary Edition, 2002), he describes emancipatory education as involving

the learner as active participant in designing learning. The learner asks, “What

do I want to learn? Why am I learning this? How can my learning liberate and

empower me?”

       My dream is of a society in which saying the “word” is to become involved

       in the decision to transform the world. Today the majority of the people

       are silent. Why should they have to muffle their discussion, their dissent?

       When they are called upon to read, why do they read only the dominant

       discourse? (1990, p. 94)
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Freire‟s work and words always balance the need for action and critical reflection.

He said in an interview about his admiration for the works of Marx, “The words of

those you admire and love cannot be eaten, taken unquestionably.” (p. 78)

Jack Mezirow is the best known of the representatives of the second lens. He

has written and taught the concepts of cognitive critical reflection, and critical

self-reflection. He shares theoretical underpinnings with Freire; both believe that

adult education should lead to empowerment. Both take a constructionist

approach: knowledge is not “out there” but created from interpretation of

experience. Revised meaning results in what Mezirow calls “perspective

transformation;” a more inclusive, discriminating, permeable perspective

(Baumgartner, 2001, p. 16).

Mezirow states that transformational learning develops autonomous thinking.

The process of effective change takes place in our frame of reference (structures

of assumptions through which we understand our experience) (1997, p. 5).

Frames of reference are composed of two components: Habits of mind and

points of view. Habits of mind are broad, abstract, orienting, habitual ways of

thinking, feeling and acting influenced by assumptions that constitute a set of

codes articulated in a point of view. A point of view is usually more changeable

and accessible to awareness and feedback (p. 5).
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A third lens emphasizes human development, mentoring and experiential

learning, Laurent Daloz, an adult educator, stressed the importance of a guide,

supporter, and questioner. He wrote that transformation means the yielding of

old structures of meaning making to new (1986, p. 140). Others with a

developmental perspective include William Torbert (1972) and Robert Kegan

(1982). Argyris and Schon also derive their theories from human development

and social psychology. Gregory Bateson might be the father of this perspective.

He wrote that self corrective systems always conserve the status quo and that

we humans self-correct against disturbance. If we can‟t assimilate something

without internal disturbance, our self-corrective mechanisms work to sidetrack,

hide, or shut off parts of the process of perception (1972, p. 435). Argyris

describes this as by-passing threat or embarrassment (1994). All of the above

write eloquently of the difficulty of learning and especially of transformational


Finally John Dirkx represents the fourth lens. He emphasizes the importance of

spiritual/integrative experience to transformational learning and cautions against

the exclusive rationalist perspective in developing the ability to transform and to

experience transformation. “Transformative learning […] involves very personal

and imaginative ways of knowing, grounded in a more intuitive and emotional

sense of our experiences” (1997, p. 80). He also speaks of this intuitive way in

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       The move to a learning organization perspective involves a paradigmatic

       shift in how we think about work, learning at work, and the role of the

       organization in this learning. It requires us to let go of the technical-

       rational views of learning and work that have dominated workplace

       learning for so long and embrace a contextual and constructivist

       understanding of work and organizational learning (1999, p. 133).

Using One Strategy

While Transformational Learning is older as a pervasive organizational practice

than Appreciative Inquiry (during the “90‟s the word “transformational” was

applied to leadership, learning, change, development, growth; in short, most

things organization development practitioners created and applied), both seek to

change the learner and her environment in fundamental ways. By themselves,

however, they both fall short.

The promises of the learning organization in which Transformational Learning

was to occur and where not just the learner, but the organization in which the

learner works, transforms, haven‟t fully materialized. Argyris, for instance, has

long written about the gap between espoused theory of action, what we think we

do, and theory in use, what we actually do. Few people, he says, are aware of

their own inconsistencies between the two (1994, 1997). Mezirow wrote (1998)

that critical self-reflection is required to measure the gap between our intentions

and actions and evaluate next actions, to self-correct. The kind of fundamental
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change necessary for individuals to see differently is either slow and painful, or

traumatic and ephemeral. And, as Argyris (1994) and Schein (Coutu, 2002) have

recently written about the disappointments of transformational and organizational

learning, individuals have to want to learn enough to survive the likely

embarrassment and threat attached to adult learning.

Transformational learning does, of course, happen. People make meaning of

their experiences in ways that change not only their views, but how they live their

lives. Organizationally, or in communities, however, that kind of learning is less


Appreciative Inquiry, as a newer methodology, may still be in the “flavor of the

month”/ darling of the OD community stage of its evolution, not yet subject to

critical scrutiny. Transformation theorists and educators acknowledge, however,

that in order to change individual and group dynamics inhibiting change, to

bypass embarrassment and threat or to deal openly with it, facilitators of change

must first change the values and generic action strategies of those entering

change (Argyris, 1994). I believe that Appreciative Inquiry initially bypasses the

threat or embarrassment attached to adult learning and is therefore a more

inviting prospect as change strategy. However, I also believe that the fears

attached to transformative learning are only hidden not absent and that to

integrate learning strategies into an appreciative process increases its potential

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I believe and can demonstrate that using a combination of the entirely positive

approach to change engendered by Appreciative Inquiry with methods designed

to encourage transformational learning, small worlds of organizations and

communities, as well as the worlds in which I have directly experimented with

these methods, will result in enhanced tools for the larger world that make it

better, at least for its human inhabitants.

Review of Appreciative Inquiry

Let me briefly review the perspective of Appreciative Inquiry. It is not new to The

Organization Development Network, or to its publications. There are currently

(June, 2002) more than a half dozen workshop or seminar offerings on the

website ( with Appreciative Inquiry in the title. A search of

the OD Practioner yields another dozen articles over the last three years.

However, for purposes of this article, it is relevant to review the steps and core

questions contained within it.

Frank Barrett, a graduate student with Cooperrider and co-developer of much

Appreciative Inquiry material, describes five steps (in a workshop at The Fielding

Graduate Institute, January 2001) in an Appreciative Inquiry process: Define,

Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny. Cooperrider uses four steps including

defining a topic in the Discovery phase.
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   Define: In this phase the organization seeks to choose a topic that is

    expansive, positive, and has the potential to engage and energize the

    organization, something it really cares about. Sometimes a small

    subgroup of the organization or community works to define the topic.

    Sometimes the methods of large scale intervention or future search are

    used to engage the entire organization or community in topic definition.

    Careful attention to topic perspective affects the energy to pursue the


   Discovery: Uses the core questions to engage the entire organization in

    realizing the best of what is and the best possibilities for the future.

    Training enables representatives in the organization to facilitate the core


                  What gives life now?

                  What do you most value about self and work?

                  What do you value most about the topic/organization that

                   you want to protect in the future?

                  What 2-3 things would you change to make the organization

                   even better?

    These generic questions are customized to reflect the topic.

   Dream: Focuses on the possibilities uncovered in Discovery. Data from

    the interviews provides the basis for understanding those characteristics

    of and activities in the organization that “give life” and are the foundation
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       for the expansion of existing life-giving practices and the improvements

       people most want to see.

      Design: Enables the strategy for change by choosing the most effective

       existing practices to expand and the improvements with the greatest

       potential impact with an implementation strategy.

      Destiny: Implements the strategy and may lead to another definition and

       discovery cycle.

Organizations use Appreciative Inquiry as a change perspective. Communities

and non-governmental organizations use it to envision and build a future.

Watkins and Cooperrider are careful to differentiate Appreciative Inquiry from

other comprehensive change strategies. They write that Appreciative Inquiry is

not a method but a way of thinking about such organization development

concerns as strategic planning, Total Quality Management, diversity, and

community development (2000).

Why include Transformational Learning ideas in an Appreciative Inquiry

In order to be effective, Appreciative Inquiry “requires an organization to make a

commitment to continuous learning, growth and generative change” (p. 4).

Herein lies the rub. While Appreciative Inquiry initially generates a whoosh of

positive energy, and that energy is renewed each time participants engage in the

core questions, it ignores the tendency in organizations toward returning to

steady state, or business as usual. It ignores the threat and embarrassment of
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learning. Most of us do not make transformative changes as long as what we

learn fits neatly into our already constructed worldview. And most of us, when

confronted with something new like Appreciative Inquiry, will ultimately ignore it if

it is too dissimilar to our already constructed worldview. Cahill-Weber‟s

Executive Leadership program created for Darden Business School (1997)

quotes John Kenneth Galbraith, “faced with the choice between changing one‟s

mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the


Personal experience indicates that at least some of any group of participants in

an organizational change initiative will resist or at best comply with the

requirements of the initiative. Some will come along for the ride and get

enthusiastic and active along the way, and some will champion the process.

While it is easier to engage in Appreciative Inquiry than any other initiative I have

tried because participants tap their own passion about work and change, talking

about and acting on change are two very different things. Somewhere in the

engagement, real work intrudes and it is relatively easy to justify giving up on the

“extra work,” even when it is as engaging as Appreciative Inquiry.

If, as Argyris writes, all learned human action is designed (1997), then an explicit

design acknowledging the challenges of transformational learning in Appreciative

Inquiry will at least put the assumptions on the table. Appreciative Inquiry short-

circuits recreational complaining (by circumventing discussion of the problems in
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an organization) and may therefore appeal to both sponsors and facilitators as a

better way. But finger pointing may only be under the surface and silent, not


Ways in which I invite incremental and transformational learning into an
Appreciative Inquiry process are:
   Have the usual kick-off or rally where the CEO or sponsor describes why

       she is introducing Appreciative Inquiry. Give attendees a taste of

       answering the core questions. Make clear that participation is voluntary,

       because significant change is not for the feint of heart.

      Invite people including executives into the process, but don‟t require them

       to participate. This is easier when internal facilitators will design and

       manage the process and harder when the organization has spent a hefty

       amount of money contracting a change strategy. It does assure that the

       people who participate want to have the opportunity to learn. Keep track

       of the number of participants. If the number doesn‟t increase in a few

       months due to word of mouth and organizational communication, review

       the real support for change. If no increase, find another way.

      Let champions of the process spread the word through their networks, not

       executives as an edict. Build participation through attraction not coercion

       or even subtle political force. This is basic to Freire‟s emancipatory


      Support the process with organization-wide communication about how the

       initiative is going, times of meetings, invitations.
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      Support learning groups and provide journals and opportunities for critical

       self-reflection about individual learning in the process. This supports the

       ability to increase critical self-reflection and make better individual and

       organizational decisions.

A short Appreciative Inquiry case study:

New leadership of a midwestern bank wanted to increase the engagement of its

workforce through a positive approach to change. They purchased a reputable

leadership seminar and trained with the creators so that company executives

deliver in-house. An appreciative process picks up graduates six weeks after the

initial three-day program. Prior to this addition, there was no formal structure for

participants to continue changes they initiated in the seminar.

Executives agreed that Appreciative Inquiry was the best way to keep the

dreams of the participants alive and to spread the dreaming (and resulting

actions) throughout the organization.

Definition: The topic choice was continuing to dream the future.

Discovery: In groups of thirty, participants learned the basic Appreciative Inquiry

framework and interviewed each other using the core questions. The COO made

clear that he wants to see dreams that teams can implement in their own area.

He discouraged ideas about what he and the CEO should change. Each

participant left with a journal to record her own reflections about the process and

a script for enlisting her own teams in an appreciative process.
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Dream: Ninety days after the initial learning session, groups reconvened to share

their experience of the discovery phase and to marry the dreams expressed by

their teams with the mission of the bank. Some of the participants had not yet

met with their teams for the discovery phase. Some teams had moved to design

the improvements for their teams and with other teams. The facilitator introduced

learning groups and reviewed journaling, now for critical self-reflection. There

was time for participants to gather in an initial learning group at the end of the


Design: Corporate communications kept the organization informed about the

designs generated in teams and the successes of teams that had begun to

implement. Active teams were featured and the invitation to participate was

extended. More teams ended participation. Some individuals joined other more

active teams.

Destiny: Participating teams began to implement their designs. It is too early to

tell what the organization-wide results will be.


Appreciative Inquiry generates an unusually enthusiastic response to beginning a

change initiative. A good thing and the bad thing about corporations and

organizations that pay salaries is that there is some inherent pressure to comply

with initiatives, to stick around long enough for possible engagement. In

communities and some other places where Appreciative Inquiry has been

initiated, participation is more obviously voluntary. However, unless resistance to

learning, certainly to transformation, is addressed in a direct way, the initiative
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has less chance of enabling change. Unless someone offers the tools and

support for enabling transformation, few will manage it on their own. Then the

force of the change may dissipate as soon as the sponsor‟s attention diverts

elsewhere. The combination of enabling stronger relationships by dreaming a

future together, a social construction, with a rational, individual learning

opportunity may succeed where one or the other fails more of the time.

Troubles in Palestine loom. Good people are unable to join across a widening

divide. They are each (all) entrenched in their own worldview. If an appreciating

approach engaged us and them and transformation enabled new views, all world

citizens could more clearly see organization development‟s contribution to their



Session Purpose: To engage participants in an Appreciative Inquiry process

with overt transformational learning tools so that the participant will experience

core questions in a group setting, use self reflection as a way to enhance ability

to facilitate parts of Appreciative Inquiry and define future learning needs for use

of the combined perspectives.

5 minutes: Introduction of self and session purpose:

Ask participants to describe their prior experience with Appreciative Inquiry and
Transformational Learning.
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20 minutes: Brief Review of Appreciative Inquiry Model and Core Questions

15 minutes: Group customizes Core Questions
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for small group activity. Participants experience creating the questions based on

their interest and energy.

30 minutes: Pairs interview each other

using the Core Questions. Each participant has the direct experience of positive

self and organization talk.

20 minutes: Debrief interviews in large group.

5 minutes: Four lenses of Transformational Learning

10 minutes: Pass out journal pages with self reflection questions.

Participants answer questions individually, then share any responses to exercise.
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15 minutes: Break.

Pass out evaluation for thinking and chatting at Break. How will you evaluate

yourself in this session at the end of it?

10 minutes: Debrief evaluation request.

40 minutes: Using the four lenses, participants design next part of

session. Arrange own teams for discovery. Sample questions: How many

teams? Who facilitates? What do you want to discover together? What do you

want to learn about self, process, others? What do you want from facilitator?

10 minutes: Second journal sheet with questions for self reflection

Questions about self participation, internal resistance.

40 minutes: Deliver on participant design

20 minutes: Final comments and self evaluations.
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