Outcomes, Schmoutcomes and Appreciative Inquiry

In my last blog I spoke about the importance of exploring what is importance TO the individual, as well as what is important FOR them. This provides a more rounded, and person-centred, view of their wishes and aspirations. This then leads to goals that the individual has real ownership of in terms of their desired outcomes.

Now I want to talk about how positive psychology, and in particular Appreciative Inquiry (AI), can help to shape the process of goal setting. Traditional person centred thinking, working and planning starts by ‘painting a picture’ of the individual – we often call it ‘This is Me’. It explores what they are good at, their interests, what is important for them and to them (as above), key people in their life etc etc. However, AI thinking can bring something new to the table.

AI is a way of thinking based on Positive Psychology. What is particularly helpful is that it also has an effective methodology for applying it in practice. The methodology is referred to as the 5D Cycle; five steps that take people (individuals or groups) on a journey of development and improvement. In brief, the stages of the 5D Cycle are as follows…

DEFINE what you want to focus on, your topic choice for the process. DISCOVER what is working and why; DREAM about your future; DESIGN how you can build on the best of what already is, in order to realise your dream; DELIVER on your commitments – agree strategies.

Most elements of the 5D Cycle are familiar to people but referred to in different ways. For example, ‘Dreaming’ is often called ‘Visioning’ in the corporate world. Even though the focus is similar, the AI approach has subtle differences. For example, in the Dream stage, people are asked to imagine they are actually in that future place – a different approach than just asking people what they want for their future.

The one element of AI that is most different to other approaches (in my view) is the Discover stage. This is the foundation stone of the whole AI process. People are asked to talk about a positive experience in their lives related to the topic choice. For example, if we were working with an individual in order to improve their education (where this had been problematic in their lives), we could ask them to ‘think about a time when you were inspired to learn’. Even though their experiences of education may not have been good, there will almost certainly have been some experiences that were positive. Once they have shared this, then ask them to talk about why this occurred… what were the contributory factors to this positive experience. Once you know this (the gold dust), you can use this information to help shape any support strategies.

When I have spent time with young people who are NEET (not in education, employment or training), those contributory factors usually include things like ‘the teacher really listened to me’ and ‘working in small groups’. No surprises there! But the important thing is that the individual expressed it and it linked to a tangible experience in their life. This gives it power.

The Here2there (H2T) system uses a similar Discovery question as part of ‘painting’ a Profile (see 2 below). We only use a few questions, but it is amazing how these can prompt for a rich insight into the individual. The questions (or prompts) we use are…

  1. My future...
  2. A time when I was inspired to achieve and what contributed to that
  3. My strengths and what I am good at
  4. What is important TO me
  5. What is important FOR me

The answers to these questions are the catalyst for a small number of goals; areas the individual can focus on for the future. Our App then allows the individual to capture their achievements in words and pictures, very similar to many social media apps. All these achievements relate to the goals set, and then allow for an ongoing record that can be reviewed and adapted. The use of a ‘live’ app also means other people, including the individual’s Circle of Support, are able to see the journey of achievement as it occurs. They can also add their own comments.

In my next blog I will talk more about the Circle of Support, an old concept brought to life through technology and particularly pertinent in these times of social distancing and lockdown.