Step 2 in appreciative inquiry: Discovery

In previous blogs we looked at the appreciative inquiry process and the first step of that process: Define. Today it is time to look at step 2 Discovery. 
Appreciative inquiry 5Ds

The 5 steps of appreciative inquiry

The purpose of Discovery

In the discovery phase you appreciate the best of "what is" by focusing on peak moments in the company's or teams history. You then seek to understand the unique conditions that made the high points possible, such as leadership, relationships, technologies, values, capacity building or external relationships. In this phase you systematically seek to isolate and learn from even the smallest victories. Together you build a shared understanding of when the company or team is at it's best. 

How to do this

The discovery phase is based on dialogue, observations and reflection. It is not about right or wrong, but about an open conversation to discover what works well already. What may work well for you, may be less effective for others. But knowing that the other feels that this works well will also help the group move forward towards a shared understanding. There are several tools available here:

Preparing the group workshop

I always like people to prepare for the workshop by using the other tools first. I do not just use them myself, but also ask the group to do interviews, go and see and collect success stories in varying duo's. This way a mutual understanding grows before people come to the workshop. I always train people in doing appreciative interviews and we try to make a list of helpful questions in advance. All of the actions and gathering of insights are geared towards the affirmative topic. You can also incorporate the interviews in the workshop. 

If possible I try to let people bring along props of those best moments in the organizations like a card from a customer, a photo of a great company moment, a song or a dossier etc. Physical objects create different energy than just a story. They connect to your brain different and tend to evoke more empathy. People may also make their own creation of that best moment, a drawing, song etc. But this is not mandatory. 

The group workshop

Make sure there is a lot of room to work out ideas visually during the workshop and place the affirmative topic at the centre. You start with reaffirming the topic and by sharing the insights from the preparation. For you as a facilitator it is important to:

  • Make sure the normal workshop preparation is done well: tools, materials, setting, attendance, the space and an introduction with a clear pulse and link to the affirmative topic, agenda and rules for interaction (open questions, listening to each other, no judgement). Together you decide when you are happy about this workshop. 
  • Start by sharing the insights shared in the preparation both on a micro level (what did you find) and on a macro level (how  was it to look for best experiences like this). Ask people about what they want to share or show. 
  • Look for when people are talking faster, gesturing, smiling or shining. This is when you need to ask more questions. It is not just people telling about a high point. When it was a real high point for them it will show in the way they talk about it. You want to discover together what made it work so well for them: tools, materials, management, co-workers, customers, process, ...?
  • When you identify those key factors you write them down together around the affirmative topic. This may be in a mindmap, drawing, list or whatever form suits the team. 
  • Next up is sorting through the insights. Sometimes this will not be necessary, but i find it a very helpful way to help people recap all the insights. You can do this in the group as a whole or in smaller groups. The idea is to sum up the findings in a meaningful way. The form that takes is less important (lists, paintings, movies, mind maps, collage), as long as everyone involved gets what it says and thinks it is meaningful.

So now you have a good idea of when the company or team felt most alive. And also how everyone contributed to those moments. If there are follow up questions that need to be resolved please do so. But if this is not the case, you have gone through the discovery phase. You now have the insights about what strengths you can build on to reach your future state. To decide what the future state should look like you are now starting with the dream phase. 

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