Stakeholder alignment with Appreciative Inquiry

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A large part of Design leaders role in organisation is communicating. I usually say jokingly that a large part of my job is talking...a lot.

The larger the organisation the larger the network of stakeholders that need to be managed and informed. Trust and relationships  needs to be carefully cultivated. Communication is a key part of this.

I have found that approaching stakeholder relationships as a coach is much more effective than anything else. Coaching aims shows people the path to the right answers, not the answers themselves. Few stakeholders want to be corrected or to be educated in design.

For some time I have been using a method - Appreciative Inquiry - which has been very good in building a good foundation with many stakeholders. This method was developed in the early 1990’s to facilitate organisational change that has been adapted to the context of introducing Design into organisations.

In traditional organisational problems solving the focus is on the problems, resource constraints and deficiencies present. Appreciative Inquiry lets organisations build on past achievements and existing strengths and using these to build a shared vision for the future.

Appreciative Inquiry obliges users to focus on increasing the supply of things they desire rather than what they are lacking. This is realised by using stories that begin with what members believe is best and using these to develop stories that describe a new future.

The major steps of Appreciative Inquiry are:

Discovery - The importance of discovery is to remind participants of what success looked and felt like by activating vivid memories of experiencing it. Discovery also reminds participants that they are powerful; they are capable of experiencing success.

Dream - participants imagine an idealised future state for the organisation.

Design -The participants are asked to create statements that bridge between the current, known state of the organisation and the future imagined or desired state.


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I have distilled these steps down into a series of interview questions to facilitate easier stakeholder conversations.

If you use any of these techniques, I would love to hear about your experiences.

Good luck

Do good