Project Goal
To use Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space Technology to develop a plan and actions for the Success By 6 initiative in LaPorte County. 

Background and benefits
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a powerful change and planning process that harnesses strengths and peak experiences to move groups and individuals forward. Appreciative Inquiry grew out of the work of David Cooperrider and colleagues at Case Western Reserve and has developed into an organizational change and leadership approach that has been applied around the globe in Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, communities, and governments. The approach is based on the observation that groups and individuals tend to move in the direction of their conversations. AI creates positive conversations by leading with appreciative questions designed to discover strengths, assets, and high-point experiences. The approach has been applied to organizational change, leadership, coaching, community mobilizations, performance management, and many other areas. 

Open Space (OS) is a group process that has been used around the world with groups ranging in size from 5 to 5,000. The process allows participants to establish a meeting agenda and participate where they have the most energy, passion, and expertise on a given topic.

These two approaches are ideally suited to bring together community members around Success By 6 goals of, “raising awareness of the importance of early childhood development, increasing access to services, advocating for public policies and improving systems, budgets, laws and supports to improve young children’s lives.” ? (from

The positive and highly participatory processes of AI and OS will result in a plan with broad community input and a very positive focus. The process will allow participants to develop new perspectives and skills that can be used in future community and group work.

During the process outlined, board and staff members and other stakeholders involved in the planning process will conduct interviews to identify organizational strengths, assets, and possibilities for the future. Each member of the planning team will have in-depth interviews with a number of people (2 – 5 interviews per person is typical) that will establish community linkages and allow members of the organization to engage in conversations that explore the best of the past and possibilities for the future. These interviews provide invaluable information to inform the strategic vision of the organization, strengthen relationships with key stakeholders, and transform the planning process from data gathering to a process of creating a desired future from energetic and positive conversations. This process can be combined with more traditional research and environmental scans to create a strategic plan. 

After the interviews are conducted, the planning group will gather for a two-to-three-day meeting to identify possible strategic actions. The agenda of the meeting will be created by participants around topics that will lead to a dynamic future for Success By 6. Results from the interviews will be used to inform the agenda for the day. The meeting will result in detailed reports from small group meetings that will identify strategic directions and possible actions.

The results from this meeting will be synthesized and presented to the board for approval.

The activities outlined in this proposal are designed to:
A. Give participants an understanding of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

B. Use the AI process to identify current strengths around early childhood development in LaPorte County and possibilities for future action.

C. Help participants understand the Open Space process.

D. Use the AI interview process to get community input, build coalitions, and increase enthusiasm for Success By 6 goals.

E. Use Open Space to generate ideas, identify actions, and create a plan to move the Success By 6 initiative forward.

F. Translate material generated in the Open Space session into a strategic plan to be approved by the board.

Project Outline
The following outlines the key services of John Steinbach during this process.

Initial Meeting with Appreciative Inquiry Planning Team

* This phase of the process includes:
* Preparation of materials for the session.
* On-site meeting with a small group of Success By 6 representatives to craft questions for Appreciative Inquiry interviews.
* Email correspondence and phone conversations to create a first draft of interview questions.

Appreciative Inquiry Training
This session includes:
* Introduction of Appreciative Inquiry to Interview Team (this is usually board and staff members and sometimes includes other stakeholders). 
* A first round of interviews between attendees.
* Feedback on questions.
* Planning of interviews to be conducted in the process. 
* Selecting individuals to be interviewed in the process.

Interview Questions Revision and Support During the Interview Process
* This phase of the process includes:
* Working with the AI planning team to redraft questions after input
* Support for interviewers via phone and email if they have questions about the process
* Preparation for the Open Space planning session

Open Space Planning Session
This one-to-two-day session includes:
* Conversations in pairs and small groups regarding the most significant items heard in the interviews.
* Small group work to develop strategies and actions for implementation.
* Recording of meeting minutes to be distributed to all members at the end of the meeting

Post Session Support
This phase of the process includes:
* Email correspondence and telephone conversations to discuss process results and next steps.
* Assistance in synthesizing results into a strategic plan to be submitted for board approval.

John Steinbach will be the lead consultant on this project and provide all services. John has done training, design, and organizational development work with a variety of organizations for over 20 years. John has developed and presented workshops on topics that include building effective teams, Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning, team decision making, time management, leadership development, quality improvement, conflict management, training skills, and presentation skills. Participants consistently give John high marks for his energy, passion, and subject-matter knowledge.

John has led strategic planning efforts for dozens of organizations and facilitated many organizational change efforts.

Clients Include: General Motors, GE, North American Van Lines, Cummins Engine, Raytheon, Magnavox, Subaru Isuzu, Old Kent Bank, Lincoln National Life, Louisville Gas & Electric, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Park Center, Inc., Easter Seals ARC, Muncie Childrens Museum, United Way, American Electric Power, Pizza Hut, American Red Cross, GTE, and Verizon. More information on John Steinbach and his company, JP Consultants, Inc., can be found at

Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful and positive perspective that can be applied to a variety of situations. This is a positive focused and highly participatory process that will result in action plans for the Success By 6 initiative and increase participants’ abilities to find, highlight, and develop personal and organizational strengths.

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The initial request was triggered by the exits of some young high-potential members of the firm. The partners had seen these people as future leaders in the company who were ready to rise quickly to the top. The partners were shocked when these potential leaders suddenly left.

After some research,the partners in the firm decided that a mentoring process was needed and I was linked up with them through a local university. In our first meeting, the conversation broadened as we explored why they wanted a mentoring program. The problem of early exits by high-potential employees was identified. The question became, “Why are people leaving and what can we do to keep them?” The thought process changed from a problem with a defined solution of mentoring to a problem with many possible solutions. This opened the conversation to more options and allowed some creativity, but the creativity still focused on a problem and solution. Solving problems creates conversations that highlight the worst of the organization and, in this situation, talking about all that was wrong could have led to more of the problem, which was people leaving. The problem-solving thought process also leads people to a search for root causes which can exist in machines, but not in complex human systems.

After a short explanation of the appreciative approach, the conversation moved toward what the group wanted to see in the future. They wanted people to stay. They wanted potential leaders to stay and develop so they could become partners. They wanted others who weren’t on the way to becoming partners to stay and contribute to the firm.

We had moved from a problem (people leaving) with a single solution (mentoring) to a broader definition of the problem and then to an identification of what the group wanted to see more of in the future. We were at the edge of planning to open some appreciative space.

We designed a one-day session to start the process:

A brief introduction to the concepts of Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space

Interviews focused on why people come to the firm and stay and what would make them want to stay longer

A short Open Space session on topics that emerge from the interviews

Pairings for the interviews were set up by seniority so that we had the newest employees talking to some of the more senior members of the firm. The paired conversations gave new insight, opened possibilities, and increased understanding and trust.

In a typical Appreciative Inquiry process, we would move from the interviews to discussing what was heard in the process and then move toward creating “possibility statements” or “provocative propositions.” In Appreciative Space, the movement is from the interviews to Open Space.

After explaining Open Space, we opened a session around the topic of, “increasing employee satisfaction and retention.” The interviews became a possible source for posting a topic, but people were not tied to what was heard in the conversations. As often happens, there was some delay before the first topic was posted, but, in time, the flow started. Topics were posted on how to learn different aspects of the firm’s work, how to create an enjoyable environment, starting a mentoring program, and assorted other topics. All topics had an appreciative focus of creating or expanding something desired.

Behind the action items were conversations and relationships from the appreciative interviews. The interviews had opened the appreciative space and now the space was opening further. My contact told me later, “We’ve tried to get people to talk many times and have never seen anything like that.”

The idea for a mentoring program emerged organically in the session, giving the staff ownership of the project because it was truly their idea. Many other first steps for other actions were identified and the day seemed to be a great success.

Like many sessions, I judge the success as much by the process as the product. It was a rainy day and as the interviews were being conducted and the meetings were happening in Open Space, I spent time looking out the windows at the city far below. Then my vision refocused to see the drops of water on the window. A drop would be coming down in a tiny stream on the glass and that stream would find another and merge. The merging would continue and a slightly larger stream would develop and at times they would break and perhaps reform. This beautiful process reflected the natural flow of appreciative space happening in the room behind me.

The interviews, the topics, the actions can all lead to an organization with a more open and positive flow of communication that has the natural ease of rain on a window and I bet that is the type of place where people would want to stay.

“I thought I was a positive thinker. Now, I have new ways to use an appreciative approach in all areas of my life and re-think some old habits. Great job, John! Excellent style, format, and overall experience.”

– Lisa Hanger, Indiana Association of United Way, Vice President for Training

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