Appreciative inquiry (AI) is an innovative method for studying and changing social systems. It advocates collective inquiry into the best of what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling. It envisions the potential positive future by evaluating and answering growth based questions and allowing the participants to dream big. It is all about letting the future visions loose and exploring elements which bring energy into the system in question.
AI process is based on four different phases:
DISCOVERY: Identification of processes that work well.
DREAM: Envisioning processes that would work well in the future.
DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
DESTINY: The execution of the new processes. In essence, AI is the opposite of problem solving.
In the following, I present a draft for what is an imagined AI Summit with the aim of making Finland an exemplar of a country free of gender-based violence and oppression. It was created, not only to practice AI Summit planning process, but to raise awareness and inspire us to imagine a world free of domestic abuse and gender based violence – a world where people wake up in a safe loving home. Anyway, I just wanted to put it out there instead of hiding it on my hard drive. As I said, it is a work in progress. However, hope it is inspirational to some of you! Happy to hear any comments. You can find more information on AI here.
1. Background for the AI Summit in question
According to recent surveys, domestic violence affects as many as one in four women across the globe, and each year one in three female homicide victims is murdered by their current or former partner. It is a gender-based violation of human rights which penetrates every social class, income group and race. The problem of domestic violence is of such global magnitude that more work in this field is absolutely critical.
Although Finland is a model country for the enactment of human rights, it has disgraceful statistical rates of domestic violence. Compared to the average in other EU countries, a Finnish woman is twice as likely to experience abuse during her lifetime (Huovinen, 2012). To overcome domestic violence, we need wide scale changes that permeate various levels of culture and society. This means redefining how we speak about domestic abuse, reframing which member experiences the shame (often it is the victim, when it should be the perpetrator), and also raising girls to become determined, unwavering agents in society instead of adopting a passive and diffident role. There is a dire need for empowering narratives and models for action to replace the destructive ones.
2. AI Summit´s affirmative topics
Among the basic principles of positive psychology is to foster what is best in individuals or in communities. The Finns have one particularly intriguing character related concept called sisu which is very much embedded in our collective discourse. This term lacks an exact synonym in any language, but is often translated into English as determination, guts, perseverance and the capacity to endure any hardship. It has also been described as being integral to the understanding of Finnish culture. Ethnographers claim that sisu arose from Finland’s history; during the Winter War of 1939–1940, Finnish perseverance in the face of a massive Soviet invasion popularized this word in English. Sisu is described as being fundamentally about the ´heart´. It´s about toughness, bravery and choosing to stand up against injustice –and is deeply ingrained within the cultural repository of narratives in Finland.
Taking a close look at this virtue of perseverance, bravery and integrity could pave the way toward creating a truly flourishing nation who treats all of its members with respect and dignity. This AI Summit is aimed to be a launch for a massive social change gathering together actors across the nation. The aim is to harness and use this national character strength of sisu as a tool to empower Finnish women and girls to be brave, determined and empowered. The main aim can be articulated as female empowerment but naturally the work also involves the men and boys –the fathers and sons in Finland. Sisu is also related to integrity and enabling this quality to flourish in a society will create building blocks for a nation free of oppression and violence. Ultimately, I guess the goal is an empowered society.
The Affirmative Topic for this proposed AI Summit is:
Finland: a Country Free of Gender Oppression and Violence
Cultivating our National Character of Sisu and Creating a Culture of Empowerment Across the Entire Nation
3. Summit location
Finland has always been a trailblazer in women´s rights. In 1906, Finnish women became the first in the world to have unrestricted rights both to vote and also to stand for parliament. To symbolize the powerful exemplary work the nation has done in the past, the AI Summit will be held in Helsinki (where the suffrage was signed) on the 110th year anniversary of its inauguration, in 2016. This reminds Finns that we have been trailblazers before –and we can do it again. Venue will be outside the city centre in a scenic location which allows enough participants to join.
4. AI Summit pre-phase description
The work for this massive effort will start at least two years prior to the Summit. The initial group will be small, consisting of perhaps ten people from relevant sectors. One of the first tasks is to create the criterion for including participants and beginning the recruiting process. The team will reach out to several organizations and gather information about who to involve in this social project.
The summit will include people from the healthcare (doctors, nurses, mental health care workers, pediatrics) and education sectors, as well as researchers across various fields from Finnish universities (public policy, social policy, psychology, social psychology, social work, community development, positive psychology (since this is an imaginary article, I am noting that Finland will at this point have Europe´s first positive psychology master’s degree program : ) I challenge you to create an AI Summit proposal for this purpose!) There will be social workers as well as government officials from the parliament and from the ministry. The President will also be present for part of the summit. Participants also include the police, volunteer organizations which serve battered women and their children, and organizations which provide funding for anti-domestic violence work.
A big component of women´s issues deals with the ways in women are depicted in mass media. Our language and the images we produce and affirm are what constitute reality any given time. You cannot be what you do not see (we need more strong, empowering role models for girls and women as well as examples of compassionate, caring male figures with good values for boys), and what you do has an impact (sexist ads depicting women treated as objects and subordinate to men, portraying women as the weak passive part of the society). Therefore, tackling the problem of domestic violence also includes involving the media and entertainment industry.
Representatives from the most dominant movie studios (or from different theater associations) and record labels will be present, as well as from each major newspaper, tabloid and magazine.
Sports organizations will also be involved, as they have the power to coordinate fundraising efforts that benefit women´s causes, and organize visible events (A potential theme for the 2016 Helsinki City Marathon could be: ‘Sisu in Your Steps: Running to End Domestic Violence in Finland and Beyond’).
We will also have major sponsors, who have a concern for human rights and issues related to sustainable social change. Among the many sponsors are Nokia, Finnair, Rovio, Kone, Wärtsilä as well as the TV broadcasting companies and YLE.
This initial phase will be done diligently, ensuring the best possible preparation for a huge national effort. This involves providing the various agents training in AI principles, including success stories, methods, appreciative inquiry as a way of life, the AI Summit itself, the collection of data beforehand, and AI interviews. The AI Summit agenda will be designed.
The AI Summit committee will plan for logistics, craft the AI participant workbook and design the AI Summit interview questions. Crafting a plan (and implementing it), and effective communication between the partners along with the national media will be of utmost importance.
About a year before the AI Summit takes place, a website will be launched. The site will aggregate all information related to the upcoming social effort. It will display success stories pertaining to sisu, gender equality and how Finland’s strives to create culture which supports and enables all this. The website´s purpose is to be inspiring and encouraging, while providing quality information about the forthcoming project. Because the problem we are dealing with is very serious in nature, the page must be crafted to keep all the possible demographic audience in mind. There will be resources for seeking help and finding out how to help a friend, family member of neighbor who might be suffering abuse. The page will also deliver the message that no one need wait till 2016 or tomorrow to start making a difference. It will offer tools and information about cultivating sisu in one´s personal life, and explain how this will help create a more positive future for the whole of society.
5. Summit and the description of the 4-D cycle
The Summit will take four days (one day for each phase to ensure appropriate time).
This phase will define who we are as a nation and what we do best. What brings life, growth and prosperity to the entire system (on both micro and macro )? The function of this initial phase is also to set the focus and build momentum. Before the AI interviews there will be presentations from various relevant groups. These include:
-Non-profits that work within the DV prevention field (to set the facts and provide an overall idea of what we are dealing with –globally and in Finland)
-Most visible sponsors
-Media sector (including entertainment industry)
-Finnish ministry (also a speech by the The President of the Republic
-Organizers themselves. It is important to highlight that everyone is needed. We are in this together and we also hold the answers as a collective.
- Who are we as nation?
- What is special about us?
- What do you love most about this country/your community?
- What is special about this current generation and how we can tackle this problem in hand?
- What do you consider to be the key ingredients of a nation that flourishes?
- What are some of the heroic stories we tell? What is your hero story?
- When have you been especially proud to be Finnish?
- What have we done (as a nation) that is progressive in terms of women´s rights? What have you done and what actions contributed to it?
- How could Finland operate as a role model for other countries?
- What are our core competencies in the field of domestic violence prevention and gender equality work?
- What does gender equality mean to you?
- What are the best things about the ´Finnish woman´?
- What are the best things about the ´Finnish man´?
- What are the best things about Finnish character?
- What is the future you wish for your children? What is the future when there is no DV?
- What is amazing about sisu and how do we cultivate it?
- How can we use this resource (sisu) to lead an example for the entire world?
- How has sisu been meaningful to you or your family?
Activities for this phase
- Appreciative Interviews are conducted in one-on-one interviews.
- Sharing the positive narratives and stories in small groups. Creating a Positive Topography of our country. What are our strengths and resources and the best ways use these for our benefit? What brings life and sisu the system?
In the dreaming phase we imagine the outcome: a violence-free Finland. What does it look like? What areas of social and individual life benefit from an environment free of fear or gender oppression? What are the areas where its positive consequences will ripple?
- Imagine you wake up tomorrow and it is 20 years since the first AI summit. What do you see?
- How has the society improved as a result of being able to allocate more money to healthcare of public services (instead of pouring money into aiding families affected by DV).
- What has contributed most to making that distinction possible?
- What bold decisions did we make to get there?
- How do these changes affect the new generation? Your own daughters and sons?
- What does the media look like? What kind of stories they produce, and what do people buy?
- How do you see this determined work has impacted other problem areas? Since we are now pointing light to DV, has it enabled a more equal treatment for people with i.e. mental problems? Are we as a society more open to deal with problems of all levels and addressing them boldly? What does this mean for the whole nation? What does it mean to you and your beloved ones?
- What are the best qualities of Finland and Finns in 2036?
- Envision our President giving a speech. What would she or he say? “Twenty years ago Finland topped the domestic violence statistics in Europe and today we are proud to say that…”
Activities for this phase
- Sharing – discuss dreams collected during the interviews.
- Building it – what are the ways to get there
- Dreaming the action – Presenting the dreams to others in small groups.
What are the essential elements of the project? This phase includes the collective construction of positive images of future Finland. It is about designing the way from dream to reality and combining our best ideas with concrete action. The country´s desired qualities will be composed through provocative propositions. In plain language: How do we reach the Dream?
- What are the needed micro and macro level changes in the fabric of the social structure?
- What are our shared values?
- To which areas should we focus most of our resources? (i.e. teaching empowerment to girls, teaching empowerment to women, teaching men? Is the focus more in future prevention of DV or in correcting the current situation?
- How do different players lead?
The government: will there be programs, how much resources will be allocated to activities pertaining to this project? Will the President be visibly and actively involved in the project?
What kind of narratives should the media foster and affirm?
How about the entertainment industry: will we direct more movies which affirm the image and role of a strong woman who is supported by the community? What kind of examples do we create for men? What is their role precisely?
What is the role of nonprofits, volunteers and individual Finns? Do we perhaps create campaigns which will encourage people to mind other people´s business when there is a problem (instead of turning away). How do we get people to ring the neighbor´s doorbell and call the authorities when someone is in danger? How do we create public awareness?
- IMPORTANT: What is the role of social responsibility and how do we integrate the notion into the core of implementation?
- How does the whole entity play together? What are the main players and how do we ensure communication and feedback (check-ups and measuring the progress)? How do these players convey their message to the public in a way it becomes accepted.?How to ensure the citizens that the government is in on this 100%?
- How do we create a culture of mutual respect and well-being?
- What are the best practices of communication?
- How do we make sure everyone knows how they contribute to the shared vision?
- How do we ensure that everyone knows where we are standing?
- How do we keep this long term project going and make sure it does not dry up?
- How will we create and encourage positive commitment?
Activities for this phase
The team goes back to the AI interview summary sheets and identifies the key elements that support the mission (e.g. empowering women and girls). Based on these key insights they create proposals and present them to other groups.
Destiny (also called delivery)
Self-selected groups plan the next steps for institutionalization and implementation. This is what gets the Dream moving. It is a closure for Discover, Dream and Design phase and the beginning for the creation of an ongoing “Appreciative Inquiry Culture”.
- What happens next? Planning subsequent meetings to discuss the AI report and implementation.
- What small changes could we make right now that would really encourage more families to get engaged with improving our community?
- What are the first concrete actions and pilot projects?
- Who provides leadership?
- How would you personally like to be involved?
- Who are they key people for activities?
- What do we do to ensure that we are moving forward after the Summit?
6. The results
The AI Summit will help kick-start a passionate collective effort for the well-being of our entire nation. Post-summit efforts will include crafting and implementing public policies which enable women to get help, and be more empowered. Engaging the whole community to live up to our shared values of integrity, respect and honesty will help change the silence around domestic violence. No one needs to be afraid or ashamed to seek help. Resources (attention and finances) will be secured for programs and initiatives that support our vision for a violence-free Finland. The project will go on for a long time, as in any cultural change results come very slowly (we are talking about years and decades). After AI Summit it would be beneficial to declare e.g. “A Decade of the Finnish Woman” to keep the project in public sphere.
Abuse thrives only in silence –by talking about it and bringing it into the public discourse we can start re-wiring how the system works. Cultivating virtues (including the Finnish character strength of sisu) not only increases our own well-being, but also causes ripple-effects of empowerment around us. We are all part of a larger collective system through the social networks we belong to. This project aims to create a large scale social change, which need not stop at our own country’s borders. The problem of domestic violence is global in magnitude, and the work must be extended to every nation. Finland will be at the forefront of eradicating domestic violence, and striving to create a better world for future generations.
My message <3
There is a dire need to explicitly acknowledge the significant role we each play in the context of our living environment. This means taking responsibility for our actions (as they impact others), as well recognizing the enormous power we have to change the world for the better.
My future dream is to enable Finland and its resilient, hardworking people to become an example and inspiration for the rest of the world. This example is of a peaceful thriving nation, whose members are living a life of meaning and purpose.
References and suggested further reading:
Cooperrider, D. L. (2005). Foreword. In Thachenkery, T., Appreciative Intelligence (pp. ix-xiv). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Cooperrider, D. L. (2008). Appreciative inquiry into organizational life. In Cooperrider, D., Whitney, J.M., & Stavros, J.M. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook (2nd Edition, pp.353-384). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Cooperrider, D. L. (2010). Foreword. In T. Thachenkery, D. L. Cooperrider & M. Avital (Eds.), Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Vol. 3 (pp. xiii-xix). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Unlimited.
Cooperrider, D., and Godwin, L. (2011). Positive Organization Development: Innovation Inspired Change in an Economy and Ecology of Strengths. In Cameron, K. & G Spreitzer (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 737-750). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dutton, J. (2003). Energize your workplace: How to create and sustain high-quality connections at work. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Grant, A. (2013). Give and take. A Revolutionary approach to success. New York: Penguin Group.
Huovinen, S. (2012, December 14). Perheväkivalta Suomen häpeäpilkku. Kymen Sanomat.