Before I go any further, let me clarify. I have been involved in social care in its broadest sense for the past 35+ years, aside from the odd stint at taxi driving, selling websites and various other random paid activities. Mind you, if we are talking about social care in its widest sense, maybe taxi driving is relevant experience!
In terms of mainstream ‘activity’, I have worked in a large residential home for adults with learning disabilities, had oversite of a YMCA advice and counselling centre for young people, and walked the streets as a detached youth worker. My last experiences of working for an organisation involved a number of years within regulation and inspection, firstly as a Senior Inspector for the Care Standards Inspectorate in Wales (CSIW) and then as an HMI for Estyn (Welsh Equivalent of OFSTED).
Then I got out, to work independently. I wanted to spend time helping teams and organisations improve, rather than merely passing judgement on them. I wanted to be a more active part of the process. Initially I did what we all do, I worked the way I was familiar with. I looked at strengths and weaknesses, but there was an inherent focus on weaknesses – because as we all know, if you can fix the problems everything will be fine won’t it? Hindsight has shown me it’s not that easy, but I didn’t recognise that at the time.
How did I find AI?
After about two years of mainly conducting independent reviews, I had a random conversation with an ex-colleague who told me she had been on a one-day course on AI (Appreciative Inquiry). AI I said, isn’t that something to do with cows or computers? Isn’t that where robots will take over the world? However, the term caught my interest, and Jo’s short summary of what it involved fascinated me even more. I then went on a very steep learning curve that turned how I worked upside down.
AI is based on positive psychology and social constructionism. I won’t say anymore about the underpinning theory except to say it’s interesting. There is also a methodology for its application – the 5D Cycle.
What you’re looking at (amongst other logistical matters)
What’s working and why (the why is important)
Where you want to be in the future (actually imagine you’re there)
How to build on the best in order to turn your aspirations into reality
Agree how you will make the whole thing sustainable
AI not only makes sense in terms of the underpinning theory, it works in practice. It is a totally inclusive, bottom up, process that engages all stakeholders. To use the jargon, it is co-productive. It avoids the blame game, which typically follows the process of identifying problems. However, what it does do, is resolve the problems by reframing the conversations with a solution focused lens – i.e. the Dream stage involves talking about doing more of what is working, doing things differently and doing different things.
I have been using AI for the past 10 years, I also train others in the approach. I use the thinking and methodology in almost everything I do. I have used it within community development, service review (extensively), programme evaluation (e.g. EU funded projects), and team development.
Have I always got it right, absolutely not! My biggest learning is the need to totally engage and involve senior decision makers and managers. Typically, they are the ones who agree to the process being used but are generally not in the room when it happens. Big mistake! The process needs ‘width’ and ‘depth’. Width involves all key stakeholders, depth involves all layers of the organisation.
So, if AI interests you, read some more about it. Go on a course or two, then slowly introduce it into your work. If you do that, I can guarantee you will see more and more applications for its use…
Contributed by Roger Rowett.
Roger Rowett is based in North Wales. You can find out more about his work at www.taith.co.uk. He has written a number of publications and books on AI including ‘Zen and the Art of Appreciative Inquiry’.
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