Impressions of a (relative) newcomer to the European Network of Appreciative Inquiry Practitioners
“Why don’t you write a short article about your impressions and expectations of our get-togethers?” Cora Reijerse asked me in response to my comment that I was not entirely sure what I had to expect from attending the Network’s gatherings. What a brilliant question!
My attendance of the Network’s gathering at Reggio Emilia was the second one, after having had the pleasure of joining the group in Chartres, France, last November. And yet, questions still lingered as to the deeper purpose of these meetings and as to what newcomers could expect to come away with. The reason why this question popped up was that while both meetings had much in common, they were also quite different each time.
Both meetings stretch over a period of 2 ½ to 3 days, depending on whether you want to attend the Board session on Saturday morning as well.
The first thing that strikes you is the warm and open atmosphere that greets you like a warm blanket as you enter the scene. Do you know the feeling when you come into an established group as a newcomer? Everyone is hugging and exchanging their latest news and you feel a bit left out? Well, that is not what happens with this group of humans.
After the first hellos, we settle in and we begin centering with the beautiful tradition of passing around a bead necklace, a string of beads gathered from every meeting location around Europe and strung together. Passing the necklace from one participant to the other at the beginning and/or closing of the gathering is a ritualized expression of the connection between the sessions, the countries and the participants. Participants can choose to express their expectations/wishes for the meeting to come and/or their evaluation of what the meeting has meant for them.
And so the stories begin. In fact, you ask what are these gatherings all about? True to the spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, they are all about questions and stories.
The stories and the inquiry continue with the discovery of our host cities, an integral part of all meetings. In Chartres, our hosts, Bernard Tollec and Claire Lustig had arranged for a Meta Saga tour of the famous Cathedral to get the place under our skin. In Italy, Yvonne Becker invited an Italian historian to talk about Italy’s history to give us a sense of the place we were in.
And while the structure of the gatherings is similar each time, the content can differ. For example, in Chartres, our hosts had also arranged for small groups to visit real companies and organizations to introduce them to the power of AI. In Italy, we had the pleasure of having a series of guest speakers who had incorporated the spirit of AI into their activities without perhaps being aware of it. So for example, the stories shared on work in a mental health organization and in politics were testimonials of powerful co-creativity. And the story of AI in action in a succession exercise by one of our members was a vivid reminder how mindful conversations can be catalysts for change.
It goes without saying that these intense days of sharing experiences and discussing the myriad applications of AI necessitate creative breaks at the end of the day in the form of experiencing the local cuisine to deepen our sense of place. This is an important part of the gathering as the conversations around the table often generate new ideas of cooperation and co-creation.
And what would be a gathering of professionals be without a Board meeting at the end? Often regarded as a necessary evil, the AI Networking Board meetings are refreshing examples of how to get things done swiftly and without too much prevarication. They are an integral part to ensuring the continuation of the series of events and gatherings, with new meeting dates and places set and ideas spawned. Alas, the end always comes too quickly, but we all part with the assurance that the next get-together is only a few months away.
Anita Shehan, June 2013