Appreciative Alternate Realities

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Appreciative Alternate Realities
We most often associate Appreciative Inquiry practice with a traditional cyclic planning model known as either the 4-D (or 5-D) process.
But, by utilising ideas from Alternative Reality Games (ARGs), and drawing directly on AI principles and ideas, a new experimental form of AI practice has evolved.
Alternative What?
ARGs are a form of collaborative story-ing that use the ‘real’ world as a base to creatively merge different media and game elements. Missing people are found, ancient mysteries solved, and hidden worlds uncovered by solving a number of different kinds of clues and by performing a series of increasingly challenging tasks.
Clues (and related tasks) are often seeded in both traditional media (e.g. magazine and newspaper ads, posters, postcards) and virtual media (e.g. blogs, DVDs, pod-casts, social media sites). They are also hidden in physical spaces and structures, and sometimes found in interactions with real people (over the phone or acted out in person). The boundary between ‘normal’ reality and the alternate game world is thereby deliberately blurred.
The innovative, hybrid nature of the ARG genre means that many different forms have evolved. Some are very game-like in nature, with a team of writers, and a master ‘puppeteer’ in the background scripting story lines in response to player actions and ideas. Others simply set up a general storyline or metaphor, and players then use this as a base to evolve the story in a variety of different directions.
By using ideas from this genre it has been possible to generate innovative new ways to work with AI principles.
ARGs and AI
The positive principle states that the more positive the question, the greater and more long-lasting the change. Put simply, momentum for change requires large amounts of social bonding – things like hope, inspiration, and the sheer joy in creating with others. So, what better way to bond than within a collaboratively grown world filled with material and methods that people are already using or viewing in their personal life, on TV and in game consoles?
AI’s poetic principle states that organisations are open books, with the story constantly being co-authored. ARGs are fundamentally based on this principle, with the story unfolding at the same rate as imagination. Closely related is the constructivist principle which states that we co- construct realities based on our previous experience, and in so doing, our knowledge and the destiny of the system become interwoven. This work aims to show people overtly how the constructivist principle works in practice, as people use real life tools and collaboration to construct and uncover a parallel reality.
The simultaneity principle states that inquiry and change happen at the same time, and that inquiry is also intervention. That is, the things that inform dialogue and inspire images of the future, are implicit in the first questions we ask.
The principle of this new approach is that we don’t always have to ask pre-scripted questions, we can also use the lens of a camera, or a sound sample to be the point of inquiry. In fact, by simply co-creating a metaphor about a parallel world of possibility, and asking people to play with this metaphor, inquiry is simultaneously turned into action. Activities themselves change perception of reality as it currently exists, and blur the boundary of what is real and what is fantastic.
The anticipatory principle says that positive image = positive action. And that the most important resource we have for generating constructive change or improvement is our collective imagination.
Using ARG ideas, together the anticipatory principle it is possible to move beyond a static dream wall and mission statement into an interactive alternative world that co-exists alongside mainstream reality. This world is accessed via clues and portals situated in physical and virtual space. Players upload stories and images of positive experiences so that the parallel world is constantly fed. Of course, the trick is that this parallel world informs, and is in turn informed by what is happening in consensus reality. And that it is fun, exciting and mysterious enough for people to want to play!
Micro Projects and Practical Experiments
So far, using these ideas, several projects are currently being tested:

  • Using a combination of GPS units, and a series of mysterious clues planted in virtual and physical realms, young leaders were encouraged to visit deactivated urban spaces and imagine positive future uses of that space. The very act of using these abandoned and marginal spaces as locations in a fantastic story is a form of appreciative reinvention and re-imagination.

  • Supported by the expertise of creative professionals, and sophisticated mobile phones, urban youth created a music/visual rap song that was presented to the town mayor. Together they ‘grew’ a new reality and presented this to authorities using a genre and materials that are familiar to them already.

  • Teachers of an entry level school, in a low socio economic area, are building their curriculum around ‘uncovering’ a parallel world that (supposedly) weaves around their community. Science, technology, social studies and literature studies will be focussed on discovering the positive core of this world in their neighbourhood. Work is supported by training in AI principles and supported by partnerships with local tertiary creative institutions.

  • Residents of a small rural town are creating a parallel appreciative news stream from the future, informing them of the success of their current initiatives to make their town more sustainable.

Practical Aspects
It would be easy to imagine that this approach lacks intellectual rigour, and be too ‘out there’ to be of interest to mainstream organisations. My experience is that the opposite is the case; activities and ideas may be other worldly, but results are equally as successful as traditional approaches. In fact, it is possible to slice conservative elements with the more novel ideas contained in this paper. It is also possible to rigorously set and measure tangible organisational outcomes as in ‘normal’ AI. Most people who engage in this way express a sense of excitement at doing something fun, and a sense of relief that change doesn’t have to be serious in order to be effective.
So far this work has been particularly successful with groups who are naturally creative, and connective, particularly those who find traditional verbal-analytical styles of engagement challenging. Instead of coming up with written outputs on flip charts, they can take pictures, make movies, create songs, and create mysterious treasure hunts. It is incredibly effective with youth, and the sometimes world weary professionals who work with them.
Ideally, as in any whole system OD method, a core group, selected from within the system, creates the metaphor and the material and invites others to join in on the secret. They are assisted by creative professionals of different kinds who help with technical aspects
Transdisciplinary Mixed Media AI is currently experimental. As emergent technologies become mainstream and interactive social media even more prevalent, it can be seen as a way for AI to evolve more clearly as a 21st century change method.
Cooperrider, D.L. (2001) Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis of Organising in Appreciative Inqury: An Emerging Direction for Organisational development, Cooperrider D, Sorensen, DJr., Yaeger, T and Whitney, D (eds). Champaign IL: Stipes Publishing L.L.C.

Cooperrider, D. L., Barrett, F., Srivastva, S. (1995). Social Construction and Appreciative Inquiry: A Journey in Organizational Theory. Management and Organization: Relational Alternatives to Individualism. Ashgate.

Cooperrider, D., Srivastva, S. (2001). Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life, In Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development,. Cooperrider D, Sorensen, P. Jr.,Yaeger, T.F and Whitney, D editors. Champaign IL:  Stipes Publishing L.L.C.

Coopperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (2001) A Positive Revolution in Change. In Cooperrider, D. L. Sorenson, P., Whitney, D. & Yeager, T. (eds.) Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development (9-29).  Champaign, IL: Stipes.

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