Appreciative evaluations – a different format for Appreciative Inquiry

If you are looking for a way of using Appreciative Inquiry for evaluation, or you would like to have a business-friendly alternative to the standard 4-D/5-D model, this may be what you’re looking for.

Deb Gurke has written an interesting article about how school boards can use AI for self-evaluation, in a way that restores “the most important component of evaluation – the conversations that occur around performance and possibility.”

It strikes me that the model she’s suggesting – Review, Analyze, Plan (or RAP as I instantly started thinking of it) – is applicable beyond the school board context, and indeed beyond just evaluation. These are Deb’s suggested questions for each stage, some of which are school-board-specific, others of which can be applied to any context.

REVIEW

(1) Prior to reflecting on these questions review your Position Description and annual goals. Bring suggested revisions to the dialogue session (for boards, it can be goals that were established the previous year, components of the NSBA Key Work framework, or some other mutually agreed upon standards).

(2) Thinking about the last year, describe a time(s) when you felt the most excited, engaged and involved in your work as a board member/superintendent.

ANALYZE

(3) What were the key elements that made the above a peak time(s) or experience(s)?
(4) What things do you wish had worked better in the last year?
(5) What have you learned from these experiences?
(6) (Optional) Again, thinking about the last year, what stands out for you in your working relationship with the rest of the board?

PLAN

(7) What ideas do you have for making the key elements identified above (Question 3) more a part of your everyday work experience as a board member/superintendent?
(8) What first steps do we need to take to make these ideas/dreams a reality?
What steps do we need to take to help with those things you wish had worked better?
(9) What things can the board do to help with these steps?
(10) What additional comments or observations would you like to make about this past year?

Comparing this format with the commonly-used 4/5-D format, we can see that the ‘Review’ and ‘Analyze’ stages correspond to ‘Discovery’, element (7) of ‘Plan’ kind of fills in for the ‘Dream’ stage, step (8) parallels parts of ‘Design‘, and step (9) is like the ‘Requests’ element which often comes into the early part of ‘Delivery’/’Destiny’.

As this is a review process, the questions are mostly Discovery-oriented, but you could easily add a few more elements to the ‘Plan’ stage to put additional ‘Dreaming’ creativity and also more structured planning into the process, or adapt it to any application of AI.

One thing I like about this model is its simplicity, and another is that it’s expressed in terms that won’t frighten businesses and bureaucracies. Sadly, some of the more academic and, for want of a better word, ‘dreamy’ terminology of AI can alienate people in some work cultures, or at least this is what I sometimes see claimed.

For example, at one establishment that we facilitated an AI summit for recently, our client contact asked us to rename the ‘Dream’ stage as she thought her staff were too cynical to go for it. We agreed on ‘Ideal Vision’ instead, so as not to provide participants – who may be understandably reluctant to engage in this mysterious process until they start to see it working – with gratuitous excuses not to get involved.

‘Review, Analyze, Plan’ on the other hand is not going to raise the hackles of even the most hard-nosed business audience. So thanks Deb!


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