From Appreciative Inquiry to Fish bones

Last week I attended a workshop at Hertfordshire University as part of the ESCAPE project (Effecting Sustainable Change in Assessment Practice and Experience). We are working with the project team in developing an Appreciative Inquiry approach to evaluation.

If you've not come across Appreciative Inquiry (AI) before, it's an approach to transformational change that focuses on the positive. It was developed by David Cooperrider in the 1980's, and has seen growing interest more recently. Essentially, "AI is based on the simple assumption that every organisation has something that works well and these strengths can be the starting point for creating positive change" (Appreciative Inquiry Handbook by Cooperrider, Whitney & Stavros, 2008).

Preskill and Catsambas have taken AI and refined it for evaluation purposes. This figure gives an overview of how they see the four stages of AI. The ESCAPE team have already undertaken AI interviews to discover what staff really value. The workshop was an opportunity to continue with the Imagine, and Innovate or Design stages. There were presentations on innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and then staff set about imagining what might be possible for their own courses.

Before the workshop, I had seen this post by AI consulting on how fish bone analysis might be used within the Design stage of AI. This looked like a great way of mapping out what could be done in a quick and visual way. So, I adapted this approach for my session at the ESCAPE workshop. With a goal or "possibility statement" in mind, staff were asked to identify what they have to have in place to make the goal happen. It was suggested that staff use Technology, Processes, People, Materials, Culture, Management, and Support from the ESCAPE team as the 'bones' of the fish.

Here's an example of one of the fish bone posters. I was really impressed with the results!

Some people went on to thinking how these actions could be mapped out in a time line. It was great to see how that acted as a motivator by setting out how positive goals might be achieved in the mid to longer term.

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Some of the tools we use for evaluation support

We provide the evaluation support for JISC's Curriculum Design and Delivery Programmes. (There's an interview with the programme managers in e-Learning Focus, which gives an overview of the background and intent behind these programmes.) As part of that we were recently asked how technology makes a difference to the processes we are focused on. We see technology as vital in our evaluation support role. Zoho Projects is our online project management tool and we use it to do the usual kinds of planning and tracking of tasks. It is also a key part of how we co-ordinate our interactions with project teams - and with 15 Curriculum Delivery and 12 Curriculum Design projects that is vital!

As well as using technology to manage our work, we use it to scan what projects are doing. Project blogs are an excellent source of updates on the thinking behind project developments, and the support team have recently put up Netvibes pages that provide aggregrated feeds for the Delivery projects and Design projects blogs. A great way of finding out what is new, without having to visit every blog individually. Twitter also plays a role, giving more personal insights from individual team members, or just for getting a flavour of what is being discussed within project clusters (#dcb09 is the hashtag Cluster B are using to pinpoint their exchanges). I've been experimenting with Mixero for filtering what is happening on Twitter - great so far! This kind of scanning helps us to keep track of how projects are progressing, suggest evaluation activities they may want to consider at any given time, and to provide evaluation support in an ad-hoc way.

Finally, we are exploring how to provide an interactive mapping of projects' evaluation activities using Web2.0 features. Spicy Nodes, which is a bit like a movable mindmap, is one option. Here's the beginnings of how that might develop, with a sample of Delivery projects.

Watch this space for updates!

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