The tools we need to revitalize a community are already here

Mar 23, 2010


A friend recently turned me on to a process called "Appreciative Inquiry." It's been used successfully by companies like Roadway in Akron and major organizations like the US Navy to revitalize and change, and it strikes me as something that might be useful to the community.

Its basic premise is this: The knowledge and skills we need to overcome our challenges are largely already in us.

The process begins by asking people what their best experiences relevant to some theme have been -- what their "peak moments" are, in the parlance. That gets them talking about a company, organization, or community's strengths -- a much stronger foundation to build upon than its weaknesses or problems. Then everyone — and it might be hundreds or thousands of people at a time (as with the Navy) — starts talking about what they'd like the organization, company, or community to be in, say, five years. In the next step, people list things that could be done to make that happen. They organize those into possible action plans, and then they ask the most important question: "What of these possibilities do YOU think is the so important that YOU are willing to work on it personally?"

There's follow-up of course, and a lot more detail into how you get it right, but those are the basics.

As I read this brief primer on the process, I felt very strongly that such a process could be revolutionary in Sandusky.

Here we are trying desperately to reinvent ourselves, but it doesn't seem like we've gone about it with too much collaboration. It really sort of seems like the city is only interested in a few big projects that are supposed to change everything — the marina district comes to mind. But I don't think that's how change really happens. Real change is the product of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of little innovations perpetrated by all sorts of different people at all levels of an organization, company, or community.

And the willingness, the energy, and the ideas are out there. Look at Wendy Kromer, and Andrea and Cesare Avallone of Zinc Brasserie, or even Erik Anderson of Erik's Clothing for Men — and there are many others. All businesses downtown that are trying to have some part in building the vision of a vibrant downtown. Or look at this thread in our forums.

Yet, if you offered some sort of "community summit" to start this process, you've got to wonder, would anyone show up? It seems like anything like this, no matter how valuable, goes horribly unattended. Look at the Register's own Solutions forums. A really cool program (that I had nothing to do with) that I was proud of. But how many people actually showed up? One night, we had 150, but we averaged about 40...

But you've got to start somewhere, and 40's a start.

If you're interested in more info, check out this website from Case Western Reserve, which largely pioneered the technique.



Good point... and a nice post, Nick.

The fundamental source for change at a city level needs to include both strong leadership and community involvement. There is no doubt there are some strong, dynamic personalities, but it seems the level of participation and zeal outside of a few is very low.

As I drive through neighborhoods with either many very elderly or families just barely surviving, it occurs to me most people are not involved because their life and situation won't allow for it.

The Internet is far away for many senior citizens, despite the fact it's as simple to use a cell phone today. For many families, jobs and kids dominate their time and many are also not highly educated which limits their desire for discourse.

Many other's simply do not care and just hope for the best.


Another suburban family morning
Grandmother screaming at the wall
We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can't hear anything at all

Karl Hungus-Mr....

The key problem is how many people really honestly care.  A handfull of people care all the time, but it seems like the rest of the community only cares when it either costs them money or the issue deals with them personaly.

It is also kind of hard to attend a summit, solutions forum, or even a city commission meeting when they schedule these things at times when those of us that are employed are either working or commuting to and from work. 

Kind of reminds me of the old Monty Python line "Bank hours are only convienent for 2 types of people, the unemployed and bank robbers."


I'm willing to bet that no one in City leadership ever heard of appreciative inquiry and how to apply it through the use of "Appreciative Leadership".   Because very few people leave Erie County to see what the rest of the outside world might know.

It would be an interesting survey the City Commissioners and the City Manger to see if any of them know anything about "Appreciative Leadership".  The other thing I would like to know is would they be willing to invest in sending themselves to  such a course to actually learn something new and innovative about the role they were elected and appointed to play.   If they are... they can start by going to

I agree with "Cross" and "Karl".  People don't care.  But the environment is RIPE for them to start to care- if we had the right leadership.   Our city/county will not survive under the current leadership style.

Mr. White, if the Sandusky Register can do something to be a catalyst for implementing Appreciative Leadership so we can have Appreciative Inquiry, here is one citizen who will join in and help.  Until that happens, may I suggest those citizens who have time on their hands and want an environment for Appreciative Inquiry to take place in Sandusky/Erie County...  Join the group that meets locally called ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA at