Positive Focus or Lessons Learned?

October 30, 2010 @ 12:08 PM
posted by Zarrin Caldwell

Friends of the Earth, Middle East – Adult group in West Bank (Hebron) discussing water issues with their neighboring Israeli community.

Here’s my first blog! My goal is to post every 2-3 weeks. Hope you’ll join in the dialogue …

I heard recently from a woman (Cynthia) who raised some questions about the goals of the Models of Unity site. Overall, the site is about what is working to bring people together across divides so it is primarily positive. Cynthia admitted that, for the purposes of “motivation and hope,” it was a great goal to “talk about what works” and she encouraged this effort. She added, however, that, if the “purpose was to understand how to improve what we do, using only what works is not as useful as using what works and what doesn’t together.” While the main objective of the site is to offer hopeful stories in a disillusioned world, I also want it to be a learning portal so it’s important to know about the challenges that various projects have faced. Thus, in the models featured, you will find “lessons learned.” Granted, I’m well aware that what works in one country may not in another, but it’s helpful to see what has been successful and what has been difficult. You’ll see these reflections, and a new “challenges” section, offered in the case study just posted on Good Water Neighbors.

If you have thoughts about the balance between reporting the positives and negatives, please share them! This discussion reminds me of the debate over “appreciate inquiry,” an organizational development model that primarily gets groups to focus on what works in an organization, but critics say this is wearing “rose colored glasses.” Then again, when it comes to conflict resolution, I think too much attention has gone to the problems vs. what actually works to bring communities together so this website is an attempt to build in some of that balance. As my friends all know, I am no “Pollyanna,” but, with negativity just seeping across the Internet, seems like there is a need for refocus.

What do you think? Click the “Comment” button at right to share your thoughts!

6 Responses to “Positive Focus or Lessons Learned?”

  1. shabbir says:

    This is an excellent endeavor. I think,such efforts must be galvanized for the greater benefit of affectedpeople. it would be heartening if the global media highlight such endeavors.

  2. Noah Bartolucci says:


    Well wishes and a big “thumbs up” on this site and accompanying blog. With regard to your post, I can’t help but think that conflict is not something to be feared or avoided provided that it pertains to ideas and not people, and the excahnges are respectful. After all… “From the clash of ideas comes the shining spark of truth.”

  3. Zarrin,
    I believe that “Models of Unity” is an excellent endeavor that is very much needed in our global society. Thank you for your leadership. Regarding the use of appreciative inquiry as a framework for discovering sustainable models, I think this is a valuable process for learning as a collective what is possible to achieve. Appreciative inquiry does not seek to cover up what is not working, but rather, to focus on what is working and the process for getting there. Inquiry about the process for achieving positive outcomes and change uncovers the challenges. This is what makes appreciative inquiry different from the traditional problem-focused approach. Appreciative inquiry shifts the focus and frame of mind to the positive possibilities. A positive mindset and focus will more likely result in translating lessons learned from other experiences into practical realities in other contexts. With a positive mindset problems and challenges are more likely to be perceived as opportunities.

    Hope this is helpful.

    Kind regards,

  4. Katie says:

    Good questions. I think people who typically promote an appreciative inquiry type model would argue that by focusing on the good, what isn’t working naturally comes out – the difference is the negative stuff doesn’t become an energy vacuum.

    In my opinion it is important to balance an appreciative inquiry with a deficit view and it really depends on the situation. For a topic very broad and when the solutions are largely undefined – such as the concept of models of unity – I think an appreciative approach is appropriate. On the other hand, when there is a very specific problem in an organization or community, a balance of appreciative and deficit is appropriate. Because the deficit view (i.e. uncovering whats not working) will quickly identify behaviors or actions that need to and can be changed. If you use only an appreciative approach in those types of situations then it may take a much longer time to uncover the “quick wins” you can do to improve a situation.

    There are my two cents!

  5. Larry Miller says:

    The very title of your website, “Models of Unity” is, by definition, a statement of the positive. We are bombarded every day with a media obsessed with every flaw, every failure, every suspicion and fear. We need a focus on what is working. It is the positive examples and lessons from which we can learn. Competitive business people are always looking for “best practices”, what is working for customers, what is working within the culture or management practices of organizations. Unfortunately, in the public sector we rarely see this. When did you see a news story on a Congressman who was doing his job well? Or, two Congressmen or women who are working a cross party lines to solve a problem? There are lots of these examples, but they are generally ignored. See http://www.lmmiller.com/blog/ for further thoughts.

  6. Thanks to all for your comments and encouragement!

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