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Capital Region’s Tech Valley of New York is a Model for Ours–The Age of Collaboration

David Cooperrider Posted by David Cooperrider.

David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. is professor and chair of the Program on Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University. In 1987 Dr. Cooperrider and Dr. Suresh Srivastva published the original, foundation theory of AI in an article that has reverberated and changed the field of organizational development.

Capital Region’s Tech Valley of New York is a Model for Ours–The Age of Collaboration

The Capital Region is known for its robust economy. It has been characterized as a technology hub, with a particular focus on biotech, life sciences and nanotechnology.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: business.ny.gov

It’s exciting to me to see so much progress on the sustainability front and the way the Appreciative Inquiry large group planning method–in our age of collaboration– can accelerate and sustain positive change. In a few minutes I will share the letter by Cheri Warren of National Grid and the vision of Mike Tucker, the President for Economic Growth for the Capital Region’s of New York economic development planning and design process. But first a primer on the Appreciative Inquiry Design Summit.


It’s so true. We are entering the collaborative age. Organizations, cities, economic regions, whole industries, and even world summits are searching for methods that bring people and institutions together across specializations, sectors, and silos in positive ways to discover common ground for action. Planning methods of the past are slow, cumbersome and falling short in our complex, multi-stakeholder environments.  But fortunately management innovations are making breakthroughs and 21st century approaches are coming of age—especially those that embrace whole systems engagement from a strengths-based and design thinking perspective.   


An Appreciative Inquiry Summit is a large group strategic planning, designing or implementation meeting that brings a whole system of 300 to 3,000 or more internal and external stakeholders together in a concentrated way to work on a task of strategic significance. Moreover, it is a powerful and task focused 2-3 day planning process where everyone is engaged as co-designers, across all relevant and resource-rich boundaries, to share leadership and take ownership for making the future of some big league opportunity successful. A United Nations CEO report, as mentioned earlier, recently called it “the best large group method in the world today.” [1]


The summit concept appears bold at first, but is based on a simple notion: when it comes to system-wide innovation and integration, there is nothing that brings out the best in human systems—faster, more consistently and more effectively—than the power of ‘the whole’.


Flowing from the tradition of strengths-based management (Cooperrider 2012), the “AI Summit” says that in a multi-stakeholder world it is not about (isolated) strengths per se, but about configurations, combinations and interfaces.  We live in a world where change is the new normal but today the question is not just how do we change for the better. The real question has shifted: its how do we change at the scale of the whole? “How do we move together as a whole 67,000-person telephone company; or a whole 1.5 million-person city; or a 250,000 children whole school system; or as a whole nation? Moreover, as we plan and design together how precisely do we do it in a ways that more quickly elevates the best in our system, and helps us move beyond dialogue to design, beyond good conversation to actual innovation, unified action, and more rapid results?”  


While at first it seems incomprehensible that large groups of hundreds of people in the room can be effective in unleashing system-wide strategies, making organizational decisions and designing rapid prototypes for collective action, this is exactly what is happening in organizations around the world. Appreciative Inquiry was introduced into the business world in 1987 by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva and soon thereafter University of Michigan’s Bob Quinn said in his book Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results “Appreciative Inquiry is revolutionizing the field of organization development and change.”


AI provides the tools and methods for elevating system-wide strengths, for creating new combinations and concentration effects of strengths, and ultimately spreading and deploying those strengths in the service of a more positive and valued future.  Its based on a leadership principle proposed by the Peter Drucker many years ago: “The great task of leadership” said Drucker, “is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”  


That’s what the word appreciation means. It means valuing those things of value. It also means, “to increase in value.”  And that’s how innovation happens, through the elevation, magnification and cross-multiplication of solutions and discovering together what works, what’s better, and what’s possible. Today AI’s approach to strengths-inspired, instead of problematizing change, is supplanting many of the traditional change management models in the business and society. Appreciative inquiry is being practiced everywhere: the corporate world, the world of public service, of economics, of education, of faith, of philanthropy—it is affecting them all.


How do you do it?  In actuality it is very simple—think of three phases—the pre-summit phase, the summit, and the post summit. Once a trusted and capable convener or convening alliance is assembled a steering/design team goes through a 1-2 day design session where everything big picture for the summit is designed—the stakeholder mix; the articulation of the summit task; plans for pre-summit momentum and research; and the agenda framework—then the summit workbook and design is homegrown. The summit itself is almost the easiest element in the whole process; in our experience the steering committee meeting the key moment. And from the completion or date of the steering committee meeting, the typical summit usually takes place in 3-6 months.


The AI Summit impacts are fast, efficient (bypassing hundreds of small group committee meetings) and ultimately powerful, productive, and inspiring. Leaders—for example the head of the United States Navy and the Secretary General of the United Nations, as well as big city Mayors and CEOs of some the largest corporations in the world—commonly are moved by how quickly the best and most positive in their systems comes out. They applaud the speed, the substantive deliberation, and acceleration that can happen. Following an AI Summit they often ask:  “What was all the fuss about?” And “how did we manage to get so many good people into this summit?” In other words, the AI Summit—especially when implemented with its six success factors (see attached journal articles)—consistently brings out the best in human systems. [2] 


[1] The Global Compact Leaders Summit Report (UN 2004) documents the impact of Appreciative Inquiry at the United Nations world summit between Kofi Annan and CEOs from 500 corporations including Hewlett-Packard, Starbucks, Tata, Royal Dutch Shell, Novartis, Microsoft, IBM, and Coca Cola. For the full report go to: http://www.unglobalcompact.org/docs/news_events/8.1/summit_rep_fin.pdf. In the report CEO Rodrigo Loures concludes “Appreciative Inquiry is the best large group method in the world today.”

[2] Cooperrider, D. 2012. The Concentration Effect of Strengths, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 42, No. 2, April-May 2012, p. 21-32.


Cooperrider, DL. and McQuaid, M. (2012) The Positive Arc of Systemic Strengths. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, Vol. 46, Summer 2012.


So now to the Capital Region of New York story. What a success story! Here is what Cheri Warren of National Grid and the vision of Mike Tucker, the President for Economic Growth for the Capital Region’s of New York economic development planning and design process said before their first large scale AI Summit in 2013: 


"On behalf of the Center for Economic Growth and National Grid, we would like to welcome you to the Regional Infrastructure Forum. This two day forum Tech Valley and Beyond: Growing Sustainable Infrastructure at the Speed of Life is being help on October 30th & 31st at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Albany and it will help all of us in the region achieve our hard infrastructure ambitions. 


This process is strongly complementary to the Regional Economic Development Council process and is similarly inclusive in convening a broad group of relevant stakeholders. It represents a promising strategy supporting a key goal of our region’s Strategic Plan to "Build a Superhighway: Ensure that a 21st Century infrastructure exists so the Capital Region will become the first destination for business in New York State and be accessible to build, grow, and expand business.”  The Capital Region Economic Development Council and its Infrastructure sub-workgroup has identified the large group Appreciative Inquiry Summit process as a catalyst for the development and execution of a transformational infrastructure plan for our region.


By leveraging the strengths and assets of all stakeholders, the AI Summit is based on a simple notion: when it comes to system-wide innovation and integration, there is nothing that brings out the best in human systems—faster, more consistently and more effectively—than the power of “the whole.” A guiding principle will be: act regionally when planning for the future of Tech Valley, and honor locally by being inclusive of all stakeholders in the eleven county region.


 We invite you to participate fully in this collaboration. Our aim is clear: for our region to excel we must advance our collective future together, leverage the opportunities, investments, and vast potentials already at our door, and establish a process so the right infrastructure can be planned where it’s needed, at the right time and at the right cost.


Mike Tucker President, Center for Economic Growth &

Cheri Warren, CIO National Grid

Thanks Cheri and Mike. Your belief in inclusive planning environments is not only paying off but is a model of building collaboration, trust, and unleashing the innovation of the universe of strengths.  


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