Appreciative Inquiry – Changing Oxford’s Community Engagement

Appreciative Inquiry – Changing Oxford’s Community Engagement


Debunking SARA for course delegates

Debunking SARA for course delegates

Last year I started a pilot course alongside Oxford City Council, Oxford Police and Skills for Justice Awards for the ‘Problem Solving in Community Safety’ qualification. To achieve this award delegates need to complete a practical problem solving assignment based on the learning from the course. For many of the delegates this has involved running an appreciative inquiry.

The overall aim of the course is to enable delegates to improve their ability to engage with communities and through that process improve their ability to allow others to resolve problems. The Oxford delegates were already really good at solving practical problems through a SARA based approach, which for the most part meant responding to crime and ASB with a range of enforcement tools. The challenge for the delegates was to find more meaningful ways to engage with their communities so that the need for enforcement would reduce. At the same time they would encourage and catalyse their partners and communities to discover ways of resolving problems before they become something that could only be resolved through the use of expensive tools and powers.

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Oxford delegates experiencing Appreciative Inquiry

One of the course sessions introduced the delegates to the concept of using Appreciative Inquiry as a means of engaging with their communities, the aim being that service providers would be responsible for enabling and catalysing community members to take their own action to resolve some of the complex problems that exist in their neighbourhoods. This is in contrast to the Police and Communities Together (PACT) approach (highlighted in my last blog) where the police end up creating more and more demand. What PACT does well is to create a dependency cycle by the police seeking out problems and then promising to address them. I’m a great believer in community members being encouraged and supported to take the actions that they are uniquely able to do on their own or with support from service providers when needed. Appreciative Inquiry is a model that encourages this to happen.

The best way to learn how to utilise Appreciative Inquiry is to experience it for yourself, and so that is what we did with the Oxford delegates. Trying to understand techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry and other asset based methods of community engagement can be daunting if you rely on the texts (too much detail and made more complicated than it need be) or on expensive specialist consultants who will tell you how the only way is their way, and if you don’t follow their complex methodology then you’re, ‘not doing it properly.’

I’m a passionate believer in giving new ideas a go; surely practicing your craft in real life scenarios is one of the best ways to learn? After all, what’s the worst that can happen if you give Appreciative Inquiry a go instead of following the demand creating PACT model?

And that is exactly what the Oxford delegates have been doing, learning their craft as problem solvers and enablers by giving Appreciative Inquiry a go. And as for the results? Why don’t you see for yourself?

In this YouTube clip you’ll see Daryl Edmunds from Oxford City Council and Inspector Andy Thompson using Appreciative Inquiry alongside partners and community to discover better ways to reduce graffiti in the Oxford City area:

Oxford Council and Police working with communities to tackle graffiti

They’ve also been using Appreciative Inquiry to work out improved ways of enabling community groups to take a more active part in problem solving ASB issues:

Involving young people in an Appreciative Inquiry session

Supporting the actions created from the Appreciative Inquiry on behalf of young people

After reading this you might be thinking about trying out a new model for your PACT meetings? One based on Appreciative Inquiry and asset based approaches? In my next blog I’ll describe how you could be doing this at your next PACT meeting through a step by step ‘how to’ guide.







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