General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Appreciative Inquiry on Unitarian Universalism: Making a Meaningful, Relevant Difference

Three men ponder their workshop materials together.

General Assembly 2008 Event 2052

Presenter: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees

The purpose of this well-attended workshop was to inform the UUA Board as it writes "ends" statements to set vision and direction for the future. In addition, it served as valuable training in Appreciative Inquiry for congregational leaders.

Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western University as a process that uses positive questions and interviews to focus on how an organization functions at its best. It is the cooperative search for the best in people, organizations, and the relevant world around them, and it involves a systematic discovery of what gives a system "life" when it is most effective. During the process, we use questions to sharpen our vision and inspire action. According to Barbara Stoker of Intelligent Risking, Inc., "By asking positive questions, we generate new images of the future. These powerful images of ourselves, our organizations, and the world allow us to create the future we desire."

We were guided in the Appreciative Inquiry process by Laura Park of Unity Church-Unitarian, Managing Director of Unity Consulting. Members of the UUA Board were in attendance to answer questions, and they circulated among the small group sessions to remain in close contact with the process.

Our inquiry began with one-on-one interviews. We each focused on an individual story about a peak moment when we experienced Unitarian Universalism (UUism) making a difference. We especially focused on a time when we felt particularly alive, involved, connected, engaged, affirmed, and excited. For some of us this was a personal difference UUism made to us as individuals; in other cases it was more global. Each interviewer listened and drew out the details such as: When and where? Who was involved and how? What happened? And What factors in you, in others, and in UUism made this experience possible? In each case, we focused on the positive with appreciation.

Next, during our one-on-one interviews, we each talked about what we value most about the difference UUism makes to each of us personally, or to the community, or to the world. Again, each interviewer asked: what, how, why, who, and when?

In the third step, we imagined five years have passed; we imagined it is 2013, and the factors that made our peak experiences possible are fully alive. What three wishes for UUism have come true?

After completing these one-on-one interviews, we gathered into groups of four. Each of us told the story we had heard and we looked for the values that connected our stories and wishes. What do we care about, as a group? What factors made our peak experiences possible? And what possibilities do our stories and wishes open up for UUism to make a difference in the future?

We summarized these wishes in bold, provocative statements, stated as if it is happening now, and also in the visual shorthand of collages that open up our three wishes to people who were not with us at this productive General Assembly workshop. The UUA Board will be looking at the end-statements and will delegate them to the organization's executive to make them come true.

Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

We’re interested in your thoughts! What do you dream of for the future of Unitarian Universalism? What connecting themes do you see in the workshop material? What does the workshop material say about UUA ENDS: what difference is the UUA here to make and for whom? Email Laura Park ( with your reflections.

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