What is the 99% organisation?

The 99% organisation was set up to implement the aims of a book by Mark E. Thomas  called ‘The 99%, mass impoverishment and how we can end it’. Its two main aims are “growing the pie and sharing it more fairly.” One of its initial projects is called ‘Herefordshire 2030’ (H2030), this being the county in which Mark lives. Appreciative inquiry was chosen to provide qualitative information about life in the county now and as it might be in future, to complement quantitative analysis.

Who developed the questions, and what was the timescale?

Normally, the questions are developed by a core group. In this case, they were developed partly at the weekly meeting of people involved in the H2030 project (in bold) and partly by a subset of three of us.

12th August 2020: introduction to AI (15 minutes)

19th August: brainstorm of possible questions, using the chat, with some selection of which ones the group liked best (one hour)

20th August: two other members of the group and me drafted a set of questions (about an hour)

20th August to the 26th: six members of the group managed to hold twelve trial conversations using the questions

26th August: the six reported on their experience and the questions were refined (one hour)

27th August: the three of us that met on the 19th produced a final set of questions (about an hour). These were sent round with background on the 99% organisation’s aims and with the background to the appreciative interviews.

The questions

AI the questions cover four areas:

  1. Discovery (what’s going on now – from an appreciative perspective)
  2. Dream (what do people want?)
  3. Design (how can this come about?)
  4. Destiny (what part does the interviewee want to play in making it happen?)

We look at the evolution of the questions category by category.

Discovery

The final questions were as follows. The words not in bold are optional.

  1. Tell me some of the things (a couple of things) you like about living in Herefordshire/strong>

Follow up question (if appropriate): why do you like it?

Possible second follow up question: In what ways – if any – has lockdown improved your quality of life?

  1. On the other hand, tell me some of the things that you find challenging about your daily life in Herefordshire
  2. When your life in Herefordshire has been going well, what has helped? What have you have noticed?

In terms of the first question, some of the questions brainstormed on August 19th were:

      • Why do you live in Herefordshire?
      • What in Herefordshire inspires you?
      • Do you have a favourite place in Hereford you like to visit?
      • What is the most enjoyable aspect of life in Herefordshire for you?
      • What would you miss most if you were to move away?
      • What is the single best thing about living in Herefordshire?

We originally followed the last of these and asked ‘tell me something you like…’ We changed that to enable people to tell us about more than one thing, with the wording designed to avoid people giving us a list, but rather telling a story about each of a few different things.

The second question started out as, “What are the major challenges for you in your daily life”. The first change was to add, “in Herefordshire”, to encourage people to tell us stories that other people in the county would relate to. Secondly, the question felt abrupt, so we took out the word “major” and added some extra words to soften the impact of the question.

We also added “in Herefordshire” to the third question, for the same reason.  The original wording was, “When your life has been going well, what have you have noticed about what has helped?” We turned that into two sentences, as one or two of our trial interviewees found the single sentence difficult to absorb.

Dream

The final version was:

  1. What do you think would most transform (make most difference to) the quality of people’s lives in the county?

Follow up questions:  How would that change make a difference? How will the county look in 2030 as a result of this change? Which groups would particularly benefit? How would it affect your life?

Possible prompt: how will key areas like business, infrastructure (e.g. the internet and roads) and the environment be different?

This was originally, “If you had a magic wand and could improve one thing about Herefordshire, what would it be?” We changed it to emphasise that we were after change that was transformatory and ambitious. We also added the first follow up question, to push people a bit.

 

Design

  1. Round here, where do you notice the ‘can do’ spirit to make that change (OR those changes) happen? It could be a person or it could be an organisation.

We tinkered with ordering of the words in the first sentence, but the main change was to add the second sentence, by way of explanation. We were a bit bemused that in our trial run a couple of people answered ‘Prince Charles’, an absentee landowner, but we couldn’t see how to reword the question to exclude him!

Destiny

  1. What role, if, would you like to see yourself play in this change?

Follow up question: What would help you to play that role?

This didn’t change at all from start to finish.

One extra question appeared in the final draft:

  1. Is there anything else you would like to add?

What happens next?

The questions have been incorporated into a two page form that people could use to make notes. There are another four pages of notes on who to interview, how to prepare, what to do after the interview and so on. For instance, this was the suggested wording for introducing the H2030 project:

“The aim of this project is to develop a clear, compelling and fact-based picture of how Herefordshire in 2030 can be fairer, greener and more prosperous than today.  It will also show the actions that will need to be taken to achieve that progress, and how they can be realised. And it will develop a practical plan to engage those who will need to make it happen.”

Let me know if you would like to see these notes.

As a final test of the questions, each member of the H2030 group will use them to interview one other member. Then they will go live, with the aim of holding conversations with at least 40 people who make up a cross-section of the county.

 

Perry Walker: September 2020

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