Making Strategy Real

The Challenge

‘We want to hold a strategy conference and we want to do it in a strengths based way. Can you help us?’


The Need

Richard and his commissioning team from the local authority already knew that they wanted to involve myriad local senior decision-makers in the development of their strategy for implementing the government driven initiative ‘Family First’. A day and a venue were earmarked. Up to 200 people were invited. Key-note speakers had been arranged. An exhibition of local services was arranged to run as a trade fair alongside. The planning team knew that within these parameters they wanted to do something different. They didn’t want a conventional conference, they wanted something that was strengths based, something that would make strategy real from the start. Could we help?


The Process 

Working closely with the multi-functional planning team, Appreciating Change designed a day that would be participatory and engaging and would meet the strategic commissioner’s need to develop strategy. Calling on Appreciative Inquiry as a framework, the day was designed to identify existing strengths across the network, to create a variety of shared ideas of what the future could be like if this strategic objective was achieved, and to begin to identify ways to achieve it. The day was delivered by Appreciating Change working in partnership with the planning team.


The Outcome 

The day (attended by 150 people) delivered a number of identifiable strategic results:

•   We improved the social capital of the delivery system of Think Family, that is the quality of trust, knowledge, and information-sharing processes across the system, so increasing the system self-organization abilities and reducing time drag, saving time and energy.

•   We enhanced the relational strength of the delivery system of Think Family, increasing connectivity and the ability for good practice, knowledge and skill to flow to where it is needed to deliver the strategy. We increased the system’s responsiveness.

•   We identified the positive core of good practice that enables Think Family, so identifying the heart of the strategy and saving time and energy collecting and disseminating this information through other means.

•   We co-created a shared understanding, or vision of, and desire for, an integrated, joined up, responsive, flexible, family needs-led, strengthening, honouring, interconnected service for families in the borough, saving time and energy on ‘getting buy-in’ amongst stakeholders to the vision.

•   We helped the system understand itself much better, so enhancing the abilities of the component parts to utilise the strengths of the whole system, increasing overall effectiveness.

•   We created positive energy in the system that enhances its ability to create change reducing the need for driving and motivating as separate parts of the implementation process, saving energy.

•   We created a propensity within the system to act in a greater Think Family way, creating a united strategic intent, saving energy.

•   We created a series of resolutions for individual and joint action that will serve to move things forward, creating positive impact.

All these positive outcomes were achieved at a very difficult time of cutbacks and redundancies (and government change!).

Measured evaluation on the day showed outcomes included increased clarity about how the strategy would look in practice, increased sense that the vision was shared across all stakeholders, greater clarity about the key elements and increased energy and enthusiasm for making it happen. The modal average for all of these indicators moved 3 points on a 10 point scale in a positive direction.

In addition the planning team have now become the sustainability team and are embarking on a process of closely questioning the system to discover detailed stories about the changes in people’s practice and the impact of this on families in the borough. Once discovered, these can be amplified and broadcast to help grow the emerging awareness of system change and improvement.


The Feedback 

Many comments were made at the event about the value of the conversations being held, the stories being shared and the connections being made. One participant was moved to record her appreciation more formally:

‘May I pass on the congratulations of our Line Manager, Mary Taylor, and all members of the Transfer Team for the terrific organisation on this excellent recent conference. The Transfer Team found it to be of enormous benefit and we made some excellent colleague contacts with other teams. We wanted to thank you for the opportunity to learn about the work of other teams and to be able to discuss the work of the Transfer Team with colleagues who have greater direct contact with families who may benefit from our assistance.’

The Council Member was formally congratulated, in Chamber, on the success of the ‘innovative and creative’ event.

In addition the term ‘think family’ became part of the system lexicon, used to call people to good practice and as shorthand for the objective of the changes in practice. This is strategy come alive in hearts and minds.


More on these and related topics can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more articles from the Knowledge Warehouse on the use of Appreciative Inquiry here and on Strategy here.


Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we can help with Engagement and Culture and how we use Appreciative Inquiry.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715