A Client’s write up of an Appreciative Inquiry Event

This account of a recent one-day Appreciative Inquiry Event by Alan Brunstrom of ECSAT. He wrote it for their internal use and copied me in. I thought it gave a very good sense of the client experience and asked if I might share it on my website.

I hope you find it useful in creating a sense of how these events come about, how they are experienced, and what they can produce.


ECSAT Futures Day

On 13thFebruary ECSAT hosted a unique event, inviting everyone who works at the Centre to contribute their ideas and vision for our individual and collective futures. More than two thirds of those based here joined in, producing a wealth of proposals that also revealed a remarkable amount of shared thinking.

The day was based on the “Appreciative Enquiry” approach, which has already been used successfully by the NAV Directorate. This focuses people’s minds on positives (“What works well here?”, “What would I like to see and do more of?”) rather than on negatives. Moderated by external consultant Sarah Lewis, the method is bottom-up not top-down, with the Head of Centre introducing the event but management otherwise present as participants not leaders. It also cuts across ESA’s normal Directorate boundaries, including both staff and contractors from every team in ECSAT.

Most people were pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was, enjoying the opportunity to network and share ideas outside of their usual teams. The morning sessions were especially enjoyed (it’s always nice to dream without constraints) but the most significant results emerged from the more challenging afternoon sessions, when different ideas competed for attention and support. 

It was striking that a few themes emerged consistently from many different teams, even down to how people in separate rooms represented them graphically. Strongest among these were the concept of ECSAT as an Innovation Centre; and the desire for a Visitor Centre that would become a destination in its own right (above and beyond the current plans for the ECSAT Phase 2 conference centre).

Nine individual topics - some but not all related to these big themes - attracted champions and supporters who are willing to drive them forward. Here they are, along with their conveners (who you can approach if you’d like to know more (The names have been removed for website publication, as requested by Alan):

·      Visitor Centre for exhibitions and education 

·      Makerspace at ECSAT 

·      Autonomous vehicles connecting the Harwell Campus 

·      ESA Skunk Works (project management for New Space)

·      Contractors’ Community 

·      Oxford Airport Flights 

·      Kids’ Day@ECSAT 

·      Virtual Campus 

·      Open Lectures 

These topic groups are now busily developing their plans. These are self-driven and not a wish list for management action, although most of them will bring forward specific actions, requests and justifications to the appropriate managers as and when decisions and resources are needed. To make that process more efficient,(another removed name)is coordinating between them to identify any commonalities.

More details, including lots of photos from the day, are available on the dedicated esaconnect forum. If you have any inputs or questions, or would like to propose additional topics, feel free to contact the topic leaders or simply post them on the forum.

We aim to convene a short follow-up meeting in early June, so that everyone can hear how the various groups are getting along – details to follow.

Thanks to all those who took part for their active and positive contribution!