ICA USA applies appreciative inquiry to articulate core values

Thirty years ago, the Institute of Cultural Affairs worked with Case Western Reserve University to research the inner life and workings of ICA. The case study began with the metaphor that organizations are “miracles of human interaction, the mystery of which deepens as we probe more into them.” To probe the mystery, the research team conducted an appreciative inquiry, a methodology that seeks to “locate and heighten the ‘life giving properties’ of organizations” by seeking the best of what is to lay the foundation of what might be.

ICA and Case Western identified five “life-giving forces” as the best of what is, as the “unique structure and processes of the organization that makes its very existence possible.” They can be summarized as consensus decision making, corporateness, teaching and learning orientation, service mission, and spirit life.

Thirty years later, the current board and staff at ICA-USA felt it was time to take the pulse of what is, now. While much has changed, ICA-USA has taken care to carry forth lessons from its past. In seeking a new articulation of our core values, we once again posed an appreciative inquiry.

Board and staff members began by interviewing one another. Each was asked to name their peak experience, the values they cherish that give life to the organization, and their vision for the future of ICA-USA. The aggregated responses inspired months of group processing before crystallizing into four “core values” that attempt to bridge what is and what will be. They are radical collaboration, embodied justice, continuous learning, and profound care.

Subsequent descriptions and demonstrations of the four values are forthcoming, but already these values can be seen in our recent work. Throughout the most recent issue of Initiatives, the core values are revealed through stories of some of the people ICA-USA worked with in 2019, including women’s supportive housing organization Sarah’s Circle, Austin Coming Together director Darnell Shields, Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network veteran Alvyn Walker, and performing artist Meida Teresa McNeal, who grew up in Fifth City during ICA’s work in the community.

You can download the complete Initiatives at ica-usa.org/publications.html or find the stories in our latest news section.

This post was written for ICAI’s monthly bulletin the Global Buzz, February 2020.