Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Community Development:
The World Vision Tanzanian Experience

by Sarone Ole Sena & Dirk Booy

Editor's Note: Along with a number of other NGos, World Vision Tanzania has been working with the GEM Initiative to apply the Appreciative Inquiry approach to local institution-building efforts in East Africa. Sarone Ale Sena, capacity building director for World Vision Tanzania, and Dirk Booy, its national director, have both been pioneering the use of Appreciative Inquiry to build the capacity of communities they serve.


World Vision (WV) was founded in 1950 by Dr. Bob Pierce, who was touched by the plight of a single orphan in China. Today, 46 years later, WV works in over one hundred countries and directly affects the lives of about 49 million people.

Established in 1981 World Vision Tanzania (WVT) has two hundred staff working in 72 projects impacting the lives of about 2 million people. We have come a long way and have had the opportunity to learn much. In this paper, which contains three parts, we wish to summarize our learnings in community development (CD) and to share a new and exciting approach called Appreciative Inquiry.

First we examine the WVT community development journey to understand where we have come from; next, we look at the Appreciative Inquiry and community development process; and finally, we describe the ways we in WVT are implementing this approach.

WVT's Community Development Journey

In order to understand WVT's community development journey, one has to appreciate two contributing factors: global trends in the development process and WVT's own historical development.

Throughout the modern history of development, a steady maturing process has evolved, moving away from seeing communities as separate from the development process and instead seeing their capacity as the primary catalyst for development. A brief history of development could read as follows:

1950-60 Do development to the people. The priority is for capital and technical investment to induce development. People are seen as separate from the development process.

1960-70 Do development for the people. People are seen as recipients of development but not as active players.

1970-80 Do development through the people. People are seen as the process for achieving development, but it is still orchestrated from outside the community.

1980-90 Do development with the people. People's participation is seen as a necessary ingredient, with communities considered as catalysts or partners in development.

1990- Empower people for development. The focus is now on developing local capacity for self-development. For the first time, people are seen as the primary focus and owners ofthe development process.

It needs to be said that these trends should be broadly interpreted, as there is much overlap. Not all development organizations have successfully matured atthe same rate, and some continue to operate within old paradigms. Nevertheless, this history provides a framework within which to understand our own journey.

Bob Pierce established World Vision initially to aid war orphans and refugee families, with sponsorship viewed as the most efficient and effective way of caring for the children. At the time, children and their needs were seen in isolation from their families and their communities. Sponsorship was a simple method of transferring funds directly to the institutions caring for the children.

This model sufficed for some time as World Vision grew. But over time the sponsorship system began to reveal its limitations. For example, by focusing on the symptoms of poverty rather than its root causes, the old sponsorship model isolated children from their social/economic reality. A more integrated and holistic approach was needed. Thus, WV began to involve itselfwith whole communities: their needs, local resources, hopes, and aspirations. Although sponsorship is still a primary funding strategy, sponsored children are now seen as a focal point for the transformation of their families and communities.

Prior to 1981, when WVT was officially registered in Tanzania, World Vision International (WVI) had initiated a number of interventions in that country. These interventions, completely orchestrated from the outside and on an ad hoc basis, included reliefactivities, pastors' conferences, and responses to specific requests from the local church. This period was reflective ofthe 60s and 70s paradigm: Do development for the people.

Once established, WVT moved into the phase of Do development through the people. However during its early years, WVT identified the people as the institutional church and not the community. Community development was therefore interpreted as church development, with the majority of interventions channeled through the local church to the community and thus owned by the church rather than the community. Church schools and clinics were built. Pastors homes were built. Church training centers were opened, and church income-generating projects were supported. As a result WVT was viewed primarily as a church-owned institution during this period.

Learning the importance of more participatory strategies during the 1980s and early 1990s, WVT began to use approaches like training of trainers, participatory evaluation process, and participatory rural appraisal extensively. WVT had now moved into the paradigm of Do development with the people. Although these approaches greatly enhanced the CD process, WVT found that still something was missing. Because our goals of transformation and sustainability were still not completely realized, we needed to take our learnings one more step.

In 1992, WVI adopted a new mission statement that clearly set its priorities for the future. At the same time we adopted a new approach to community development called the Area Development Program (ADP). This approach seeks to empower local communities to transform their lives through sustainable community-based interventions.

These changes had a dramatic effect on WVT. With the new mission statement and focus on transformational development, WVT was forced to reflect upon its own ministry and how it was promoting the overall mission in Tanzania. The ADP approach adopted in the early 1990s pushed the focus from church to community. An extensive review process in 1993-94 helped WVT shift into the next paradigm of Empowering people for development. Although this was a difficult process, WVT has as a result become more holistic and empowering in its development interventions. Our community development journey can be seen in the chart below.

As WVT became more community focused in its development strategy, it also identified the need to develop its own internal capacity even as it promoted external capacity building ofthe community and others. It is in this spirit of learning that WVT has embarked upon the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach to community development.

WVT's Community Development Journey

Factor     From     To
Primary strategy     Institutional support ofchurches      Community capacity building
Sponsorship     Isolating individual children      Children as part of community
WVT staff     Facilitate transfer of resources      Facilitate community development
Communities     Separate from the development process      owners of the process
Interventions     Specific, tangible, technical      Holistic, integrated

Community Development and Appreciative Inquiry

Almost every development text, project proposal, and program design document has a section on problem analysis. As development practitioners, we are taught that the problemsolving approach is fundamental to the community development process. Problem analysis keeps us focused and specific in terms of our interventions. Take, for example, the following quotes:

A development project sets out to tackle problems. The project has its limitations in resources, and hence it can often deal only with some aspects of a core problem. There is a need to prioritize the problems and decide, within existing resources, which are the most suitable to tackle first and what related activities should be undertaken.2

or from a very popular CD field text produced in East Africa:

The whole of education and development is seen as a common search for solutions to problems. The aim of the animator (therefore) is to help the participants (community people) identify aspects of their lives which they wish to change, to identify problems, find root causes of these problems, and work out practical ways in which they can set about changing the situation.3

The approach to community development used here is familiar: the development worker aims to change an existing situation so that problems experienced can be solved. The approach sounds logical to us and is standard practice. However, the basic approach is built upon problem solving. once a problem is solved, the project is considered successful. In other words, the project revolves around community problems rather than community opportunities. It is our experience in WVT that this paradigm does not encourage sustainable transformation over time.

In contrast, the Appreciative Inquiry approach to community development tries to find out about things at their best, about people at their best. Rather than ask people about things that aren't working or that are "broken," Al asks people to identify their assets, to reflect upon the best elements oftheir culture, to recall a time when they performed exceptionally well, and then to hold that positive image ofthemselves as they envision even greater possibility.

Positive imagery is rarely the focus ofthe problem-solving approach. Usually, there is little appreciation for the potential the community already has, and the community may not be asked what its vision is. AI, on the other hand, assumes that the community has potential- that something is working rather than seeking out what is broken, AI begins with appreciation. The animator or facilitator encourages people to discover, describe, and explain those social innovations, however small, which give life to the community. She enters the community not to identify and fix problems, but to empower the people through expanding local capacity for self-development.

The appreciative approach helps her to facilitate the community's search for the best of what exists. What are the best farming practices in the community? What are the unique aspects of the community's culture that most positively affect the spirit, vitality, and effectiveness of community members? What is the core factor that gives life to the community?

Valuing what exists leads to envisioning what might then be. The facilitator works with the community to create a positive image of a desired and preferred future. What are the most important hopes and wishes the people have to heighten community health and vitality?

Such an aproach leads to open sharing of possibilities.

The CD facilitator enables the community to engage in dialogue, through which a consensus begins to emerge, within the community: they say "Yes, this is a vision that we value and should aspire to." By using Appreciative Inquiry, the facilitator empowers community members to find creative ways to move closer to their vision. By seeking an imaginative and fresh perception of the community, as if seen for the very first time, the "appreciative eye" takes nothing for granted-searching to apprehend the basis of community life and working to articulate those possibilities.

In summary, the appreciative approach to community development is empowering. It focuses on positive things about the community that are tangible sources of hope and learning. Application ofthis new paradigm to CD interventions has led to WVT's community capacity building strategy.

World Vision Tanzania's Use of AI for Community Capacity Building

Community capacity building involves recognizing the community's need to develop and believe in its potential to become more- sometimes more than expected or even more than seems possible. World Vision Tanzania helps communities develop Community Capacity Indicators (CCI), which communities can use to assess their own ability to plan, carry out, and evaluate their self -development. The CCI process involves seven steps:

1. During the relationship-building process, people are encouraged to share their good news stories, their strengths and opportunities, their dreams, and their shared visions.

Communities are asked to compare the existing situation with the desired and preferred future. What is the current reality in relation to the desired future? Focusing on the similarities and differences between the community vision and the actual situation helps establish baselines.

3. Communities determine what capacities are required to achieve their vision. What habits, skills, knowledge, attitudes, andvalues are required in a particular community for it to be able to achieve the vision? Capacity encompasses much more than mere possession of knowledge and skills; often those communities with the greatest capacity do not possess the skills, but do possess the spirit, enthusiasm, and hope for transformation. Experience seems to show that most communities would like to build capacity in management, finance, networking, and technical areas such as health, agriculture, etc. Capacity goals are established by the community in each area.

4. To determine what kinds of capacity they wish to build over time, communities assess the level oftheir skills in areas listed in Number 3. Using the plant cycle as a metaphor(planting,germination, growing, fruit/flowering, and propagation), communities are challenged to evaluate their level of maturity. By assessing its level of capacity in each area, the community establishes capacity baselines from which to build.

5. The community is empowered to develop specific indicators in each category against the phases or stages of its growth. These indicators will help the community monitor and assess progress on a regular basis. How does a particular community know it has moved from planting in relationship building to germination and to growing? Community capacity indicators help give the community some indication or sign that they are making, or not making, progress.

6. The comunity formulates strategies and plans to systematically build its capacity in order to achieve the desired future. These strategies and plans are developed through participatory processes that enable men, women, youth, and children to be part and parcel of the vision.

7. An outside agency such as World Vision becomes a facilitator, empowering communities through developing local capacity to a point at which community members graduate and become independent ofthe agency.

Where are we now with CCI? We first tested AI in 1994. Then about one year ago we began a concerted effort to implement the CCI process, launching attaining program for staff as well as community leaders in each of our six program areas to help them understand, appreciate, and use AI. There is a lot of excitement as both parties partner to learn about this innovative approach to community development. Although it is still too early to report on the tangible fruits of the first harvest, one thing is clear: we believe we are headed in the right direction.

1 Adapted from James Mayfield, Going to the People(p. 157).

2 Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) of the United Nations Taking Hold of Rural Life. RAPA Publication, 1990 (p. 43).

3 Anne Hope and Sally Timmel, Training for Transformational Community Workers, Mambo Press, 1984 (p. 9).

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