Appreciative Inquiry Workshop and World Cafe Blend: Farms in the City, Jersey City

Appreciative Inquiry SummitThis post describes the first of six participatory workshops I've have the privilege to design and facilitate with the great City of New Jersey.   This first one was with a wonderful bunch of committed professionals, the Jersey City Green Team,  as part of a research and development (R&D) project for bringing an Urban Agriculture Program to Jersey City.  The initiative was named Farms in the City.


Jersey City planner, Tanya Marione-Stanton was thumbing through GOOD magazine when she saw the call for cities to take part in GOOD 2.0, (R&D) Initiative described as “an open workshop platform for improving your city.” Tanya entered Jersey City into the contest and the application was one of eight accepted out of 100s. You can read more about the background in The Jersey City Independent

Appreciative Inquiry Workshop Design

Over 60 (from 80 invitations) people showed up at the elegant Culinary Conference Center, Hudson County Community College to participate in the world cafe style workshop on the affirmative topic of THRIVING FARMS IN THE CITY.   We followed the classic appreciative inquiry story-telling format first to DISCOVER what strengths, gifts and capabilities already exist in the community in relation to our topic:

Question 1: Discover
 – What already exists in us, around us that we can build on to create thriving farms in the city?

We moved on to DREAM in order to tap into our imaginative capacities to envision what else is possible in urban agriculture in the neighborhoods of Jersey City:

Question 2: Dream
– Imagine your biggest dream for your Farm in the City.  In 2 years, what do you see, hear, taste, smell, touch, enjoy?

Next, we turned our serial conversations to DESIGN where we began to co-create how we best organize ourselves and include others to bring the dream into reality;  we got tactical about the requirements and resources:

Question 3: Design
– How do we make it happen?  What are the organizing elements? Who do we work with and where and when?

From there the participants broke out into their 6 residential wards to look at huge maps of their streets and place icons of what already exists as designated green space and what can be turned into green space.  This information will be added to the Jersey City Green Map.

While in their ward groups, residents noted projects they'd like to be part of with their commitment to participate in an ongoing way, and they were invited to design some kind of creative, fun announcement that would inform and entertain the other breakout ward groups of their initiatives.

Investing 4 hours on a Saturday Afternoon in Community

It is simply magical what can happen when you have the right people in the right place inquiring into issues they care about.

By way of closure, we gathered in a large circle to share what new insights had come as a result of investing 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon in community with others who share their interest in healthy food and farms in the city.  I was touched (and not surprised) to hear some deep and practical reflections from members of the group.

Facilitator's Reflections

I continue to be energized and rewarded with how Appreciative Inquiry (AI)'s Discover, Dream, Design affirmative questions deliver immediate, heightened energy, excitement and power to a group.  I know why:  I am grounded in the theory and practice of AI, yet it still astounds me and brings butterflies to my gut and tears to my eyes.

The structure and the process take participants immediately into a state of valuing themselves and others present in the room (and may not be present in the room), and quickly moves them into imagining what they have the power to collectively co-create.  Because I know that, I can only stress, it is so important not to short-circuit or derail the creative sharing opportunity that people find they have courage to present in the moment, nor cut off  the deep insights and reflections they feel moved to share.  These two pieces touch the core of our being and bring out our leadership.

In a closing circle, not to let that emerge is such a missed opportunity.  We are on sacred ground when we connect with each other at this new, deep level.  When we by-pass it, we possibly short-change the passion and power of everyone in the circle.