[from book part 2 When the beginning starts to begin]

In 2011 we had prepared our first AI action-learning program: a colloquium, a 16-day course and a list of excellent speakers/trainers, but no participants. How does one acquire a full group, when we felt that traditional, commercial marketing methods are not applicable for recruiting AI-participants? Other than pulling, persuading or even seducing potential participants to attend our program, we prefer them to invite themselves to join. (How do you invite someone to dance?) We wanted to start an experience of co-creation and co-ownership from the very beginning. And you’ll understand that this subtle way of ‘being present’ resulted in a modest start. Initially we attracted a small number of visitors on our website, and those that did join often felt some insecurity about the actual start of the program due to a potential lack of participants.

We also chose a customer intimacy approach, which meant we aimed at small groups of about twelve participants. The first two groups, I am proud to mention, delivered 25 AI-alumni. So we initiated a third group, aiming to start the program in January 2013. At that time we had six participants, too few to start a full program. At the same time we appreciated the fact that six people had shown their interest and trust. How to proceed? Should we postpone the starting date (again)? We found a better solution.

Why not just start with those six people? Not the formal program, but ‘prelude’ sessions. We gathered for the first meeting and started ‘doing AI’ together. We got acquainted via the first steps of an AI-interview and there was plenty of room for questions of course. We practiced AI before we studied it and why not? During four of such prelude meetings, we welcomed two new participants, which brought the total to eight. Together we decided that we would start the formal training program, with a few alterations.

It became a success. With our tiny budget trying to save money on training locations, we decided to not invite our lecturers to our places, but to visit them in their working environments. So we travelled (coffee and cakes in a picnic basket) to Leuven where professor René Bouwen is seated. And to the University of Humanistics to attend a lecture by professor Alexander Maas. All due to the decision to organize preludes, giving us time to re-think the program, and to involve the participants in the ‘re-design’. The preludes were even more valuable than we could imagine…

Because we ‘practised’ AI during four meetings, the group was more attached and involved than ever before. And when they followed lessons on e.g. social constructionism, they could link their experiences with the given content, resulting in deeper learning and happy teachers. The third training group was a small one, at the same time exposing high quality learning.

If you are to organize a meeting, conference, party or other group process, when does the gathering actually begin? At what point in your preparations would you already involve the people you would like to invite? Can a preparatory meeting be organized as a small preview version of the actual meeting? How can you be the ‘director’ of the program, and at the same time co-maker?

You’ve just read one of the 110 chapters of my book Appreciative Inquiries of the 3.0 Kind. Find out more (and a special pre-ordering offer) on www.appreciativeinquiries.eu