Appreciative Inquiry Workshop in Ramallah

By Peggy Holman

December 3, 2004

In the summer of 2004, I did a 3-day AI workshop in Ramallah with 30 Palestinians, mostly teachers.  It was the most profound experience I’ve had with Appreciative Inquiry and I’d like to share a bit of the story.

As I prepared for the workshop, I e-mailed my contact, Carol Daniel, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, asking her to suggest a subject we could use for people to experience AI as they learned about the process.  She told me that all Palestinians struggle with living with the occupation.  I gulped when I got her message; how could I write appreciative questions about living with the occupation?  It was beyond my experience.  We settled on leadership as the topic.

By the end of the first day of the workshop, the group had identified characteristics of leaders.  I was troubled because they were qualities external to themselves; it was like they were trying to define a better Arafat rather than insight into their own personal power as leaders.

I began day two not entirely sure how to bring more of the spirit of AI into their experience but knowing my plans for the day needed to be fluid.  We began in a circle.  I asked people to reflect on the previous day.  A few minutes in, someone began talking about how difficult their life was.  Now difficult has an entirely different meaning for someone who must spend hours waiting to get through a checkpoint, or is separated from family by a wall going up around them, or who has seen houses destroyed or loved ones maimed or killed.  Others started to join in on this theme.  I took a deep breath and asked them if they would be willing to try applying what they were learning about Appreciative Inquiry to their lives.  They said yes.  And I breathed a sigh of relief.

They split into four groups and I asked them to pick a topic and develop two questions – a personal story question and a future question.  It was wild!  They were working in Arabic, I’d come by to check in, and they’d switch to English as I asked them for their topics.  With each group, it took some coaching to turn things like “resisting the wall” or “fighting the check points” to “Working with the Wall” and “Useful Checkpoints”.  It was the same with the questions; turning bitterness into productive questions was quite a reframing!  Ultimately, each group had their questions (below).

Here’s an aside on the process of the group who chose Useful Checkpoints.  Once they had the topic, they brainstormed a list of ways in which they had found the checkpoints of value.  Mind you, this is a HUGE contradiction.  Having gone through the check points myself, it is a very eerie experience to have an 18-year old Israeli soldier at his post, just doing his job, pointing a rifle at your head (from a distance) while his partner checks papers.  Many of the Palestinians do this every day.  And time is totally unpredictable.  It can take 5 minutes or 5 hours. Their list of benefits was amazing!  It included things like: getting to know your neighbors; learning respect for elders (as they help them to the front of the line); meeting new people.  Anyway, this work led to developing their story question.

Once each group had their questions, they interviewed each other.  Each person took the question from their group and interviewed someone from another group.  They did several rounds, so everyone got to listen to several answers to their question and answer several questions from other groups.  Wow!  What a powerful experience.  I could feel the energy in the room shift.  When we debriefed their insights from the interviews, their answers were profound.  I’ve shared some below.  These folks, who at the beginning of the day felt completely powerless, found answers for retaining their dignity and finding some sense of their own power in an impossible situation.

The last day was spent on application ideas.  They went back to their schools with projects to do with their colleagues and with their students.  I don’t know the lasting effect, but I know in that moment, these folks knew how to be at their best in any circumstance.

The next week, I did basically the same workshop with counselors and psychologists through the Israeli Ministry of Education.  They were amazed at what their Palestinian neighbors took on.  As they were developing topics and questions about education, one ultra-Orthodox Jewish participant said that perhaps they should develop questions about living with the Intifada.  I hope next time to have the Israelis and Palestinians in the same room.


Affirmative Topic Choice and Writing Questions

From our morning discussion, participants chose the occupation as a topic to work with using Appreciative Inquiry.  They developed questions and interviewed each other using these questions.

Topic: Living with the Occupation

Life is challenging; many capable people fail to face their challenges.

  1. Tell me a story about how you overcame your challenge.  What did you learn about yourself?
  2. You have won an award for being a successful “challenger.”  What qualities made you deserve the prize?  What was the first step that made you such a person?


  1. Tell a story about an experience you had with the wall and made you value something about yourself?
  2. Image the wall has collapsed.  What did people say and do to make this happen?  What steps did you personally take to make this happen?


  1. Tell a story personal experience/ where you get a value from the checkpoints. What was happening?  Who was involved?  What made it such a powerful experience?
  2. How can you reinforce the values you got from the checkpoints in your daily life?  What would you like the checkpoints to be converted to in order to embody the value that you got?


  1. Tell me a story when you were able to do your best regardless of the difficult circumstances.  What happened?  Who was involved?  What made it a powerful experience?
  2. Imagine the future you want became a reality..What did you as an individual contribute to achieve the reality?  Describe in detail.  What steps did you take to make this reality become real?


Positive Core from the Interviews
a. Challenging yourself first and then expand to the whole world
b. Events make people discover themselves
c. Face (work with) your problems
d. Widen the imagination
e. Step out and look at the problem from outside.
f. Working on reinforcing certain values, like cooperation
g. Work through process (it happens a step at a time)
h. Problems make you appreciate what you have
i. Find the positive elements in the negative
j. Determination leads to success
k. Accept the situation in order to be able to deal with it.with a smile
l. Sharing & support each other
m. Motivation leads you to achieve your goals
n. The importance of meeting the other as human
o. Search for the good things in everything


Using the interview experience as the material for both the steps of discovery and dream, each person wrote a design principle. Design principles provide a framework for decisions and actions.  The principles were then grouped together.

a. Freedom, peace, hope is in me!!!  Nobody can give it to me, take it from me.
b. Events make people discover themselves
c. “No” to despair
d. Develop myself
e. Self liberation first

a. Actions speak louder than words
b. Decide on what exactly you want, work on it, have it
c. Deal with the occupation by being patriotic & have knowledge & use technology in the best way we can
d. Think, plan, implement

a. There must be always another way.  Don’t give up and say that this is it.  I can do no more!!! You can.
b. Motivation leads to achieve your goals
c. Some people succeed because of their destiny.but most of them success because they are determined.
d. Where there is a will, there is a way

a. Permit yourself to be in contradictions
b. Respect people, people will respect you
c. Don’t limit yourself with your cooperators (work with everybody)

a. Even small contributions from individuals help make a difference
b. Use what you learned as an individual in meeting the collective goal & best interest
c. Unity is strength

Self-selected groups then used these principles to write one principle reflecting the whole group.

  • Wise flexibility
  • Organization is a powerful force; think before you leap
  • Agree as a collective on your unified goal and be certain that your smallest contributions are significant to achieve the best interest
  • “Impossible” doesn’t exist in the dictionary of “success”.
  • Motivation + Determination + Ability + Action = Success
  • Know YOURSELF, believe in it, liberate it, develop it  –  HOPE  & PEACE & FREEDOM