The Program

About the Process

Day 1: Telling Great Stories

On Friday afternoon, about 35 participants examined what it takes to tell great stories.  A process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was used.

AI is grounded in research that demonstrates a radical notion: when you focus on what’s working and hopes and aspirations, you achieve more, do it faster, and sustain it longer than when you focus on problem solving.  It is a reversal of the commonly held belief that we learn most from our failures.  In other words, AI has shown that when we study our successes and our aspirations with as much zeal as we study our problems and failures, we get better results!

For example, Avon Mexico wanted to address the problem of sexual harassment.  By asking “what do you really want?” the focus of their work became creating high quality cross-gender work relationships.  Through interviewing employees who already had great cross-gender work relationships, many stories of success were uncovered.  By widely adopting what they learned from these stories, their work won them an award as the best place in the country for women to work.

What does this have to do with journalists?  AI provides several important insights:

Stories shape our beliefs and actions. Journalists, as our national storytellers, dramatically influence the stories we tell ourselves.

Asking questions is an intervention.  By directing our focus, through what is asked and what remains unexamined, journalists shape what is seen and what remains invisible.

The communication system is the lifeblood of change. At the heart of our communications system, journalists impact the direction in which our culture evolves.

As our national storytellers, who ask questions on our behalf, at the heart of our communications system, journalists hold a significant public trust.

Friday’s process began with paired interviews using these two questions:

  1. Each of us has a story we were particularly proud to do; a story that had great productive impact.  Tell me about that story.  How did it happen?  What made it possible to do?  Who was involved? What made it such a powerful experience?
  1. Take yourself forward in time.  It is 2005 and journalists have made an extraordinary contribution to creating a healthy, vital, and safe world.   What is going on?  How are we different?  What was it you and others did back in 2002 to achieve this remarkable transformation?

After the interviews, five groups of six to eight people discussed the meanings of their stories and identified the essential elements of telling great stories.  In brief, here is what they found:

  • Persistence
  • Perspective (named by 2 groups)
  • Patience
  • Passion
  • Curiousity
  • Own the story
  • Stories that matter
  • Evocative details
  • Don’t fear your emotions
  • Listen – Hear – Focus
  • No phoners (get out into your community)
  • Relevance (named by 2 groups)
  • The basics of journalism
  • Culture of Support
  • Trust
  • Watchdog

For more information on Appreciative Inquiry, visit

Day 2 – Open Space Technology

On Saturday, the conference agenda was generated in real-time by conference participants using a process called Open Space Technology (OST).  OST works with groups of any size to address complex, important issues and accomplish something meaningful.

It has been used all over the world in thousands of diverse applications. The Boeing Company has used it to improve the design of airplane doors.  The Italian foreign ministry and an Italian NGO manager from the Dionysia International Center used it to bring 25 Israelis and 25 Palestinians to Rome for 3 days in June, 2002 to talk about themselves, their future, and the possibilities of peace.

The essence of Open Space are four principles and one law:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

The Law of Two Feet, also known as the law of personal responsibility, states that if you’re neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet and go somewhere else.  It also says to stand on your two feet to express what’s important to you.  It is fundamentally an invitation for individuals to act from passion and responsibility.

For more information, visit