Citizens, elected officials and government employees came together for an Appreciative Inquiry process in a region devastated by wildfires and facing extreme population growth.
In the summer of 2000, 356,000 acres of the Bitterroot National Forest and its neighboring communities were ravaged by wildfires. An additional catalyst for conversation was the County’s 44% rate of population growth between 1990 and 2000 and the subsequent public dialogue on protecting and managing natural resources, developing transportation and communications infrastructure, comprehensive growth planning, real estate development, and a changing economy.
Faced with this devastation, State and private forestry operations began liaisons with public and private landowners of all sizes. Their goal was to formulate a collaborative vision for how to move forward, together. To this end, an appreciative inquiry process was undertaken, entitled “Creating the Future We Want for the Bitterroot Valley,” in which citizens gathered to identify and discuss what people value most about life in the Bitterroot area (officially Ravalli County)—past and present. These common values provided a starting point from which to envision a positive future.
Instead of asking participants to explore “What is wrong with this Valley, and how can we fix it?” the Appreciative Inquiry facilitator invited 130 workshop attendees to consider together, “What are we doing right around here, and how can we do more of it in the future?” The participant’s journey through the 4-Is of appreciative inquiry (Inquire, Imagine, Innovate, and Implement) included conversations with other participants, story-sharing, flip-charts of common values and brainstorming sessions.