Zionsville Times Sentinel

Commentary

March 26, 2014

Framing community discussions is key

Frames matter. Woods or metals? Classic or contemporary? Statement-making thick or barely-there minimalist? There are lots of choices when picking out a frame, not to mention choosing a mat and whether you want glare-free or regular glass. My wife and I face this decision now and again when we decide to frame something important — a new photo of our children or a piece of art we’ve found. There’s another lesson to be learned about framing. It’s a lesson about how conversations get framed, especially conversations about communities. Perhaps a visit to fictitious Midville can illustrate the point. Think of Midville as an average community. It could be a town or a neighborhood, and its residents are good folks who care about where they live. When they gather at the corner coffee shop, the beauty parlor, at their their kid’s soccer games, or even virtually in the online discussion board, midvillebabble.com, they talk about what’s going on in the community. Each of those discussions is framed in a specific way that sets the parameters and points toward a specific direction. David Cooperrider, a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve, noted that people and organization move in the direction of their conversations; and the way those conversations get framed helps determine that direction. Cooperrider developed something he called “appreciative inquiry,” or AI. He defines AI as “the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.” I don’t know what conversations are like in your community, but in Midville they are not always focused on the best of the world around them. Most people are programmed to focus on problems, to diagnose what’s wrong so it can be fixed. Morning conversations in the Midville Café are often about lazy kids, backdoor political deals, and good-paying factory jobs that no longer exist: conversations about problems. See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.

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