Validation Day and Appreciative Planning Process

In February of every year is a holiday that most of the country observes called "Valentine's Day." At East Wind Community in the late 1970s an adaptation of this holiday was begun by Steve (Che'), later taken to Twin Oaks Community by Christy when he moved there in the early 1980s. Steve's original inspiration may have come from the practice of re-evaluation co-counseling which was being practiced at East Wind at the time, which among other things encourages the validation by others (specifically the co-counselor) of an individual's feelings. The Validation Day tradition may have since spread to other intentional communities. If any readers are aware of other communities adopting this tradition I invite them to share the story.

Validation Day involves a small group of people creating a holiday card for each member of the community. To the cover of the card may be affixed or drawn or painted anything that is suggestive of the person for whom the card is made, including their name. Cards are made for children as well as adults. All of the Validation Day cards are then kept in a box in a primary public space and all members are encouraged to write something validating of as many other members as they can, while refraining from looking at their own card. The cards must therefore be fairly large, and the process is best started more than one week before the Validation Day holiday.

On Validation Day each member retrive's their respective Validation Day card, and typically the entire day is oriented as a holiday, with reduced work expectations, attractive festooning of the dining hall, grand supper, and a dance party in the evening. This holiday is especially appreciated due to its timing during the coldest part of the winter.

What is interesting, and a bit ironic about the Validation Day holiday, is how this tradition is in some ways counter to another long-established tradition in Egalitarian Communities. There are several ways that the concept of equality is expressed in egalitarian community. These include inclusivity in the process of governance and in the control of financial resources, particularly with regard to the feminist concern for political and economic equality. One aspect of this is the resulting aversion to anything which might hint of a "hero culture." Egalitarian communities avoid any form of hierarchical system, made obvious in the fact that no differential or variable rewards are given for different types of work done. Certainly not monetary. Expertise is appreciated, yet only intangilbe rewards can be expected, and even these are minimal. There is very little in the way of any kind of mutual appreciation expressed for good work. It's uncommon even for people to express thanks to others for anything they do as most of what everyone is doing is for the good of the community, so why would people go around thanking each other all the time? It's known that everyone is a member expressly for making the community function, and simply that understanding motivates each person to contribute to the common good. The vacation-credit labor-credit system coordinates and more or less "makes equal" personal contributions to the community in a very efficient manner, and so life goes on, day by day and day after day.

The resistance to any kind of acclaim for individuals is also seen in the fact that it is extremely rare for any kind of ceremonial speech to be made. There are no "speakers" at community events in egalitarian communities, as opposed to what is seen in communities which have strong leadership traditions. There are typically no motivational speeches made at any community event, and even the political process is largely devoid of speechifying, as at East Wind candidates for members of the Board (of directors) are pulled out of a hat (if the person declines another name is pulled), and at Twin Oaks the Board of Planners is self-selecting, resulting in board members being choosen in closed private meetings.

There is even resistance to individuals advancing their own abilities and accomplishments, as boasting is seen as essentially a social aberration, contrary to the norms of the community. We can see this in the comment made by Laird of Sandhill Community in response to the history of community networking that led to the refounding of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, available on my website:

In the paper "The Ideal of an Inclusive Association of Intentional Communities" I quote Laird writing in an email transmission to Allen of June 17, 1997,

"One of the lessons I've gleaned from my years of community and network building is that it
takes a team. Emphasizing individual accomplishments obscures this important lesson …
(T)he "Big Man" theory of how things happen … I question." Laird Sandhill

With this sentiment Laird is modeling the behavior found and essentially expected in egalitarian community of downplaying the role of the individual in favor of emphasizing the role of the group. This is the classic question or paradox or challenge in communitarian theory, of how to balance the individual versus the community. How different intentional communities respond to this issue is one factor in the different types of intentional community in existence, and that have been or may be developed.

Kat Kinkade, co-founder of Twin Oaks, East Wind and Acorn Communities, and of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, addressed the issue of leadership many times in her life as a community organizer, including in her books, "A Walden Two Experiment" and "Is It Utopia Yet?" Without seaching for specific quotes (how much effort shall I devote to this post?) I'll comment from my experience that Kat consistently advocated strong leadership in community, within the context of egalitarianism. This is paradoxical, considering the social climate created by egalitarian culture, and I think that Kat was often frustrated by the conflicting ideals. Kat generally wanted a strong board of planners that could actively support the growth of the community, and she personally lobbied individuals whom she believed would be "good" Planners, yet in many cases she found people saying such things as they felt that they could better advocate their beliefs and ideals by not being a Planner, instead by devoting their energies to a particular area of community work, rather than general coordination.

There are many facets of this dynamic, and they have fueled conversation on the topic for decades. Issues such as the importance and roles of leadership versus the aversion to a hero cult, the need for risk-taking and for challenging traditions and for recognizing dissenting opinions, versus the problem of incessant controversies, often repeating with new members entering the community, and the problem of schisms within the community and people leaving.

Kat herself was in the situation of living in a community, the design of which she was largely instrumental in creating, which she later found that she disliked, yet that she returned to after an absence none-the-less. Kat wrote,

"When I returned to this Community after spending nine years in other places, I looked carefully at my own willingness to live by a code I had myself created but no longer fully believed in. I decided that Twin Oaks had a right to expect me to live by its rules, however naive I now thought its principles. So that’s what I do. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live, along with other communitarians, a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. To the extent that we still find economic equality important, I keep within the limits of our law and common practice. …" Kat in "Is It Utopia Yet?" 1994, p. 46-50

Kat chose to maintain silence with regard to her true beliefs, outside of writing them in her book and some conversations with friends, even to the point of helping to create a new community with ideals contrary to the evolution of her beliefs, with the founding of Acorn Community. This is astonishing, and eventually the cognitive disconnect became so great that she had to leave the community, living alone in a small house for many years before returning to Twin Oaks shortly before her death.

In one sense Kat avoided the issue of individualism versus communitarianism where she thought it might challenge the fundamental beliefs of the community, while at other times she extolled and advocated for strong leadership. Perhaps at times she found a balance between the two, and at other times she couldn't carry on the effort required to maintain her commitment to a community that couldn't or perhaps even shouldn't be caused to change. Twin Oaks and East Wind are what they are, and if people want something different, a choice has to be made between creating change or leaving.

These issues do not typically come up on Validation Day. In Validation cards are written many positive, even flattering expressions of appreciation for individuals that are generally never voiced in the community. As a result, people cherish their Validation cards, and typically keep them the rest of their lives. I still have mine from East Wind and Twin Oaks.

Yet there is the possibility that Validation Day could become more of a significant event to the maintenance and development of the community and its ideals if the tradition were further extended beyond one-on-one validation to more expressions of mutual appreciation. Of course, the holiday meal and party have that as a theme, yet there is the possibility of taking that the next step, by using the group process called "Appreciative Inquiry."

An event that could be added to the community's Validation Day schedules is a time for expressions of what people in the community feel has gone well for the group as a whole during the past year. The goal would not be simply mutual congratulations, yet to use such positive mutual feedback in discussions from the orientation of how to get more of those successes in the current or coming year. This primary focus upon doing more in the future of what worked out well in the past could feed into the community's annual planning process, deciding how to use labor and monetary resources, which typically takes place in ernest at the end of the year. Beginning early, in February with the Validation Day holiday, provides the time and context for a focus upon positive evaluation of the community's economic plan.

How a community may use the positive energy created during the Validation Day holiday for encouraging positive ideas about the community, extending from the validation of individuals, is suggested in the material following, as used in the "Appreciative Inquiry" large-group process, used in many businesses and governmental agencies. It could very well be adapted in egalitarian and other communities as well, as a method of moving away from the focus upon fixing problems to a positive focus upon pursuing more of what has gone well in the community. Extending the Validation Day tradition by making it part of the community's annual planning process would be one way of doing just that, getting more of what people most like, which is appreciation for and validation of their life in community.

One need would be to avoid going too far toward the onerous aspects of economic planning, with those more bureaucratic functions reserved for later in the year. Another need is to support individuals in expressing themselves with regard to their true beliefs, perhaps helping to avoid the kind of cognitive dissonance experienced by Kat.

If the Validation Day holiday could be the one day a year when people are encouraged to speak honestly about what they truly believe and feel, some psychological problems and issues may be avoided, simply by people being heard and validated. Orientations to co-counseling could even be offered, as both a means for maintaining good emotional health as well as of affirming the origins of the Validation Day holiday itself.

The suggestion is that some of the material about Appreciative Inquiry appended below (along with other appropriate ideas) may be used in ways during Validation Day that serve to contribute to the positive atmosphere of the celebration of the emotional warmth of community during the coldest time of the year!


The following is copied from material found in my paper titled, "Mass Movement Manual," found on my website here:

The material following begins on page 50, while there is much more potentially useful material in the earlier pages.

Happy Validation Day!

Appreciative Inquiry: Overview of the Theory & Application

When people focus on human ideals, achievements,
peak experiences and best practices these things—
not the conflicts—tend to flourish. Choosing to
learn from moments of joy, wonder and excellence
can be unusually effective in improving

The premise of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is that
organizations grow in the direction in which they
focus their attention. People grow in much the same
way, and therefore an organization must:

• empower its members to believe that they can
make a difference,

• reward leaders who empower others,

• direct the energy of the system toward
generative and creative forces.

The search for solutions to problems is recognized in
Appreciative Inquiry as openness to change. Change
in the way that issues are explained, in beliefs of
what is “real,” in the basic priorities of what to
pursue and choices of what ends to serve, and
change in a world view as a coherent whole or
paradigm. Change in how our society organizes
itself, or in our consensual reality involve “new
paradigm” concepts of:

• Quantum Physics - change in particle theory
from individual parts and linear events to
interconnectivity and multiple possibilities, such
as the observer affecting the observed

• Chaos Theory - very simple, previously
predictable patterns become complex and
unpredictable, leading to new levels or forms of
order, such as weather patterns, fractals

• Self-Organizing Systems - complex and
unpredictable situations evolve into more
ordered patterns, such as with living organisms,
ecological systems, and social change

• Complexity Theory - an emerging reality or
wholeness can not be predicted from the sum of
its parts, “chaordic” structures merge chaos and
order and are nonlinear, discontinuous

The social science of organizational development is
moving beyond the classical mechanics of seeing the
universe as a machine, and human behavior as
governed by a natural hierarchy with individual parts
reacting to force or coercion, toward new paradigm
organizations viewing chaos as a stage in the process
of renewal and revitalization, where information
sharing is the organizing force, diversity of
relationships energizes teams, and a shared vision
provides the context toward which behavior
gravitates and is aligned. New paradigm
organizations involve:

• Shared Leadership - where leadership is a
function, not a position, accepted by individuals
when their skills and interests are applied
appropriately, recognizing morale as essential to
productivity, that learning opportunities motivate
people, and that traditional roles such as
“director” may be collaborative or rotational

• High-Tech/High-Touch Communication -
assuring collaboration and partnership at every
level through face-to-face conversations, travel to
meetings, and multiple electronic
communications technologies providing options
for varieties of information sharing

• Learning Organizations - providing flexible
systems accommodating change according to
circumstances and new information, giving
adequate time to share knowledge and skills, and
constantly studying their field, deriving theory
and insights grounded in their own experiences
and applying it in their ongoing projects and

• Multi-Locational Organizations, Partnerships
and Alliances - in which coordinating units may
be in multiple centers or moving as required, and
multiple cooperative arrangements may exist for
planning and program delivery as well as
education and training

• Task Competence and Process Focus -
encouraging people to be both skilled in their
area of expertise as well as competent in human
processes of interpersonal communication and
group collaboration for win-win solutions

• Values and Vision Centering - affirming that
tasks change, multiply and transform themselves
in harmony with the values and vision agreed
upon by the organizations “community” of
stakeholders at every level, holding together an
organizational awareness by the power and
clarity of their shared values and vision

Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational philosophy
supporting learning and renewal through:

• widespread inquiry, helping participants perceive
the need for change, explore new possibilities,
and contribute to solutions,

• customized interview guides eliciting stories of
high performance from members of the
organization, for igniting transformative dialogue
and action,

• alignment of the organization’s formal and
informal structures with its purpose and
principles, translating shared vision into reality
and belief into practice.

Applying the power of positive inquiry involves
framing questions that focus upon positive thinking,
such as by asking organizational members (one-onone,
face-to-face interviews) to:

• tell a story of when you were working in a team
when performance was high and you felt engaged
and valued; what were you and the others doing?

• what external or organizational factors were
present that supported this positive experience?

• how might this team function if we could expand
the conditions that led to past successes?

Different from most behavioral approaches to
organizational management which focus upon
changing people, Appreciative Inquiry invites people
to engage in building the kind of organization and
community in which they want to work and live. AI
uses a “collaborative discovery” of economic,
ecological and human effectiveness, which is then
woven into the organization’s formal and informal
systems, from how people organize themselves for
accomplishing tasks to how they develop and
implement business strategies.

The AI process enables human systems to engage in
continuous learning, and to translate that learning
into ongoing innovation. Uncovering and supporting
people’s passions, skills, knowledge, experience and
successes excite and mobilize them to implement
innovations that they may never before have thought
possible. Through encouraging and supporting
individuals in identifying and sharing their stories of
excellence, the organization may then reconceptualize
and transform its purpose, processes,
and design in ways that support its most generative
forces and ongoing success.

How AI Works: Five Generic Processes
Guided by Five Core Principles

• Constructionist Principle – Organizations
evolve in the direction of the images we create
based upon the questions we ask as we strive to
understand the systems at work.

• Principle of Simultaneity – Change begins the
moment we ask questions.

• Anticipatory Principle – Behavior in the present
is influenced by the future we anticipate.

• Poetic Principle – Just as poets have no
constraints on what they write, we have no
boundaries on what we can inquire about and
from which we can learn.

• Positive Principle – The more positive the
questions used to build a change process, the
longer-lasting and effective the process will be.

Five Generic Processes
of the Appreciative Inquiry Cycle:

• Define – Choose positive as the focus of inquiry;
a positive topic statement as interview guide.

• Discover – Discover the best of what is. Inquire
into exceptionally positive moments (interviews).

• Dream – Imagine what might be. Share the
stories & identify life-giving forces (highlights).

• Design – Dialogue what should be. Create
shared images of a preferred future (themes).

• Deliver /Destiny – Create what will be. Innovate
and improvise ways to create that future(actions).
Helpful Conditions for Implementing the Process
of Appreciative Inquiry:

• Humble Beginnings: honestly acknowledge
current difficulties without assigning blame, and
invite co-construction of solutions.

• Congruence of Means and Ends: directly
involve the people most affected by the changes
desired, and specifically identify the desired end
in a positive statement

• History as a Source of Innovation: accessing
the “positive core” of the organization’s founding
philosophy and history can be a source of new

• Focus Beyond the Event: learning and change
is not a one-time event arriving at a point of
excellence, but a process for creating a culture
open to learning and discovering possibilities

• Stories More than Numbers: as stories of
“exceptional moments” capture the wholeness of
meaning they may be more helpful for creative
innovations than quantification in numbers

Condensed by A. Allen Butcher from: Bernard Mohr
and Jane Magruder Watkins, The Essentials of
Appreciative Inquiry, Pegasus Communications,
Innovations in Management Series, 2002, Waltham,
MA, and Appreciative Inquiry for Organization
Change: A Workshop Resource Book.


The Appreciative Inquiry process is scalable, from
small groups to large, and is being used to address
issues of varying complexity from interpersonal
communication to paradigmatic changes in human
awareness. Processes from other organizational
development systems are continually being added.
Appreciative Process:
• Develop an appreciative mind-set
• Be clear about what you want MORE of, not less
• Track it, fan it, and involve others in a fanfare!

Praise it – call attention to what is positive that
has happened
Bless it – give license to continue & ask for more
Bushe, Clear Leadership, pp 155-180

General Appreciative Inquiry Process Outline:

• Introductions of persons, and to the Appreciative
Inquiry process

• Presentation of the suggested topics of focus,
with refinement and acceptance by the group:
“Identify what has been working well in CCCS
to date; Create a shared vision for the future.”

• Create small groups of four persons from different
institutions to work as teams. Each team
chooses a facilitator, recorder, presenter and

• Within the teams, pair up for interview sessions,
each person to ask a set of prepared questions of
the other, then reverse roles.

• Report by each person to the team of four on the
interview responses of the other person. Record
all of the “items that have worked well,” and
look for one or more common theme(s) among

• Report by each team to the whole group, with
each “item that has worked well” written on a
sticky note, posted on a wall chart, with the
“common themes” kept separate.

• Each person gets three sticky dots with which
they indicate which of the items they feel are the
most important (however each defines importance).
Review and draw conclusions from the
resulting “scatter-gram.”
Lunch Break

• Within the groups of four, create a shared image
of the common theme identified in the morning
process, expressed in one of the following ways:
a mixed-media construction or collage, a song or
skit. The point of this activity is to think on an
intuitive, creative level, engaging different parts
of the brain from the intellectual.

• Creations are presented to the group. Working
with images inspires ways of thinking and new
ideas that may not have entered our awareness
earlier. What general perspectives or paradigms
are expressed in the creations? What among
these enhance, stretch or challenge the status quo
in CCCS or the assumptions of the Online
Course Migration Team?

• The theme developed by each team is transformed
into a “provocative proposition.” Written
in the present tense these stimulate awareness,
provide guidance and provoke action. Each team
may create their own “provocative proposition”
or teams may merge.

• Convening as a whole group, review the provocative
propositions and derive a vision statement
from them (this must be done quickly, simply
merging provocative propositions may suffice).

• Brainstorm innovative ways to act on the “provocative
proposition(s),” drawing from the
“items that have worked well” identified in the
morning session, or other action item ideas.

• As a whole group, record creative or innovative
“strategic intentions” or initiatives supporting the
propositions or vision.

• As individuals, identify what parts of the vision
or what action items each person personally
Mass Movement Manual—Fourth World Services—A. Allen Butcher—August, 2005—Denver, CO— 53
wants to bring to fruition. Individuals may state
their commitment, what they need, and/or what
they can offer others to help with particular
action items.

• Process Evaluation. What did participants most
appreciate about the process? What might have
made the process more valuable? In what other
contexts within CCCS might the process be
helpful? What personal commitments will each
person make for after this process?

Appreciative Inquiry Interview
One-on-One Sessions

Interviews are where we discover/uncover the
generative or leading transformative changes in our
experiences. Use the questions below, taking brief
notes and asking follow-up questions as appropriate,
to prompt memory and understanding. Each person
interviews the other for 30 min.

A. Share a story about a time when you came to an
understanding of how your organization actually
works, the dynamics and imperatives of its
functions, or a time when you recognized that
others in the organization substantially shared a
common vision of the organization.

B. What was your personal best experience of
feeling valued by others in the organization, or
when you helped others to feel valued?

C. Describe an event in which you provided good
leadership through effective communication, or
in which you experienced good leadership
through effective communication.

D. What was your best experience of helping the
institution thrive?

E. Share a story about how you could tell that what
you were doing was working.

F. How do you keep focused on getting better?

Interview Report

• What was the most appreciative QUOTABLE
QUOTE that came out of your interview?

• What was the most COMPELLING STORY that
came out of your interview? What details and
examples did the interviewee share? How were
the interviewee or others changed by the story?

• What was the most LIFE GIVING MOMENT of
the interview for you as a listener?

• Did a particularly CREATIVE and/or INNOVATIVE
CHANGE emerge during the interview?
If so, describe what you learned about it,
including who is doing it and where.

• What THREE THEMES stood out most for you
during the interview?

Small Group Reporting

Report by each person to the team-of-four on the
interview responses of the other person. Record all
of the “items that have worked well,” and look for
one or more common theme(s) among them.

Large Group Reporting

Report by each team to the whole group, with each
“item that has worked well” written on a sticky note,
posted on a wall chart, with the “common themes”
kept separate.


Tips for Dealing with Negatives

Sometimes people feel compelled to talk about what
isn’t working. People should not be caused to feel
like they do not have permission to talk about things
that need fixing, so constructive handling of negatives
can be done in several ways:

Postponing. Promise to take a note of what they
have said and to come back to it later, at the point
where the following question is asked: “If you could
change this organization in any way you wish, what
would you recommend?” Return to the notes made
of negative issues, and ask them to translate the
negative feedback into methods for improvement.

Listening. If some is intent upon expressing negatives,
they must have their say before they can get on
to positives. Be empathetic but don’t take on the
other’s problems. Keep a caring & affirmative spirit.
Redirecting. After listening, guide the conversation
back by affirming or paraphrasing the feelings, and
then by asking for a positive (e.g., innovation,
problem solved, etc). If none, ask if they’ve EVER
had ANY positive experience and how that could be
experienced again in the context of the conversation,
before giving up.

Edited from:
AI for Organization Change: A Workshop Resource
Book, by Jane Magruder Watkins and Bernard Mohr


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