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  • Melinda Lackey

The AI Before AI: Resourcing Teams With What They Already Know

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

You may find this hard to believe, but to this day, whenever I hear the term AI, my poor brain spends weary moments asking itself yet again: “What is AI?”

Truth be told, just now, I Googled it to save the energy of recall.

“Artificial Intelligence. Oh yeah. That.”

My first thought about AI is just not ever going to be “Artificial Intelligence.”


Some 25 years ago, I was introduced to AI as Appreciative Inquiry. I was then teaching a community leadership program at Hunter College and offering group facilitation in coalitions. David Cooperrider’s first book with Suresh Srivastva was fresh on the scene. Praised and featured at most conferences I attended in the 90s, it offered a theory, methodology and process of organizational change. Given AI’s relevance across disciplines, researchers and practitioners of all sorts were touting its revolutionary potential.

And what is not to love about the original AI? It can be used reliably to guide individuals, small and large groups to transcend baseline “I don’t know…” self-doubt or collective skepticism about how to get something done. A simple, 20-minute guided exercise later, and “Wow, we got this” emerges as shared, deep knowing.

Recently, SEED Impact introduced an AI discovery practice to our SEEDing Stronger Together cohort. Nonprofit leaders of six organizations immediately derived mutual benefits in recognizing their individual and collective innate wisdom.

AI applies to any challenge, quest, or problem. So, if ever you’re looking for a quick, easy way to resource people with the power of remembering what they already know, read on! Here’s how it worked for our SEEDing Stronger Together cohort:

Quick background: SEEDing Stronger Together (SST) offers facilitated visioning, planning, strategic counsel, evaluation, and impact reports to strengthen nonprofit collaboration and hasten meaningful collective solutions. The six select organizations in our first cohort are uniquely positioned to influence systemic change in their communities.

Unfortunately, too often, the most promising community-serving initiatives lack the bandwidth and funding necessary to develop and implement sustainable partnerships.

Through SST engagement, they can better team up with allies, win joint funding proposals, and achieve exponentially greater, lasting impact. That’s our aim!

In the recent SST gathering, we used AI to have everyone quickly awaken their expertise in collaboration. Keep in mind you could start with any question:

For the SST cohort, we posed this question: What makes collaboration work?

Following small group sharing in Zoom breakout rooms, we reconvened for report-outs. Look at what emerged, pooling the wisdom of lived experience across the entire SEEDing Stronger Together cohort.

Participant reflections:

“I like how we encouraged each other, bringing it together and making it work – it felt very powerful discovering what we already know.”
“My takeaway is the shared lessons of our collaboration, being able to build on the positive in every situation...”
“There’s so much value here … the different suggestions folks are bringing. We’re valuable and what we bring is valuable.”

How might you utilize this form of AI in your work?


Melinda Lackey is Co-founder and Director of SEED Impact, which has coached hundreds of nonprofit initiatives to communicate and coordinate action more efficiently, sustain higher performance and report greater social impact. SEEDing Stronger Together strengthens partnerships.

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