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When the Personal is Political: An Appreciative Inquiry into the Relevance of Carl Rogers’ Theories to Development Relationships in Irish NGO Practice

The American psychologist Carl Rogers believed that as humans we have a natural tendency towards growth and empowerment. Placing his confidence in the innate capabilities and potential of the individual, Rogers maintained that when three core conditions of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard are present, an environment that encourages growth and empowerment is created. This thesis takes a relationships approach to international development, and explores the relevance of Carl Rogers’ model of relationships.

Sharing some of the principles of Rogers, Appreciative Inquiry is a change method that focuses on the positive and the life affirming as opposed to the more conventional problem-solving approach. The research for this thesis was conducted through ‘appreciative’ interviews, to discover ‘what works’ in development relationships. Key staff in the five, main – Irish government-funded – NGOs were interviewed.

The research findings demonstrate the presence of Rogers’ three core conditions in ‘successful’ development relationships, not necessarily in the language Rogers would have used, but articulating the same concepts that Rogers describes. Further implications for development are recognised and discussed.

Power imbalances between donors and recipients were also highlighted in the findings – as a constraint in development relationships. The overall contribution of this thesis shows how, rather than an adversarial approach to power relations between opposing individuals or groups, Appreciative Inquiry advocates a collaborative, positive approach to change through relationships. And Rogers offers us a potential model for those development relationships that promote growth and empowerment.
Hugh Bergin 2010

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