Rathlin Island ferry company

Following our work on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Northern Island, which we’ve been involved in since 2014, we went back this year to work with the island’s ferry company.

In March 2017, AP completed an AI process for the RIFC. The ferry company was about to take delivery of a new roll on/roll off ferry, twice the size of the last one, and had won a ten year operating contract. There are two functions for the ferry service (two ferries) – to provide a ‘lifeline service’ to the island’s residents, and to support the visitor economy.

A significant number of the staff come from the island and the ferry company had been advised that the Appreciative Inquiry approach could be useful.

Following discussions with the company directors, the project’s intentions were agreed as:

  1. To create and maintain a positive and learning environment
  2. To feed back the emerging themes and areas to be considered, highlighting the successes, opportunities and challenges to be overcome
  3. To consider the changes and developments that could be put in place
  4. To utilise a small group activity to model a staff engagement approach to responding to a challenge
  5. As a group, to identify small steps that could be taken to help move things forward
  6. That the AI process would consist of three stages –
    1. 17 discovery interviews with staff,
    2. a full staff workshop to be held on the new ferry
    3. Appreciating People to provide briefing notes on the next stage (based on the staff views and workshop recommendations)

Key learnings

1.) For the Rathlin Island Ferry Company, the key learning was the value and potential of bringing all the staff together – the commonality of views for the way forward, Identification of and support for the next steps, a positive and generative experience.

2.) Appreciating People really enjoyed the opportunity to work with a small business at an interesting developmental stage with significant potential.

3.) It was a positive example of an AI intervention within a short timescale.

4.) The process provided a wonderful illustration of the power of the Appreciative Conversation to identify both the successes – and the challenges – that need to be addressed.

Noticing what’s different

From conversations with the Rathlin Development and Community Association, there are many subtle contributions that the AI process has made in the last few years, including:

• The benefits of positive and collaborative conversations and relationships;

  • The value that the AI approach can bring to the island’s community and economic development;
  • Appreciating People have seen the beneficial impact of AI over a long time period, and the value of providing AI training at an early stage.

What will happen next?

Undertaking the ferry project provided an opportunity for informal conversations with the RDCA about the potential next steps on the AI journey. Ideas under consideration include building in AI approach into the next lottery bid and into further projects, and exploring the potential for the RDCA to develop a centre of AI excellence and training within Northern Ireland.

Our advice – go and visit the island yourself – it’s got a great range of places to stay!