Articles and Publications

“Life consists only of moments, nothing more than that.   So if you make the moments matter, it all matters.”             ~~Ellen Langer

Photo by Susan Robinson.

I (Mo) am the founder of Return On Energy.

In 2013, the movie Chasing Ice provided a powerful metaphor for what I believe is a parallel experience that the urgency of climate change presents in the physical earth environment and the urgent need for climate change in our organizations and communities – the human world environment.  My article Harnessing Human Energy to Renew Positive Organizational Climate describes my passion – to help clients grow healthy and innovative organizations fuelled with positive human energy.

I invite you to share your insights on this topic.

Client Stories & Publications of their Work

I  have had the good fortune to work with great clients on amazing projects, here are some of their stories:

Upper Canada District School Board – Journey to Create their Own Service Excellence Program.

I had the pleasure to work with Upper Canada District School Board on their system-wide Service Excellence Initiative.  We engaged students, staff, administrators, parents, community agencies and other stakeholders to develop their six qualities of Service Excellence.

I invite you to read all about the project UCDSB Service Excellence Final Report January 2013.

Here are the six qualities of Service Excellence that were co-created by all the stakeholders.  The board created online training on these qualities and 100% of staff completed the sessions within six months of the program being launched.


The wonder of working with clients who truly want to learn and embed their learning into their work and lives.  After working for almost a year with Upper Canada District School Board to develop their Six Qualities of Service Excellence (see above), staff wanted to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry. Over two years, I facilitated 8 two-day sessions with up to 24 people at each session. Click on the link to read some stories of how people at the board are using AI:  UCDSB Stories of Appreciative Practices.  I was also invited to work with the Special Education department and provided a two day customized session for over 100 professional staff within the department followed six months later with this staff on creating an ideal Student Success Team (SST) meeting.  The SST meeting is one way to support inclusive learning environments.  Other support we provided included interactive keynote presentation with more than 120 Learning Resource Coaches and on-going coaching to a number of staff members.

A story from a workshop participant:

Yesterday I was involved in a crucial meeting about a female student in crisis at one of our high schools. A large group was present, the student, her Mom, her Grandma, a Special Services counselor, a behaviorist, administration and myself. Usually, at a meeting such as this, I try to address the academic piece. Often discussing how we can better program for a student, to meet their needs. However, I tried something out of my comfort zone yesterday and incorporated the A.I. model into the meeting. When it was my turn to contribute I turned to the student and asked her questions….

What was her favourite thing about school, What was her favourite book? ( A James Patterson novel for those interested) Who were her favourite staff?

Who was her favourite teacher in elementary school?

If she had three wishes to make school better what would they be?

In my opinion, the nature of the meeting began to shift at that point. The student who had been very quiet came to life. By listening to her story we were able to create a number of action items which will vastly improve her school life.

Often a meeting of this nature can be very stressful for all, but I certainly noticed how everyone became more engaged, more willing to contribute and left feeling confident we had made a difference and the family felt supported.

A story from a UCDSB Human Resource manager:

“The Payroll and HR department also took process mapping training.  Using our learnings from process mapping along with the AI training has really helped us frame our process improvement meetings from focusing on what has gone wrong in the past which can lead to hurt feelings and people getting their backs up to what our current state is and how we want to see our future.  Just simple changes in phrasing such as how might we or what have we learned from this has made really positive impacts on our intradepartmental relationships.”

Comments from participants of the Appreciative Inquiry Training:

  • “I appreciated the entire AI course (and the background I have working with the Service Excellence team), has certainly changed the way I think on a day-to-day basis. It has helped me reframe my thoughts, feelings, and ideas to look at all sides of the coin. When I am in a situation, I make sure to question alternate solutions and challenge my own preconceived notions. Plus, AI can be used throughout your entire life. It allows for a complete shift in outlook – focusing on the positives, what works, and how things can be improved.”
  • “In my notes, I had written, ‘how easily a dialogue can start by asking a few questions’ – absolutely!   For me, it was fine-tuning the way in which I ask questions to more readily get the information/story I am looking for – to create more meaningful conversations.”
  • “Approaching people/circumstances/ideas/challenges etc. from a positive angle.  Instead of focusing on what doesn’t work or what we don’t like, focus on what does work and what we do like and build from there.”
  • “This one is my favorite!!!  It only takes 1 follower to start a movement.  I loved this video.  It was extremely moving and empowering to believe that all things really are possible.  It starts with you and all you need is 1 follower to start something great.  This principle can be applied to all facets of our lives.”

So how does a project like this evolve? In this Reference Letter from UCDSB from Linda Lumsden, the original stakeholder, she shares the evolution of our relationship.

It Takes a Community to End Homelessness – City of Grande Prairie


Maureen McKenna has worked with the City of Grande Prarie for a number of years offering facilitation services as well as an in-house train the trainer program to deliver the foundations of Appreciative Inquiry to their staff.

She was delighted to be invited to work with The City of Grande Prairie to conduct a valuation of their homeless program using a strength-based appreciative approach. Approximately 60 community stakeholders, including government officials and agency representation, attended the session, working together to forward the vision of ending homelessness in our city.

Katherine Sheppard, Community Homelessness Initiative Supervisor, identified “…that homelessness affects a whole community and the consultation will help identify focus areas for the next 24 months”.

With this in mind, the consultation aimed to identify current successes as well as an opportunity to focus on future priorities and goals. Believing strongly in the principle of co-creating with our clients, the day focused on beginning with the goal in mind of ending homelessness in our city.   Read the summit report:  It Takes a Community to End Homelessness.

How Do You Become A Strength Based Organization? 

The Executive Director, of Craigwood Youth Services, Lothar Liehmann used his agency of 150 staff as the case study for his Ph.D. program. Maureen was engaged for more than three years as a learning partner, facilitator, coach, and trainer. thumb_DSC00319_1024How Do You Become A Strength-Based Organization?  This article describes the ongoing journey of Craigwood Youth Services towards becoming a strength-based organization. Having embraced a strength-based model of service delivery, this organization continues to build systems and align structures to achieve their vision. Here is Lothar’s dissertation: How to Build a Strength-Based Organization Dissertation by Lothar Liehmann

Imagine Student Success – 1,000 Person Summit

In Toronto, Canada, over 800 students from 115 schools and 200 stakeholders created a vision of their preferred educational future and the action plans to make their vision a reality.  The Imagine Student Success summit was attended by the then Minister of Education, Gerald Kennedy.

Read about the project and discover the voice of some of the students and their perspective:    The Story of Imagine Student Success

“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” ~Anon.

The following videos were created with help from the 15-year-old Alex Kolodkin who today has his own internet business and was recently selected by 500 Startups in California to be part of their mentoring program. (they have locations in Toronto and Miami). You can also read about Alex and his new business in the article below “Mentorship is Ageless”

Summit Opening Video – setting the tone for the summit

Three Minute Video  presented at the Summit to the Minister of Education

Closing Video – students summarizing what is their idea of success


In Toronto, Canada, over 800 students from 115 schools and 200 stakeholders created a vision of their preferred educational future and the action plans to make their vision a reality.  The Imagine Student Success summit was attended by the then Minister of Education, Gerald Kennedy.

Maureen and Sue Derby continued to work with the school board on their #1 reason for what makes students successful was “Teacher/student relationships”.  A quote from a grade 8 student:  “A class is hard when I feel judged. A class is easy when I feel supported and the teacher believes in me and I find myself doing things I never imaged I could do.”   

This project led to multiple inquiries and engagements across the school board, including a TDSB Autism Think Tank with over 160 stakeholders coming together in dialogue to provide input to policy changes.  At the time of the think tank (2006), parents and advocates were in the process of suing the board and the government for improved programs.  Bringing together such a large, diverse group of people for the first time required creating a ‘safe container’ so that ideas could safely collide, sparking actions that people would follow through on.  The following quote was shared during the opening of the session: “The complexity of today’s problems are such that we much bring together ‘like-hearted’ people (and in this room every person is passionate about creating policy that will help students with autism spectrum disorder A.S.D.) and we must use the diversity of our thinking so that we can co-create solutions that we can all support.”  ~Maureen (Mo) McKenna.

Another unanticipated outcome of the summit was the creation by core planning members, Principal Nancy Nightingale and Karen Leckie a teacher at Nancy’s school.  The project was called jPod. This was the dream of Karen to create an inquiry-based, self-managed, teacher facilitated high school experience for students for whom the traditional classroom was not the ideal learning environment.

Some resources on jPod:

OPC Article on JPod – OPC is Ontario Principal Centre.

Videos by jPod students:

Overview of the Program

Rap Song on the Program


We began offering Appreciative Inquiry Foundations Workshop with our mentor Jane Magruder Watkins (co-author of best selling AI book – Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination) in 2000.  Since 2004 we have invited TDSB students to fully participate in our workshops. The youth voice adds rich dimensions to the workshop experience for every participant. In this article, we share the voices of a few youth and adults who have attended our workshops.

Read our article on Intergenerational Learning with Students from TDSB      

Community Living British Columbia – Creating a Community Action Plan for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.

Resources on this project:.

CLBC Community-Action-Employment-Plan-FINAL – learn about the final plan that was created as a result of this initiative to achieve the vision: “B.C. having the highest rate of participation in employment among people with developmental disabilities in North America.”

 Getting Down to Work on Employment go to page 14 to read about the 160 person summit

Front Line Leadership at Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region

Leadership in today’s healthcare world means accounting for increasingly complex factors which result in added stress for leaders. The effectiveness of front-line leaders and managers is recognized as a strong indicator of the future viability of safe, quality healthcare delivery. In 2006, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) initiated a project to identify actions to support frontline leaders and managers using qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

The project consisted of gathering the interviews both in person and online.  The online process is described in the article:  Healthcare Seeks to Enhance the Power of Story

As stories were contributed common themes became clear. Real-time reports and online database extended and enhanced the dialogue generated by AI.  The core planning team who conducted the interviews brought together more than 250 diverse stakeholders for a Two Day Appreciative Inquiry Summit to do the meaning-making and come up with the recommendations.


Another example of my work with RQHR was the invitation to customize our Appreciative  Inquiry four-day program and delivered it to 25 cross-functional stakeholders in and across the Regina Qu’Appelle health region.  The customized course was offered in two sessions with one month of practical application between each session.

Mentorship is Ageless

Mentorship is Ageless – It is about Gratitude, Reciprocity, and Appreciation was an article that we wrote for the Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner. Millennials will soon surpass baby boomers as the largest generation alive in North America. Imagine if we came together to mentor each other, bringing out the very best in each other! Discover how boomers can leave a legacy and how millennials can teach boomers about a future brimming with new possibilities from technology. Together we can create
a more thoughtful and energizing work climate.  To learn more about Alex Kolodkin’s business go to Set Scouter.

Jane & Alex 2010

These are my mentors, Alex Kolodkin and Jane Magruder Watkins.

Examples of Outputs from Participants of my Appreciative Inquiry Foundation Workshop.

Out of Bounds – Innovation and Change in Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis

Deborah Osborne, at the time of attending our class, was a crime analyst with the Buffalo, NY Police department, attended one of our workshops to learn how to use Appreciative Inquiry in her research paper, which became a book of this name.  From the foreword of the book:   “Osborne employs a provocative method of study: appreciative inquiry. In essence, analysts tell their stories: what motivates them, what successes they have enjoyed, what processes have worked well for them, how they see the future. A picture emerges of women and men who have a great passion for their work, and who make tremendous contributions to solving crimes, interrupting crime patterns, apprehending criminals, and even preventing crime. By studying what works, the appreciative inquiry process draws out the themes that characterize these successes: innovative thinking; creative problem solving; intra-agency teamwork; collaboration and information sharing among agencies.   The book can be found on the Defence Technical Information Center website:  Out of Bounds.

AI and CPS in Cross Functional Teams by Henry Peelle – Appreciative Inquiry & Creative Problem Solving Research Study

I had the pleasure to meet Henry Peelle when he attended our Toronto Appreciative Inquiry public workshop.  I was delighted to discover on the AI Commons (resource for sharing AI materials) Henry had uploaded his research paper.

“The purpose of this study was to determine if time-limited cross-functional teams socially constructed a perception of efficacy and cohesiveness through inquiry into best practices and peak experiences relative to teams focused on organizational problems and gap analysis. In a short-duration, alternative treatment, quantitative, quasi-experiment, six cross-functional teams, each with 6 participants, completed an ambiguous human- relationship-oriented task. Three teams employed appreciative inquiry (AI), and three teams employed creative problem solving (CPS). The findings supported the efficacy of AI. Aggregated results of individuals in teams employing AI reported higher levels of mid-task group identification and post-task group potency than teams employing CPS. In this study, the inquiry had an immediate effect on team member effective responses.”

I attended the Creative Problems Solving Institute course on CPS facilitation in 1998.  As I look at Design Thinking and work by companies like IDEO, I see the foundation as CPS tools and techniques.  In the design phase of Appreciative Inquiry, I believe that weaving the AI principles and assumptions into the CPS tools and techniques will provide a powerful process that can lead to innovation.

Personal Stories.

I love public speaking and hate writing.  That was always my belief until my nephew challenged me to take a writing course with him at Ryerson University.  How could I turn down such a caring invitation!

What I learned from the course was that I relate to being a storyteller who is capturing my stories in writing vs calling myself a writer.   During the course, I wrote short narrative stories which were based on personal experiences, and at the end of the course, to my surprise, the professor invited me to submit two stories to Life Rattle Radio Program. This gave me the opportunity to read my stories on the Life Rattle Radio show – Pink Steel Toed Shoes and Bonnie Jean on two consecutive Sunday evenings.   Pink Steel Toed Shoes was (again much to my surprise) picked to be published that year in the Totally Unknown Writers Festival 2011. So I went from a place of fear to having two stories recorded on the radio and one published!  (I am no longer a “totally unknown writer”, just an unknown one.)

Who knows what happens when you face up to your fears (with a lot of encouragement from those who love and believe in you!)  Still not comfortable writing … but willing to try!

Pink Steel Toed Shoes


Maureen “Mo” McKenna trades in her high heels and cushy executive digs at head office for a pair of pink steel-toed shoes and a grey portable office behind some racks in a manufacturing plant. In an environment where managers and employees alike are accustomed to male supervisors—sparks fly!

To read the story, click on Pink Steel Toed Shoes

Bonnie Jean

This is a story about friendship and moments of joyful/sorrow.

To read the story, click on Bonnie Jean





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