My Intention for this Appreciative Inquiry Resource
This resource is an overview of the transformational change methodology Appreciative Inquiry. Topics covered are:
- What is Appreciative Inquiry
- How it is a strengths-based, positive framework
- What it can achieve through collaborative conversations
- The 4-D process of Appreciative Inquiry – known as the Appreciative Inquiry Model
- How it can be applied personally and professionally
- The guiding principles (Including the new addition of the five emerging principles)
- The importance of Appreciative Inquiry questions – affirmatively-framed questions
- The value of story-telling in Appreciative Inquiry
My wish is that you will be more curious and excited about the possibilities of this life-centric, positive approach to change. And, there are many more posts and stories throughout Positivity Strategist if your interest has been piqued. You are invited to our sister site, PositiveChange.training, where you can enroll in a range of online, video-based self-directed courses on Appreciative Inquiry.
What is Appreciative Inquiry?
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a transformational change methodology grounded in theories from the disciplines of human sciences, philosophy, with a good dose of metaphysics tossed in. Those of us who practice AI refer to it as both a way of being and doing.
Appreciative Inquiry is a perspective on the world that invites us to see ourselves and the world through an appreciative or valuing eye. We are made aware that how we use language, how we ask questions, and what stories we tell shape our own and collective destinies. Foundationally, Appreciative Inquiry looks at human systems and the organizations we design as mysteries to be embraced, not problems to be solved.
Earning my certification in Positive Business and Society Change Program at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in 2004 with Professors David Cooperrider and Ron Fry has been a high point of my personal and professional life. It has enabled me to meet extraordinary people and contribute in ways I had never dreamed possible, adding to the body of work in this field – my book – Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions, podcast, Positivity Strategist and online training courses, PositiveChange.Training. And, I did a fun TEDx talk, called Playful Inquiry – Try this Anywhere!
Definition of Appreciative Inquiry
From the Handbook of Appreciative Inquiry, (link here) here’s a comprehensive definition:
Appreciative Inquiry is the co-evolutionary, co-operative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them … AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential … AI practice focuses on the speed of the imagination and innovation. Instead of negative, critical, and spiraling diagnoses commonly used in our organizations … there is discovery, dream, design and destiny.”
Appreciative Inquiry is an affirming way to embrace human and organization change. As a transformational change methodology, AI offers a life-centric, structured approach to energize people in organizations to move in the direction of what they most desire. Its framework focuses organizational members on their existing core capacities, strengths, and successes; it invites them to envision possible futures; it initiates collaborations to identify opportunities, design projects and activities the members are willing to commit to. Check out this case study to see how AI has been used in an engineering organization, for example.
This change methodology has the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right already —things that contribute to its aliveness, effectiveness, and success, connecting it in healthy ways to its stakeholders and the wider community. With the Appreciative Inquiry perspective, we can create positive change that can be sustainable, thereby expanding capacity for wellbeing and flourishing.
Organization culture is a co-construction, shaped by language, stories, practices, and relationships. The quality and tone of the language, relationships and stories will determine whether the culture is harmonious, creative and productive, or hostile, de-energizing, and destruction, or somewhere in between. The culture can foster inclusiveness or exclusiveness. The culture can lift people up or let them down. It can heighten peoples’ spirits or dampen them. Appreciative Inquiry is a structured approach that seeks to lift people up to their highest aspirations.
Our imaginative capacity
As human beings, one of our greatest assets is our imaginative capacity. We can imagine the best and we can imagine the worst.
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Albert Einstein.
As a life-centric change process, Appreciative Inquiry pays attention to the best in us, not the worst; to our strengths, not our weaknesses; to possibility thinking, not problem thinking. Developing our capacity to use our imagination and dream influences our individual and collective destiny.
How much more leverage do we have when we discover, invest in, and build on the existing talents and capacities of people and their organizations VS dealing with weaknesses that can merely be worked around?
Yet, the old paradigm of ‘overcome weaknesses first’ is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, and our places of work and worship. By default, we are acculturated to focus first on the things that “need fixing.” The behaviors, the processes, the decisions that are weak or problematic in some way, are the first to grab our attention.
What happens typically, is that those behaviors, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and processes that are already working well and bring us successes don’t attract the same attention or the investment of resources.
We invest energy, money, time, intellect, and emotion into things that don’t work for us instead of putting energies into those things that will give us an easier and a much-amplified return for our efforts and investments.
Appreciative Inquiry flips that around by starting investing in what already works in human and organization systems, thereby shortening the path to achieving organizational aspirations.
Appreciative Inquiry Process
The process of Appreciative Inquiry was originally referred to as the 4-D Cycle – Discover, Dream, Design, Destiny.
Increasingly, most practitioners refer to the model as the 5-D Cycle because we know the importance of Defining the topic for an Appreciative Inquiry experience. Without a clearly defined topic, there is no topic to inquire into.
You see this process represented graphically and the Affirmative Topic which is identified during the Define Phase is depicted in the orange arrow to the left of Discover:
The 5-Ds are an iterative cycle.
- Define Phase – the phase during which organizational members gather data to decide the Affirmative Topic that will be the focus of the inquiry for the change the system seeks to make.
- Discover Phase – when members of the organization inquire into high-point experiences and identify strengths and capabilities related to the Affirmative Topic —all of which add up to the “positive core.”
- Dream Phase – the phase in which the members share images and co-create possibilities of what a co-created future might look, sound, and feel like when the “positive core” comes to life. (That could be immediately, or at some time in the future.)
- Design Phase – during which members collaboratively begin to design what projects and investments can (practically) and should (morally) be made to build organizational capacity to bring the Dream to life.
- Destiny Phase – the phase when agreed commitments are implemented and there is continued commitment also to learning, innovation, and delivery of the outcomes all stakeholders care about.
The orange ball in the center of the 5 -Ds is what we call the Positive Core. It represents the strengths, the capabilities, the collective assets of the members and the organization that are surfaced and talked about during the Discovery interviews. The Positive Core is what informs the Dream step in the process. Members build on collective strengths to determine what they can do more of to move closer to possible, preferred futures.
Examples of Appreciative Inquiry Questions
Appreciative Inquiry is the art of asking unconditional, positive questions to strengthen the system’s capacity to anticipate and heighten positive potential.
Appreciative Inquiry emphasizes the art of crafting positive questions. The following summarizes how Appreciative Inquiry questions are different:
- We live in a world our questions create.
- Our questions determine the results we achieve.
- The more positive our question, the more it will create the possible.
- Our questions create movement and change.
Below are the four foundational Appreciative Inquiry interview questions for a business situation. If you substitute ‘organization’ with ‘relationship’, or ‘career’, or ‘wellness regime’ the will become aware of how context agnostic AI is!
- What has been a high-point experience in your organization/division/life when you felt most alive, successful, and effective?
- Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself, your work, and your organization?
- What are the core factors that make this organization function at its best, when it feels a great place to be in, and without which it would cease to exist?
- Three wishes: if you had three wishes for this organization, what would they be?
Organization Development in Different Contexts
Appreciate Inquiry as a method of organization development is applicable across a range of contexts. As it’s a collaborative process to engage people discovering the best in their context, it is successfully applied from one-on-one coaching and interviewing situations to 1000+ person summits.
In a nutshell, the Appreciative Inquiry framework enables generative dialogue in any context, in any age group and any culture. Whenever there is a strong desire for healthy, productive relationships and sustainable outcomes; wherever there is a strong desire to enable all voices to be heard and to foster healthy, trusting relationships amidst diversity, complexity, and multiplicity, the framework of Appreciative Inquiry facilitates such outcomes. For example, applications include:
- Local communities of interest
- Small business
- Global corporations
The ethos of Appreciative Inquiry is storytelling, as the above questions suggest. When people connect through stories, their own leadership surfaces as they find examples of when they were at their best. When you ask:
“What is a high point experience in your organization – a time when you were most alive and engaged?”
you uncover stories about times when people are most engaged, effective, successful and connected as team members, leaders, service providers, solution givers allowing their own leadership to rise to the top. It is an opportunity to take note of what they are most proud of.
Inviting people to be part of a change they themselves can support produces cultures of ownership and commitment. It's when change is imposed or comes as a surprise that resistance and resentments can set in. The principles and process of Appreciative Inquiry facilitate change at a rate that is unprecedented and is sustainable because the change comes from the stakeholders themselves.
People support what they themselves create
Large Scale Summits
Whenever a team, a department, a community, an entire organization wants to come together to work on issues that are significant and require strategic design and tactical implementation, an Appreciative Inquiry Summit offers a rigorous design process with clear outcomes. In one to three days (depending on the size of the group), you discover and clarify the best of what already exists and identify what further opportunities will propel the organization in the direction of its future dreams. Everyone leaves the summit with pride in their contributions and energized about initiatives they are been part of creating toward their collective future.
And, it does not stop there. Commitments are made before participants leave the summit and return to “business as usual.” After an AI summit, with leadership support, there is no going back to business as usual. A change has happened that all have witnessed and committed to publicly.
We have hit the start button and there is no going back
The “right way,” or the “only way” isn't the domain of any one group anymore. It's about co-creation and collaboration. Whether it's designing new products or policies, innovating in your industry, or determining new operations or sets of behaviors to support organizational values, we know that to produce sustainable, satisfying outcomes, we need to be address diversity, multiplicity, and complexity. Inviting organizational members to collaborate in a workshop setting where participants come to inquire into a specific topic or issue in which they have some vested ownership can result in transformational changes in very short time frames.
Feedback from my book, “Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 strength-based workshops” (2010) John Wiley attests to such outcomes.
This is a great, inspiring, inspired and useful book. It is clearly and inspiringly written by someone who gets the topic and has found a way to put positivity and change into a usable format that can be adapted to virtually any organization or group. Glad we found it and we'll recommend it to others. Last chapter allows for virtually unlimited customization of concepts to specific needs or challenges. B.T.
Appreciative Inquiry provides an extremely powerful framework for such collaboration. Throughout this site, there are a number of examples in community contexts, in corporate, in non-profit organizations where people come together to contribute, learn and thereby create cultures of empowerment where they co-create solutions and outcomes they can commit to works.
Coaching individuals or groups following the Appreciative Inquiry framework is an empowering shift for people. As Appreciative Inquiry coaches, we start with a discovery of best attributes, strengths, of remembering past successes so coachees get a strong sense of what they already have achieved in their life and when they are most productive. From that really solid foundation, grounded in their own reality, we can move into what the dream is or what the goals are and what solutions will help them move in that direction. A great quote from Peter Drucker:
“The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make the organizations weaknesses irrelevant.”
Drucker, one of the most influential thinkers on leadership and management, stressed that the role of leadership is to build on organizational strengths so that weaknesses seem irrelevant. Weaknesses cannot be ignored. But to develop and improve performance, it's more resourceful to focus on what already works well.
In my experience, most people come to coaching with the goal to improve by overcoming their weaknesses, and that’s a worthy goal. How you achieve that goal can be addressed in a number of ways. What is far more energizing and empowering is to start from when you are most productive and performing at your best. In the coaching relationship, I identify what you do most easily, with the greatest joy, That becomes the foundation on which to build even greater capacity and pride and enjoyment in your performance, whatever it is.
We are more likely to be successful when we deploy our strengths with confidence rather than struggle with overcoming our weaknesses with difficulty.
Appreciative Inquiry Training
[UPATE] In April 2018, I launched a new training site with 6 training courses that help people deal with change through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry.
- Change and You
- Positivity is your Power
- Your Strengths are your differentiators
- Your Positive Operating System
- Principles for Positive Leaders
- A Pathway to Positive Change
To find out more, please visit PositiveChange.training where you'll see some introductory videos to each course.
All trainings and workshops can be delivered in-house and customized to suit specific industry sectors and organizational needs.
Appreciative Inquiry Principles – Five Foundational Principles
There are five foundational principles. The theoretical underpinnings are rich and varied. Below is a very much simplified overview of the five principles.
The Principle of Simultaneity
This Appreciative Inquiry Principle states that inquiry and change are simultaneous events. When you ask a question, it creates some response. A change happens between the inquirer and the responder. As stated above, the way we ask questions will determine what we find. It provides a moment of choice. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry involves the art of crafting and asking questions that elicit possibility and inspire hopeful images of the future.
To see this Appreciative Inquiry Principle clearly in action, I invite you to watch my TEDxNavesink talk.
What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
As change agents, leaders, friends, parents, or strangers, we need to consider the direction of the questions we ask. Are they life depleting or life nurturing, as the very first question we ask invites change.
The Anticipatory Principle
This Appreciative Inquiry Principle reminds us that, when we envision a positive future, we are more likely to act positively and live ourselves into that positive future. Cultures are shaped by the images we hold.
When you believe it, you see it
When we hold a dream that inspires, (for example, Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandel, Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs have and have had dreams of a world that have inspired us to think beyond our present day-to-day existence) we are mobilized toward that anticipatory future. (And, it also works when cultures hold negative and/or fearful images of the future).
Visionary leaders inspire their organizations into action.
Image inspires action.
Read this personal story to learn more.
The Poetic Principle
This Appreciative Inquiry Principle states that the topics or subjects we choose to put our attention to, or study, are fateful in the sense that they not only determine what we learn, but they actually create it.
What we focus on grows
Each of us has our own experiences and interpretations that we bring to a conversation or subject. Just as if we were to look at a piece of art, watch a movie, read a poem, or listen to music, there are opportunities for endless interpretations, learnings, and inspirations. The metaphors we use shape our beliefs. Do we describe our workplaces as machines, gardens, webs, families, schools, prisons, or zoos? (I've heard all these metaphors.) Depending on how we describe it, we’ll start to go looking for the evidence to back up our own beliefs.
Through our Appreciative Inquiry lens, we consciously seek out that which we want more of, not less—hence what we focus on are the solutions and outcomes we wish to create. There are many examples of this principle in all walks of life, from raising children to evaluating employee performance, to attending to our own health and wellness.
Do we place our attention and energy on the behaviors and outcomes we want in our children, co-workers, and diet and exercise regimes in order to create that which we desire, or do we place our attention on the things we want less of? Whichever it is, you’ll likely find it.
When we place sincere effort on the attributes we want to see and can let go of those that no longer serve or support, we have a greater chance of success at achieving our desired outcomes.
The Constructionist Principle
This Appreciative Inquiry Principle emphasizes the role of language and places human communication and conversation at the center of human organizing and change. As people converse and create meaning together, they sow the seeds for action. Our realities are created in communication with others, and knowledge is generated through social interaction.
Words create worlds
If the conversation during a tea break is filled with uplifting stories of success, you are likely to contribute your own story of success and all of you will walk away having expanded your understanding of success, building on each other’s ideas and stories.
We see the world we describe, not the other way round because when we describe it, we create distinctions that govern our actions. Our language shapes and creates our own truth and reality…and potentially our destinies.
Tragedies happen, financial crises, natural disasters, illnesses, and death occur – we don’t choose them, and they change us. How we describe the events that happen in our lives determines how we see them, and then results in how we respond to them. With deep respect, consider: are you a survivor or a thriver?
The Positive Principle
This Appreciative Inquiry Principle reminds us that, when we feel positive, we are more likely to act positively. Being able to experience positive emotions is a foundation for strengthening our general sense of well-being, thereby nurturing caring relationships, and increasing energy and vitality.
When you feel good, you do good
Through the research of Professor Barbara Fredrickson, and, as she describes in her latest book Love 2.0, we learn far more about the benefits of positive emotions in a wider context of positivity resonance. This book explains the impacts of micro-moments of love on our bodies as well as our emotions. Love is the foundation for all connections.
When people feel positive emotions, there is an “opening up” versus a “shutting down” effect. Fredrickson's broad and build theory describes the cognitive, emotional, and physiological changes we experience when positive emotions are aroused. We momentarily expand our attention and thinking, and we are more open to receive others and listen to their ideas. Positive emotions contribute to our ability to speedily bounce back from stress and can potentially transform us for the better. Instead of focusing on “me,” we expand to appreciate others, and think more about “we.”
Research indicates there is a ratio of 3:1, which is the tipping point for building our reserves of positive emotion. If we can, at a minimum, think, talk, and behave three times positive to one-time negative, then we are on the way to building emotional resiliency that will help us flourish instead of languishing.
The Appreciative Inquiry Positive Principle speaks to the need for large amounts of positive focus through deliberate choice of language and affirmative questions to discover the most uplifting stories that inspire possibility thinking and thriving futures. The higher the positive effect, the better able we are to deal with the unknown and be more accepting of change.
Appreciative Inquiry Principles – Five Emerging Principles
[UPDATE] – Increasingly, we refer to the 5 emergent principles, and I include them below.
The Wholeness Principle
This Principle is relevant for both individuals and for collectives. It seeks to ensure full inclusion of all the factors that contribute towards developing and sustaining a flourishing system or situation – whatever it is – the individual or the family, the group, community, workplace, nation, project launch etc.
As an individual we want the whole of us to be included and acknowledged in just about all contexts. By this I mean it is not just about my technical skills sets or intellect in what I do, but also about my mindset and values and beliefs about who I am and how I show up.
All of who we are matters – our backgrounds, our beliefs, our values, our intellect, our bodies, our emotions, our dreams, and aspirations all matter.
At the collective level, this Principle reminds us to invite all the different voices, perspectives, technologies, and multiple ways of knowing into the conversation or decision making, and planning. We talk about having the whole system in the room – all stakeholders are invited to participate in the future of a system, as each has experiences to offer and perspectives to share.
In today’s complex world, in most countries, in politics and in industry, we have moved away from there being a sole leader. Even if there is a formal leadership role, that person is guided by the ideas of many. We need many perspectives and ideas to find the solutions and create innovations that will serve our existing and future global citizens.
Having the Wholeness Principle is a reminder that whatever role we are in, the role will change and it behooves us to remain flexible while also constant, inclusive and embracing of diversity.
The Awareness Principle
This Principe of Awareness invites you to identify your relationship with all that is going on within you and around you, and to get you to pay attention to your present state. You learn to deepen your awareness and relationship with your context, circumstances, mindset, feelings, habits and how what’s worked or not worked in the past. You can do an environmental scan of your internal and external environment.
Become curious about your language and the stories you tell yourself. As you become more skilled and practiced, and notice the words of others, you’ll also notice what kind of responses their words provoke in you. This awareness is a first step to increasing your consciousness about your use of language and how it makes you feel and how you interpret it. Pay attention to how you use words and how words impact you. Notice if the words you use elevate your power of positivity or diminish it? Are they moving you in the direction of what you want, or are they holding you back?
Pay attention to are the sensations in your body. Where do you hold tension? What causes your breathing to be shallow, or your heart to race, or your stomach to be in a knot? Are you tired, sapped of energy or a ball of light energy and wired?
Distinguish between negative and positive emotion. When your brain, your emotions, and your body are on constant fearful alert for danger that takes a lot of energy and can drain you. Over time, these responses build up and become our default. In fact, for most of us, this kind of response is our default and we reinforce the negative when we don’t have to. Be mindful of your emotions.
Recall past successes. The past has such learning to offer us. I advocate you don’t dwell too much on the past failures – as helpful as they can be for learning: and I encourage you to reframe past mistakes so they become valuable learning opportunities, but it’s more resourceful when reliving the past, to go where you’ve had some modicum of success, because that’s your leverage point. When you’ve had a taste success, it motivates you to do more of the same.
The Principle of Choice
This Principle of Choice invites you to start seeing possibilities and opportunities, especially in the context of making potential changes. The Principle of Choice really makes you step up to your full power to be responsible for the choices you make in your life: that’s freeing …. AND puts the pressure on …. AND makes life incredibly fulfilling.
With intention, and with an awareness of your context, you are better equipped to move more agilely, consciously, easily towards your deepest desire that aligns with your highest purpose, integrity and your strengths. It presupposes you to make choices and to focus on the things you can influence and not anguish over the things that you have no control over, such as unsupportive people or acts of nature. You might enjoy this short blog post on Five Practice to Help you Make Positive Choices
The Enactment Principle
This Principle of Enactment is about taking action. You take action on your choices. Without your taking action, you may not get the change you desire. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr are such examples of being the Enactment Principle – you need to live it, be it, feel it in your body – “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
This Principle of Enactment is a favorite Principle for many because it’s about action, so for those of you who like to jump in, to get into action, make lists, check off lists, keeping busy this one will be extra fun for you.
It also means bringing new ideas and behaviors into your way of being and doing; and once you start to make little changes, you have a greater chance of making new adjustments you want and the change begins to get more deeply integrated into who you are. You might enjoy this post on Baby Steps, Courageous Actions
The Narrative Principle
The Narrative Principle informs us that you are a storyteller and you depend on a regular narrative to help you navigate through your days. You tell stories every day: at home with your family, at work with your colleagues and clients, at play with your mates, and in romance with your lovers. Who you hang out with informs your narrative your story – what TV shows you watch, what clothes you buy, the food you eat and all that you regularly do informs your worldview and IS your story.
Significantly, the stories you tell yourself get lived out daily. They guide your beliefs and choices, thereby impacting your thoughts and actions. As you become more conscious of your own stories and the stories of others, you begin to notice different perspectives and potentially reach new levels of understanding. You begin to make sense of complex issues, and together in relationship with others, you can create new stories.
When you are open to others to truly connect, you find your intersect points, and from that shared place of common humanity, you begin to share dreams and aspirations, addressing problems in different ways. One of the ways you can do this is storytelling. It is through telling your stories that you transcend differences as you discover the universal connection with others.
As you talk to each other, you set the course for action. If a conversation is filled with uplifting stories of success and joy, you are more than likely to pitch in with your own stories of success, and others will do the same. As you construct meaning in relationship with others, you begin a process of shared understanding. You begin to share perspectives, the stories begin to mingle and form a collective that you begin to share and spread.
So what are your stories? Do they ignite you with greater energy, increasing your levels of satisfaction and joy, supporting you in upward spirals, or the opposite, sending you off on a downward spiral associated with energy loss, dissatisfaction, and feelings of life being sapped?
Seeing the World Anew
By now you have a little information about Appreciative Inquiry. It’s a way to engage with, and affirm life in all its magnificence.
Imagine living in a state of inquiry that seeks to discover the best in all situations; the gifts, the talents, the strengths of people we come into contact with daily, and of people whom we may never meet because our paths won’t ever cross; the beauty of our planet and wonders of the universe; the untold possibilities of all that life offers us. It is possible to live in a state of appreciative inquiry.
What’s your current story?
- Do you look at life, at people, at organizations, and at institutions as problems to be solved or mysteries to be embraced?
- What’s the narrative that runs your life?
What’s the story you want to pass on?
- What stories are you passing on from generation to generation, from leader to leader?
- What stories do we collectively want to pass on from generation to generation?
- Do you sense we are collectively saying, there is so much more to appreciate in this world?
- What new stories can we co-create that will leave a new and exciting, heart-centered world?
I leave the last words for Albert Einstein whose brilliant, scientific and artistic mind saw the world as a miracle.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”
I trust you have some answers to the question “What is Appreciative Inquiry?”
To find out how I support individuals, communities and organizations experience and apply Appreciate Inquiry, I invite you to visit my Services Page.