What is Appreciative Inquiry?
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a mentoring approach that seeks to identify and foster the best in people and organizations. “Appreciative” refers to the attempt at focusing on things we appreciate and that create value. “Inquiry” refers to the search for what is already working and has value. AI has received increased attention in recent years (Cooperrider & Srivastva 1087; Cooperrider & Srivastva 1999; Cooperrider & Whitney 2000).
When undertaking an appreciative inquiry, we start by examining aspects of the person’s life and work she finds meaningful and productive. This approach is done on the assumption that people will achieve transformative goals quicker by strengthening their pre-existing resources. A situation may also be strengthened by the alternative method of problem analysis, but problem analysis may also worsen a situation (Cooperrider & Srivastva 1987). According to Cooperrider & Srivastva (1987), appreciative inquiry builds on the following assumptions:
– All organizations and all individuals have success stories to show that can contribute to positive development.
– All development is based on experience. And when we start the process with positive experiences, the road to development becomes more meaningful. We should make positive experiences visible and active in the organization.
– Inquiry and change stand in a dialectic relationship to each other. By starting an inquiry, we simultaneously start a change process.
When making these changes, employees will understand what is important in the organization, what creates a good life, happiness, development and freedom (Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett 2006). People who are recognized for their strengths and qualities are willing to give more. In order to understand what is working, it is necessary to reflect on the characteristics of good experiences and achievements.
The theoretical base for the approach is based on the following assumptions:
– Importance, meaning and recognition are created through interaction with others.
– Language as a tool can be used to construct a positive reality.
– What we see as reality is not created inside us, but between individuals through language.
The four phases of Appreciative Inquiry
An appreciative inquiry is done in four phases (Cooperrider & Srivastva 1999; Cooperrider & Whitney 2000; Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett 2006; Whitney & Trosten-Blom 2003). This is also referred to as the 4-D cycle: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny.
1. Discovery. The purpose of the discovery phase is to identify situations where an organization or an individual’s performance is at its best. The discovery is done through systematic charting, for instance by qualitative data collection methods such as interviews. Common for this data collection is the search for positive stories. The idea is that by telling stories, we reveal how we perceive and experience our lives. And by bringing these stories forward, and with them our experiences, we will be able to create a common experience base around what we value and what energizes us in our daily lives. During interviews, the following positively formed questions could be posed:
– What makes us happy?
– What contributes to making us happy?
– What helps us bring forward the positive?
When listening to employees during this process, we try to identify and explore energizing aspects of their stories. The key is to uncover energizing stories and understand the areas that give vitality to individuals and organizations.
2.Dream After charting valuable experiences, we formulate dreams and visions for the future. We exchange notions of a preferred future. For an appreciative inquiry to work, it must be based on participation. Ideally, it should involve all employees in an organization or a team, and as far as possible also collaborators and users.
3. Design In the design phase employees make precise descriptions of how the organization’s day to day practice would look once the dream or vision has been fulfilled. They formulate precise goals and create an action plan for the way ahead. In this phase the organization’s employees make an attempt at creating relations and systems that can support the desired development. The purpose of this phase is to define a vision and what is needed to realize this vision.
4. Destiny In the destiny phase the employees adopt initiatives in order to realize the goals that were developed in the design phase. This requires a specific action plan describing what needs to be done when and by whom. The employees reinforce positive experiences from the past and attempt new measures. The learning process continues with adjustments and experimentation. More benefits in this phase are realized based on the amount of effective and creative tools for evaluation and development that have been identified.
Use and examples
Appreciative inquiry can be used:
– to reflect on competences and resources in a group of employees.
– to create knowledge of and reflect on professional work.
– to determine the priorities management and employees will use for day-to-day work.
– to plan and implement organizational development.
(Cooperrider & Srivastva 1999; Cooperrider & Whitney 2000; Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett 2006; Whitney & Trosten-Blom 2003).
– Cooperrider, D.L. and Srivastva, S. (1987). Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life, Research in Organizational Change and Development, 1, pp. 129-169. Original article (read 15.06.12)
– Cooperrider, D. L., & Srivastva, S. (1999). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In: S. Srivastva & D. L. Cooperrider (Eds), Appreciative Management and Leadership: The Power of Positive Thought and Action in Organization (Rev. ed., pp. 401–441). Cleveland, OH: Lakeshore Communications.
– Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (2000). A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry Commons. Original article
– Ludema, J.D., Cooperrider, D.L., & Barrett, F.J. (2006). Appreciative Inquiry: the Power of the Unconditional Positive Question. I Reason, Peter & Bradbury, Hilary (Eds.) (2006). Handbook of Action Research. Sage. London
– Whitney, D. & Trosten-Blom, A. (2003). The Power of Appreciative Inquiry. A Practical Guide to Positive Change. San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Relevant internet resources
Appreciative Inquiry Commons (http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu) has articles and commentaries on Appreciative Inquiry in theory and practice, as well as information on workshops and conferences.
The Taos Institute (http://www.taosinstitute.net/)
Anne Radford (http://www.aradford.co.uk/) is editor of AI Practitioner and has other AI resources.