Appreciative inquiry

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According to Gervase R. Bushe[1] (2013) "Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur." Developed and extended since the mid 1980s primarily by students and faculty of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, AI revolutionized the field of organization development and was a precursor to the rise of positive organization studies and the strengths based movement in American management." The original 1987 article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva argued that the overuse of problem-solving reduced the ability of managers and researchers to come up with new theories and models of organizing.[2] Taking a social constructionist approach, which argues that organizations are created, maintained and changed by conversations, they pointed out that our methods of organizing were only limited by people's imaginations and the agreements among them.[3] The history of AI has been described by Gervase Bushe in an article in the Appreciative Practitioner in 2012.

Publicized success using an appreciative inquiry at GTE in the mid 90's (now part of Verizon) led to calls for Cooperrider to publish a "how to" manual which he resisted for many years, wanting people to focus on the theory and to innovate with methods. As a result many different approaches to Appreciative Inquiry have flourished around the world.

Basis and Principles[edit]

The Appreciative Inquiry model is based on the assumption that the questions we ask will tend to focus our attention in a particular direction. Some other methods of assessing and evaluating a situation and then proposing solutions are based on a deficiency model. Some other methods ask questions such as “What are the problems?”, “What’s wrong?” or “What needs to be fixed?”.

Instead of asking “What’s the problem?”, some other methods couch the question in terms of challenges, which AI argues maintains a basis of deficiency, the thinking behind the questions assuming that there is something wrong, or that something needs to be fixed or solved.[4]

In 1990 David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney published an article outlining the five principles of Appreciative Inquiry that have become the standard model used by practitioners and researchers.[5] The following description is taken from the Sage Encyclopedia of Management Theory:[1]

1) The constructionist principle proposes that what we believe to be true determines what we do, and thought and action emerge from relationships. Through the language and discourse of day to day interactions, people co-construct the organizations they inhabit. The purpose of inquiry is to stimulate new ideas, stories and images that generate new possibilities for action.

2) The principle of simultaneity proposes that as we inquire into human systems we change them and the seeds of change, the things people think and talk about, what they discover and learn, are implicit in the very first questions asked. Questions are never neutral, they are fateful, and social systems move in the direction of the questions they most persistently and passionately discuss.

3) The poetic principle proposes that organizational life is expressed in the stories people tell each other every day, and the story of the organization is constantly being co-authored. The words and topics chosen for inquiry have an impact far beyond just the words themselves. They invoke sentiments, understandings, and worlds of meaning. In all phases of the inquiry effort is put into using words that point to, enliven and inspire the best in people.

4) The anticipatory principle posits that what we do today is guided by our image of the future. Human systems are forever projecting ahead of themselves a horizon of expectation that brings the future powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent. Appreciative Inquiry uses artful creation of positive imagery on a collective basis to refashion anticipatory reality.

5) The positive principle proposes that momentum and sustainable change requires positive affect and social bonding. Sentiments like hope, excitement, inspiration, camaraderie and joy increase creativity, openness to new ideas and people, and cognitive flexibility. They also promote the strong connections and relationships between people, particularly between groups in conflict, required for collective inquiry and change.

Some researchers believe that excessive focus on dysfunctions can actually cause them to become worse or fail to become better.[6] By contrast, AI argues, when all members of an organization are motivated to understand and value the most favourable features of its culture, it can make rapid improvements.[7]

Strength-based methods are used in the creation of organizational development strategy and implementation of organizational effectiveness tactics.[8] The appreciative mode of inquiry often relies on interviews to qualitatively understand the organization's potential strengths by looking at an organization's experience and its potential; the objective is to elucidate the assets and personal motivations that are its strengths.

In a series of influential articles Bushe has argued that mainstream proponents of AI focus too much attention on "the positive" and not enough on the generativity unleashed by AI(,[9][10][11]). In the 2010 comparative study in a school district he found that even in cases where no change occurred participants were highly positive during the AI process. What distinguished those sites that experienced transformational changes was the creation of new ideas that gave people new ways to address old problems. He argues that for transformational change to occur, AI must address problems that concern people enough to want to change. However, AI addresses them not through problem-solving, but through generative images.[12] A 90 minute video of Bushe and Dr. Ron Fry of Case Western Reserve University discussing positivity and generativity at the 2012 World Appreciative Inquiry Conference is available here.

The most recent academic review of AI describes 10 change processes embedded in AI, recent critiques and research evidence (available here).

Distinguishing Features[edit]

The following table comes from the Cooperrider and Srivastva (1987) article and is widely used by supporters to describe some of the distinctions between Appreciative Inquiry and approaches to organizational development not based on what they call positive potential:[13]

Problem Solving Appreciative inquiry
Felt need, identification of problem(s) Appreciating, valuing the Best of What Is
Analysis of Causes Envisioning what might be
Analysis of possible solutions Engaging in dialogue about what should be
Action Planning (treatment) Innovating, what will be

Appreciative Inquiry attempts to use ways of asking questions and envisioning the future in-order to foster positive relationships and build on the present potential of a given person, organisation or situation. The most common Appreciative Inquiry model utilises a cycle of 4 processes, which focuses on what it calls:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DESTINY (or DEPLOY): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.[14]

The aim is to build - or rebuild - organisations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. AI practitioners try to convey this approach as the opposite of problem-solving.

Implementing AI[edit]

There are a variety of approaches to implementing Appreciative Inquiry, including mass-mobilised interviews and a large, diverse gathering called an Appreciative Inquiry Summit.[15] Both approaches involve bringing large, diverse groups of people together to study and build upon the best in an organization or community.

Current resources on Appreciative Inquiry include(in alphabetical order):

  • Barrett, F.J. & Fry, R.E. (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute
  • Cooperrider, D.L., Whitney, D. & Stavros, J.M. (2008) Appreciative Inquiry Handbook (2nd ed.) Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing.
  • Lewis, S., Passmore, J. & Cantore, S. (2008) The Appreciative Inquiry Approach to Change Management. London, UK: Kogan Paul.
  • Ludema, J.D. Whitney, D., Mohr, B.J. & Griffen, T.J. (2003) The Appreciative Inquiry Summit. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler.
  • Whitney, D. & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010) The Power of Appreciative Inquiry (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Associations with other approaches[edit]

The philosophy of AI is also found in other positively oriented approaches to individual change as well as organizational change. Although the first publication about Appreciative Inquiry predates by twelve years the modern Positive Psychology movement credited to Martin Seligman in 1998,[16] the principles supporting AI are aligned with those of this field of study. Building on strengths, rather than just focusing on faults and weakness is used in mentoring and coaching programs. It is the basic idea behind teaching "micro-affirmations" as well as teaching about micro-inequities. (See Microinequity[17])

AI's uses[edit]

AI is used in organizational development and as a management consultancy tool to identify and move towards, needed change. It has been applied in businesses, health care bodies, social non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and government operations.[18] Although originating in the United States, it is also used in the United Kingdom, for example in the National Support Teams and around the world. Since 2000 the AI Practitioner, a quarterly publication, has described applications in a variety of settings around the world.

In Vancouver, AI is being used by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. The Center, which was founded by the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan, is using AI to facilitate compassionate communities.[19]

See also[edit]

  • Geoffrey Vickers introduced concept of 'Appreciative Systems'(1968)
  • Kenneth J. Gergen instrumental in social constructionism and the concept of generativity
  • David Cooperrider originated the theory of appreciative inquiry in his 1986 doctoral dissertation.


  1. ^ a b Bushe, G.R. (2013) The Appreciative Inquiry Model. In Kessler, E. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Management Theory. Sage Publications.
  2. ^ Cooperrider, D.L. & Srivastva, S. (1987) Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In Woodman, R. W. & Pasmore, W.A. (eds) Research In Organizational Change And Development, Vol. 1 (129-169). Stamford, CT: JAI Press.
  3. ^ Cooperrider, D. L., Barrett, F., Srivastva, S. (1995). Social construction and appreciative inquiry: A journey in organizational theory. In Hosking, D., Dachler, P. & Gergen, K. (eds.) Management and Organization: Relational Alternatives to Individualism (157-200)
  4. ^ Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management
  5. ^ Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D (2001) A positive revolution in change. In Cooperrider, D. L. Sorenson, P., Whitney, D. & Yeager, T. (eds.) Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development (9-29). Champaign, IL: Stipes.
  6. ^ January 17, 2005, Time Magazine, The Science of Happiness (Cover Story & Special Issue)
  7. ^ Background
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bushe, G.R. & Kassam, A. (2005) When is appreciative inquiry transformational? A meta-case analysis. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 41:2, 161-181.
  10. ^ Bushe, G.R. (2007) Appreciative inquiry is not (just) about the positive. Organization Development Practitioner, 39:4, 30-35.
  11. ^ Bushe, G.R. (2010) A comparative case study of appreciative inquiries in one organization: Implications for practice. Revista de Cercetare si Interventie Sociala / Review of Research and Social Intervention, (Special Issue on Appreciative Inquiry) 29: 7-24.
  12. ^ Bushe, G.R. (2013) Dialogic OD: A theory of practice. Organization Development Practitioner, special issue on advances in Dialogic Organization Development, 45:1, 10-16.
  13. ^ Case Western Reserve University, Appreciative Inquiry Commons;
  14. ^ "Appreciative Inquiry"
  15. ^
  16. ^ Seligman, Martin. "The President's Address from the American Psychological Association 1998 Annual Report". Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Rowe Micro-Affirmations and Micro-inequities in the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association, Volume 1, Number 1, March 2008.
  18. ^
  19. ^

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