Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was developed by Dr. David Cooperrider and his colleagues as a new paradigm with the potential to replace the conventional problem-solving methods of organization development.

In everyday life, most people and organizations are constrained by the perception that their resources, and hence their horizons, are limited. This perception — that we must “face realities” — is without a doubt the greatest single constraint on human imagination, vision and enterprise.

Appreciative inquiry begins with a different set of assumptions. We begin with the belief that we have a choice — that we can consciously choose (in the Gestalt sense) what we “see” and act upon. In both the personal and social realms, we can choose to focus on problems, needs and deficits — the traditional problem-solving approach. Or we can choose to see possibilities, capabilities and assets — the basis of appreciative inquiry.

By focusing on what’s right, rather than what’s wrong with an organization, an individual or even a society, AI gives us access to the kind of energy that can be transformative. Having that kind of energy to work with gives us the confidence to develop and pursue a new image of the future.

A key question: If you want to inspire, mobilize and sustain human energy which is the most effective way — by focusing on problems or pursuing possibilities?

AI is a generative process that gives us a way to bring possibilities to life and develop our capacities. Through a carefully developed set of questions and a process of dialogue, we uncover stories of our “peak experiences” — those moments in our lives when we felt most effective, most connected, most alive.

These stories provide irrefutable proof of our actual capabilities. They give rise to new images of what the future could be. They raise our sights, energize us and give us the courage to dream and act boldly.

Rather than “accepting reality,” we see that what we call “reality” is defined by what we choose to see, what we choose to think and talk about, what we choose to act upon. It follows that we have the capacity to create the kind of future we desire.

Description taken from:

Problem solving versus appreciative Inquiry
Problem Solving

What to fix
Underlying grammar = problem, symptoms, causes, solutions, action plan, intervention
Breaks things into pieces & specialties, guaranteeing fragmented responses
Slow! Takes a lot of positive emotion to make real change.
Assumes organizations are constellations of problems to be overcome

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

What to grow
New grammar of the true, good, better, possible
“Problem focus” implies that there is an ideal. AI breaks open the box of what the ideal is first.
Expands vision of preferred future. Creates new energy fast.
Assumes organizations are sources of infinite capacity and imagination

How does it work?
First, understand the positive core of a living system. What makes it most effective and vital, in economic, ecological and human terms?
– We move in the direction of our deepest and most frequently asked questions.
– Positive guiding images of the future trigger action in the present.
– Images are found in our dialogue with each other.
– Ratio of positive to negative statements is a success factor for change.
Individuals & groups can then weave the best of what is into formal and informal practices. This new approach to change, based on the power of the positive question, has emerged from revolutions in many fields.

Organizations work best when they are vibrant, alive and fun. You know, when the “joint is jumping!” You can sense that the spirit of the organization is vital and healthy and that people feel pride in their work. Everyone builds on each other’s successes, a positive can do attitude is infectious and the glow of success is shared. What’s more, this positive energy is appreciated and celebrated so it deepens and lasts.

  1. Tell me about a time when you experienced positive energy that was infectious. What was the situation? What created the positive energy? How did it feel to be a part of it? What did you learn?
  2. If positive energy were the flame of the organization, how would you spark it? How would you fuel it to keep it burning bright?

4 Generic Questions to start the process:

  1. Best experience. A time when…
  2. What do you value about… yourself, work, organization.
  3. What do you think is the core life-giving factor or value of your organization –that which if it did not exist would make your organization totally different than it currently is?
  4. If you had three wishes for this organization, what would it be?

Typical Project Start-up

Choose the topic: combine themes from generic interviews with research questions.
Agree on desired outcomes & CSF;
Agree on how to get there
Develop draft interview protocol
Practice interviews; develop interview guidelines
Plan for collecting & “analyzing” the data
Plan for how the process will drive change.

Why it works

Doesn’t focus on changing people => Relief that the message isn’t about what they’ve done wrong or have to stop doing.
Invites people to engage in building the kinds of organizations and communities that they want to live in.
Helps everyone see the need for change, explore new possibilities, and contribute to solutions.
Through alignment of formal and informal structures with purpose and principles, it translates shared vision into reality and belief into practice.
Assumptions => conversation => dominant images => individual acts at both conscious and unconscious levels => organizational infrastructure.
Organizations manifest human imagination. Learnings that surface through AI shift collective image.
Process responds to three truths about human nature:
* Exceptionality: We’re all exceptions. We respond best when this is noticed & conditions for exceptional performance are enhanced.
* Essentiality: We each need to be seen as essential to the group. If we “lift up” meaningful contributions, it creates a compelling guiding image for others
* Equality: Creates a way for the organization to be in “full voice” about the true, good, better, possible.


  1. A high-participation, full-voice process targeted at organizational innovation
  2. A learning process to identify and disseminate best practices
  3. A way of managing and working that fosters positive communication and can result in the formation of deep and meaningful relationships
  4. Can be used to radically redesign the governance structures and processes of an organization.
  5. Mobilizes strategic change by focusing on the core strengths of an organization, then using those strengths to reshape the future.

More tools and resources are found at:
(Most information on this page is taken from sources available here)

Application Areas

Leadership & Management Development
Work Process Redesign
Team Development
Organization Culture
Change Employee Development
HR Practices: Staffing, Orientation,
Performance Management
Collaborative alliances & joint ventures
Community & customer relations
Diversity initiatives
Strategic Planning
Focus Groups
Evaluation to Valuation

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