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Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to change that focuses on strengths, successes and positives rather than problems and negatives. It can be followed by individuals, teams and/or organisations. Many of the examples available on the Appreciative Inquiry Commons web site arise from applying AI to organisations.  


For many people their primary experience of self development is through a deficiency model such as problem solving. Typically we look for a solution and apply this to fix the problem. So in assessment we often find feedback given on what was wrong, rather than what is good. Problem solving is very different to Appreciative Inquiry:


Problem Solving

Appreciative Inquiry

Identify the problem

Appreciate ‘What is’

Conduct root cause analysis

Imagine ‘What might be’

Brainstorm solutions and analyse

Determine ‘What should be’

Develop action plans

Create ‘What will be’

Metaphor -  organisations are problems to be solved

Metaphor -  organisations are a solution/mystery to be embraced




The process of AI can be seen in the 4-D cycle: Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver. This is the basis of Appreciative Inquiry.


The core task in the discovery phase is to appreciate the best of "what is" by focusing on peak moments of individual or community excellence—when people experienced things in the most alive and effective state. Participants then seek to understand the unique conditions that made the high points possible, such as leadership, relationships, technologies, values, capacity building or external relationships. They deliberately choose not to analyze deficits, but rather systematically seek to isolate and learn from even the smallest victories. In the discovery phase, people share stories of exceptional accomplishments, discuss the core life-giving conditions of themselves and their community and deliberate upon the aspects of their history that they most value and want to enhance in the future.


In the dream phase, people challenge the status quo by envisioning more valued and vital futures. This phase is both practical, in that it is grounded in the person or community's history, and generative, in that it seeks to expand potential. Appreciative inquiry is different from other planning methods because its images of the future emerge from grounded examples of the positive past. They are compelling possibilities precisely because they are based on extraordinary moments from a person or community's history. Participants use positive stories in the same way an artist uses paints to create a portrait of the potential. They think great thoughts and create great possibilities for themselves or their community, then turn those thoughts into provocative propositions for themselves.


In the design phase participants create a strategy to carry out their provocative propositions. They do so by building a social architecture that might, for example, re-define approaches to leadership, governance, participation or capacity. As they compose strategies to achieve their provocative propositions, local people incorporate the qualities of personal and professional life that they want to protect, and the relationships that they want to achieve.

The final phase involves the delivery of new images of the future and is sustained by nurturing a collective sense of destiny. It is a time of continuous learning, adjustment and improvisation in the service of their ideals. The momentum and potential for innovation is high by this stage of the process. Because they have positive images of the future, people re-align their work and co-create the future.


Appreciative inquiry is a continual cycle. The destiny phase leads naturally to new discoveries of strengths, beginning the process anew. It is explained in more detail here: http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf


The questions are designed to encourage people to tell stories from their own experience of what works. By discussing what has worked in the past and the reasons why, the participants can go on to imagine and create a vision of what would make a successful future that has a firm grounding in the reality of past successes. Questions often revolve around what people enjoy about an area, their aspirations for the future, and their feelings about their communities.


An example of how AI was used to guide curriculum assessment: http://www.slideshare.net/junek/using-appreciative-inquiry-to-guide-curriculum-assessment

A US school project based on AI: http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/video/shawHS/Cardinal_Scholars_Mastery_Program_SHAWHIGH.pdf


Download our learning resource on Appreciative Inquiry



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