Appreciative Inquiry


What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change, particularly within companies and other organizations. It was developed at Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Organizational Behavior.

How does it work?
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, organization or situation. The most common model utilizes a cycle of four processes, which focus on what it calls:

DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
DESTINY: The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

The five principles of AI are:

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.

Why does it work?

AI is used in organizational development and as a consultancy tool in an attempt to bring about strategic change. It has been applied in businesses, health care bodies, social non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and government operations. The aim is to build – or rebuild – organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn’t. 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.

To get an idea about why and how we implement AI, we include a mini-documentary on the District East (Oost) in Amsterdam and their adoptation of Appreciative Inquiry in their workflow. The video includes interviews with Ralph Weickel – the Founding Partner of the European Centre for Positive Change – and Frank van Erkel, who was at that time the City Manager of Amsterdam East.