Promoting positive change through Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a collaborative strengths-based Organization Development (OD) approach focusing on what works well in a team or an organization, rather than on what isn’t working (deficit-based approach). The basic tenet of AI is that systems will grow in whichever direction that people focus their attention on.
If you start a weekly meeting asking what problems arose since the past week, you might end up with a Wailing Wall, leading you to discover the root causes of the problems and develop actions to solve them. But, if you ask for the success stories or highlights of the week, you might get inspired and gain positive insights on the strengths of the team or organization.
The inquiry puts the focus on exploration and discovery, thus to ask questions and be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Appreciative means affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials, and perceiving those things which provide vitality and excellence.
AI is not a singular methodology with a firmly established way of proceeding. It is an approach to change with endless variations, but with some core guiding principles. It is inquiry/dialogue-based, includes the whole system and focuses on affirmative topics (“Positive questions lead to positive change”). It also emphasizes designing creative and positive images for the future together (“Images inspires actions”).
The following Five D cycle of AI can be used as a general thread for collectively building organization development initiatives together. As an improvisational approach focused on human interactions, unplanned and unexpected outcome and ideas might arise, generating very unique versions of AI each time.
The Five D’s are addressed in a series of workshops that stress affirmative dialogue and designing a future together, ideally including all stakeholders:
- Define: the purpose of the project is defined – what inquiry questions do we want to focus on?
- Discover: the information is typically gathered through people interviewing each other and sharing stories of personal and organizational highpoints.
- Dream: based on shared past achievements and successes, wherein a vision of the ideal future with new possibilities is imagined together.
- Design: steps are mapped out together to transform the dream into reality.
- Deliver: designed actions are implemented “to make it happen.”
→ For me, working with all the employees of an organization, big or small, in a positive and engaging way proves each time to be extremely powerful and inspiring. The use of visualization tools (“the power of images”) and the way of articulating missions and actions (“words create worlds”) are other elements I largely use in all the work I do – not only in AI mandates.
* David Cooperrider (born 1954) is internationally recognized as the founder, together with Suresh Srivastva, of the theory of Appreciative Inquiry. “Appreciative management and leadership: the power of positive thought in organizations”, David Cooperrider & Suresh Srivastva, 1990