Appreciative Inquiry

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

Sections of This Topic Include

What is Appreciative Inquiry?
Various Perspectives on Appreciative Inquiry
Related Library Topics

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What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a major breakthrough in organization development, training and development and in "problem solving," in general. AI is based on the assertion that "problems" are often the result of our own perspectives and perceptions of phenomena, eg, if we look at a certain priority as a "problem," then we tend to constrain our ability to effectively address the priority and to continue to develop in our lives and work.

AI is a philosophy so a variety of models, tools and techniques can be derived from that philosophy. For example, one AI-based approach to strategic planning includes identification of our best times during the best situations in the past in an organization, wishing and thinking about what worked best then, visioning what we want in the future, and building from what worked best in order to work toward our vision. The approach has revolutionized many practices, including strategic planning and organization development.

Perhaps the best description of AI comes from its founder:

“Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” often-involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people. In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what people talk about as past and present capacities: achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul-- and visions of valued and possible futures. Taking all of these together as a gestalt, AI deliberately, in everything it does, seeks to work from accounts of this “positive change core”—and it assumes that every living system has many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.”
-- From Cooperrider, David and Whitney, Diana, A Positive Revolution for Change: Appreciative Inquiry (paper, 2000) http://appreciativeinquiry.cwru.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf

Various Perspectives on Appreciative Inquiry

The following links are by no means a complete list of online resources about AI. Like any other topic in the Library, the following links are to resources that can help to get you started in learning more about this topic.
Appreciative Inquiry Commons
Appreciative Inquiry Resources
Taos Institute on Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry: Tapping into the River of Positive Possibilities
Internal Eval Week: Sue Hunter and Cindy Olney on Using Appreciative Inquiry in Evaluation
Appreciative Inquiry: An Introduction to a Fantastic Way to Enact Change

Also see
Continuous Learning
Effective Questioning
Inquiry and Advocacy
Mental Models (scan down to "Mental Models")
Questioning Skills
Reframing
Systems Thinking


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