Appreciative Inquiry – Using Positive Energy for Change

What if there was a different way of thinking about change that was positive, energizing, engaging and that resulted in not only new ways of doing things but even better ways?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is just that way. What is AI? Simply stated, AI involves the art and practice of asking thoughtful questions to bring out the best in any situation. AI is about positive energy that is created by the stories told in response to questions asked. AI was first pioneered by Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University in the mid 1980s and it continues to gain momentum today.

 AI Defined:

  •  Appreciation means to recognize and value the contributions or attributes of things and people around us.
  • Inquiry means to explore and discover, in the spirit of seeking to better understand, and being open to new possibilities.

When combined, this means that by appreciating what is good and valuable in the present situation, we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive behaviour and attitudes i.e. positive change.

AI does not ignore problems but approaches problems differently – from ‘the other side’. A traditional problem solving approach focuses on what is not working well and needs to be ‘fixed’. This often leads to discovering there are too many problems to overcome. Negative attitudes surface (what doesn’t work rather than what is working well) creating ‘paralysis by analysis’. No one is happy in this situation.

Instead, AI guides an organization to identify and build upon what it has done well in the past, celebrating and building upon its strengths and creating (with all employees and other stakeholders) a shared vision for the future. Full engagement is an incredible force because people commit to what they help create.

AI works by shifting conversations, reframing challenges into opportunities and creating an environment for positive outcomes to help organizations achieve incredible game-changing results.

 The 4’Ds of AI

 AI is a multi-step process:

  1. Discovery. This first step looks for the best of what has happened in the past and what is currently working well. Questions are designed to get people talking and telling stories about what they find is most appreciated and valued, what is working well.
  2. Dream. This when you and your team visualize (and dream) of how you can take the positives identified in Discovery and reinforce them to build real strengths. Think about “what might be if…..”.
  3. Design. You have agreed upon your vision and this phase looks at what is needed to support the vision. What systems, processes, strategies will enable the ‘dream’ or vision to be realized.
  4. Deliver. This is the implementation phase. Planning and preparation are essential to keep the vision the focal point for all identified initiatives.

Key Points

The next time you are faced with a challenge or problem, step back and consider ‘what is good and is currently working well’. Embrace the idea of positive change in your next change initiative. Having a positive perspective brings about a whole new set of positive solutions you and your team may not have previously discovered.

Sources: A Positive Resolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry by David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney (1986), Appreciative Inquiry Commons (Case Western Reserve University),,, Appreciative Inquiry with Teams by Gervase Bushe (1998)

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