What Is Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is an analysis mode that focuses on the best, most essential, vital, and effective aspects of living systems and organizations. Instead of "problem solving" – a fundamentally negative approach that implies criticism and remediation – appreciative inquiry is geared toward discovering the untapped positive potential of a system, e.g. opportunities, assets, spirit, and value. This discovery of potential harnesses the energy needed to facilitate a change rooted in breakthrough, discovery, and innovation.

BREAKING DOWN Appreciative Inquiry

The Appreciative Inquiry model was developed at the Organizational Behavior Department of Case Western University, based on research by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.

In 1990, Cooperrider and Diana Whitney defined the five principles of Appreciative Inquiry as:

  • the constructivist principle (Organizations are co-constructed by the discourse of the participants' interactions. The purpose of inquiry is to generate new stories, language, and ideas.)
  • the principle of simultaneity (The answers are implicit in the questions asked.)
  • the poetic principle (The story of the organization is always being co-authored by people within it, through their stories. So, choosing the topic of inquiry can change the organization.)
  • the anticipatory principle (Understanding that our actions are guided by our vision of the future, and creating positive image of the future to shape present action.)
  • the positive principle (Positive organizational change requires positive sentiments, such as hope, inspiration, and camaraderie, as well as the strengthening of social bonds.)

Initiatives at the organizational level for leveraging appreciative inquiry commonly use the "4-D" cycle model as a means for implementing changes. The positive core of 4-D includes the discovery, dream, design, and destiny phases that aim to build around what works in an organization rather than what may be broken.