“We can’t ignore problems—we just need to approach them from the other side.” – Cooperrider and Whitney, 2001
When things don’t turn out the way you expected them to and problems arise – what do you do?
Often people complain about a problem again and again, and enter a cycle from which they cannot easily escape. The approach of appreciative inquiry can prevent this process of rumination and help you generate creative and positive outcomes.
What is Appreciative Inquiry?
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) involves ‘searching for the best’ in people, organizations and communities through the discovery of ‘what gives life’ to a system when it is at its most effective and most economically, ecologically, and socially capable (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2001).
The 4 Stages of Appreciative Inquiry
There are 4 stages involved in appreciative inquiry: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny/Delivery. The completion of these stages result in “transformational change, sourced from collaborative inquiry with participants” (Cram, 2010). Let’s take a closer look at the 4 stages:
Whatever the situation at hand, the first step is to “discover and disclose [its] positive capacity” (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2001). The Discovery Stage aims to find, emphasize, and illuminate any factors that have led to ‘the best’ in a given situation (Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett, 2001).
When discovering the best, you can start by looking at the peak experiences. However, it is equally important to pay attention to that which is surprising, that which touches your heart and spirit and that which forces you to look differently at reality (Bushe, 2007).
In general, most of the process of the Discovery Stage is about “eliciting a positive discourse (e.g., stories, examples, metaphors) about organizational, family or community life” (Cram, 2010).
In an organizational setting, possible positive discovery questions could be:
- What gives life to our organization and allows it to function at its best?
- What in this particular setting or context makes organizing possible?
Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett (2001)
Examples of questions for your daily life could be:
- What are the most significant stories in my life?
- Where are things going well in my life?
- Where am I making a difference?
“Uncover values and aspirations [you] might not have been aware of.” (Bushe, 2007)
Once you have discovered the best, there comes the Dream Stage.
This is where you begin to dream of what could be or needs to be. Basically, the Dream Stage often challenges the status quo and works on the blue sky potential (Cram, 2010).
In the Dream Stage, you focus on the possibility of what could be rather than on the limiting ways people normally do/feel/see/act or react, and through this you will begin to see and understand things in a new way.
Froman (2010) offers an example of the Dream Stage where participants work together to come up with a representation of their highest aspirations and dreams for their ideal future. These representations could be in art, poetry or acting (Froman, 2010).
Furthermore, rather than creating a mission statement, the Dream Stage “results in something more symbolic, like a graphical representation” (Bushe, 2011).
The next step in the process is the Design Stage. It is time for creating or designing what you want and looking at how your ideal scenario could work.
Generally, the Design Stage is “a process of finding common ground by sharing discoveries and possibilities, dialoguing and debating” (Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett, 2001) which gets you to the point where everyone agrees on how they are going to make it happen.
In the Design Stage, the group has to “identify concrete, actionable ideas that will move the organization closer to its newly envisioned potential” (Froman, 2010).
The last D stands for Destiny which is defined as:
“an invitation to construct the future through innovation and action” (Ludema, Cooperrider & Barrett, 2001).
The Destiny Stage is when people commit to the aspirations they want to achieve (Cram, 2010).
During this stage the implementation of change is emphasized. The “most obvious effects are found in the degree to which teams carry out their plans” (Froman, 2010).
Appreciative Inquiry & Positive Psychology
Appreciative inquiry indirectly collaborates with positive psychology with its strengths-based approach (Boyd & Bright, 2007). Furthermore, appreciative inquiry can also “increase positive feelings, the positive talk ratio, and make generative thinking and acting more likely” (Bushe, 2007).
Similar to strengths in positive psychology, appreciative inquiry focuses on what’s already working inside your family, organisation or community. In this way it can “describe a preferred future for the organisation alongside an understanding of how an organisation can build toward that future” (Cram, 2010).
Moreover, appreciative inquiry recognizes people not by role but by relationship which gives the opportunity for everyone to raise their voices and be heard (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010).
In conclusion, appreciative inquiry can teach you to approach a situation with a new perspective that considers all possible aspects with a positive, strengths-based focus. Appreciative inquiry offers all of us the opportunity to broaden our perspectives and create positive outcomes.
Have you ever worked with appreciative inquiry? We would love to hear how you implemented it and any advice you can offer in the comment box below.
Boyd, N. & Bright, D. (2007). Appreciative inquiry as a mode of action research in community psychology. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(8), 1019-1036.
Bushe, G. (2007). Appreciative inquiry is not about the positive. OD practitioner, 39(4), 33-38.
Bushe, G. R. (2011). Appreciative inquiry: Theory and critique. The Routledge companion to organizational change, 87-103.
Cram, F. (2010). Appreciative inquiry. Mai Review, 3, 1-13.
Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2001). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. Public administration and public policy, 87, 611-630.
Froman, L. (2010). Positive psychology in the workplace. Journal of Adult Development, 17(2), 59-69.
Ludema, J. D., Cooperrider, D. L., & Barrett, F. J. (2001). Appreciative inquiry: The power of the unconditional positive question. Handbook of action research, 189-199.
Whitney, D. D., & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010). The power of appreciative inquiry: A practical guide to positive change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.