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Appreciative Inquiry

Culture & Collaboration


Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach for discovering potential opportunities and positive outcomes within a system. There are many ways to facilitate through the Appreciative Inquiry framework and the activity below is for groups of people that are working together within a system they want to explore.

Appreciative inquiry is about looking for the best in people – in the way they work, they live, and they behave.

Initially, appreciative inquiry (AI) was a “fundamental shift in the overall perspective of organizational development that took into account the entire human functioning – including strengths, possibilities, and success.” 

The contemporary concept of AI came into focus after the article by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastava in 1987, where they coined that problem-solving is ‘overused’ in organizational contexts and that active inquiries would perhaps be more helpful in creating innovations and ideas in the industry.

According to them, appreciative inquiry helps in:

  • Building the core strengths of an organization.
  • Shifting the focus from organizational weaknesses to the organizational strengths.
  • Letting individuals as well as the industry stick to its fundamental principles.
  • Bringing a wholesome change that benefits every aspect of the firm.

Appreciative inquiry typically undergoes four stages, which is more popularly known as the 4-D cycle of AI.

  • Discovery – Acknowledging and appreciating what ‘is.’
  • Dream – Imagining and appreciating what ‘will be.’
  • Design – Deciding what ‘should be,’ and how we can move from reality to the ideal position that we have imagined.
  • Delivery – Creating or building ways to achieve the ‘dream’ and applying the strategies to practice.

Introduce the Concept

Begin with an exercise to introduce to the concept of Appreciative Inquiry. Post two pieces of chart paper side by side.

  • Draw a tree in the centre of one chart paper.
  • Either ask the group or prepare a problem that everyone in the group is familiar with. It should be a problem within a system the group is all a part of, for example a problem at a workplace or with the local transit system.
    • Encourage the group to pick a specific problem such as “lack of communication within _____ process”.  
  • Write the problem on the trunk of the tree. 
  • Draw roots below the tree. Ask the group to define the roots: what are the causes of this problem? Write out as many as the group can think of.
  • Draw leaves for the tree. Ask the group to define the leaves: what are the symptoms of this problem? Write out as many as the group can think of.
  • Now move to the second piece of chart paper and draw an identical tree. 
    • Ask the group, what is the opposite of _____________ (the problem written on the trunk of the first tree? (For example if lack of communication is the problem, strong communication would go on the second tree.) 
    • Now ask, what roots would support ________ (i.e. strong communication)? 
    • Finally, what would result from _________ (i.e. strong communication)?
    • Once both trees are complete, stand back and ask the group “what do you notice about these two trees?”

Explain the 4 Ds of Appreciative Inquiry

  • In your own words explain Appreciate Inquiry from the content in Facilitator Notes. 
  • Recommended to draw out the 4D model on chart paper or a PowerPoint ahead of time to use as a visual support in your explanation.

Lead an Appreciative Inquiry Exercise

  • This can be done in a few different ways depending on group size and the number of projects the group is working on. Print and handout one copy of the below worksheet to each group to record their findings. 
  • One project, small group: sit around a table and work through the worksheet together.
  • One project, large group: break off into smaller groups of 3-5 people. Each group can work on the entire project as a whole or focus on specific themes that are part of the project. Bring all groups back together at the end of the session to share their findings. 
  • Many projects, large group: break off into small groups of people that are working on the same project. Bring all groups back together at the end of the session to share their findings. 
  • What did we create as a group?
  • How did it feel to change your perspective when evaluating something? 
  • How is Appreciative Inquiry different from traditional problem solving? How is it similar?
  • In what situations would it be better to stick with traditional problem solving? What situations would be conducive to using Appreciative Inquiry?

4 Tips and Techniques For Application:

Appreciative Inquiry tools and applications are realistic and straightforward. They are flexible and easy to use, and here are some practical tips on how we can make the most of them:

1. Select positivity as the prime focus

An efficient appreciative inquiry model focuses more on what has worked best for the company rather than what did not work out. For example, individuals or teams who rely on a positive AI approach would replace questions like “why were clients unhappy and complained about us?” with affirmative inquiries such as “what made our clients happy earlier? Can we improvise on the same line?

A positive shift in the questions we ask ourselves and the company as a whole is the first and a significant step to bringing about the desirable changes in the workforce. The main idea here is to attend more to what ‘we want’ and less on what ‘we don’t want.’

2. Explore the exceptionality of the methods

Positive questions rewire our brain to filter only the fruitful pieces of information and on our internal strengths. An excellent way to ensure this happens is to investigate and ask ourselves what went particularly well after applying the appreciative inquiries.

Exploring the advantages of the questions help in discovering their unique capabilities and understanding which areas of functioning they facilitate the most. For example, we understand whether it is the tone, or the language, or the content of the AI that brought about the positive consequences and identify those areas as the exceptionality of it.

3. Share to gain perspective

Appreciative inquiries extend to involve a large number of individuals and work wonders in creating a positive organizational change. When we share our life incidents, inspirational stories, and exchange perceptions with each other, the likelihood of creating a productive AI structure increases manifold.

Besides, it also allows for the smooth transmission of positive energy from one person to another and positively impacts our professional development. (Capra, 2002)

4. Keep room for innovation and improvisation

Whether the AI was successful or not, it is always good to continue improvising. We can do so by regularly monitoring the outcomes, communicating with leaders about new ways of implementing the strategies, or by developing training programs to spread awareness about the inquiry systems.

Whatever way we choose, the whole idea is to keep moving forward and explore the endless benefits of using appreciative inquiry.