Appreciative Inquiry uses questions to build a vision for the future, focusing on past and potential future successes. These questions are then taken to the wider community. The focus is usually on what people enjoy about an area, their hopes for the future, and their feelings about their communities.
The questions are designed to encourage people to tell stories from their own experience of what works. By discussing what has worked in the past and the reasons why, the participants can go on to imagine and create a vision of what would make a successful future that has a firm grounding in the reality of past successes. This process can be implemented in a number of different ways as long as the principle of retrospective appreciation and a future vision remains.
- Discovery Stage: Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based approach. Instead of asking, as most approaches do, “what are the problems?” Appreciative Inquiry asks “what works?” this is called the ‘discovery’ stage. For example, participants that make up an initial ‘core group’ may identify a certain youth club as playing a positive role in the area by providing afterschool activities for children. This allows participants to focus on the good as AI is based on the idea that there are always identifiable positives.
- Dream Stage: Following on with the previous example, community members would dream about their community containing all of the positive features that were identified in the discovery stage as being the norm in the area. In reality the community may be blighted by anti-social behavior and so in the dream stage, they may imagine the youth centre as playing an even more proactive role.
- Design Stage: The participants work together and try to identify steps that can make the dream stage a reality. Interaction with the wider community becomes necessary as the participants may want to see the youth centre extend its opening hours to include weekends. Since this would require engagement with citizens outside of the core group, participants would connect with the wider community to gather feedback.
- Destiny Stage: The final stage is focused on implementing previous ideas. Here adjustment occurs in attempt to secure future successes.
In this example, what began as identifying good aspects of an otherwise troubled area, led the participants through a process of appreciation, recognition and finally, action.
Appreciative Inquiry begins with a core group of around 5-15 participants but the latter stages require branching out (in the Dream Stage) and in order to implement the ‘vision’. Through friends, family and strangers this network can develop to around 200 people.
Medium: Costs are usually associated with facilitation and regular meetings.
Approximate time expense
Medium – High: The appreciative questions are usually developed, tested and analysed in two to four half or full-day workshops. Reaching out to wider networks and participants can however take considerable time. Analysing the replies to all the questions and implementing decisions taken can be time-consuming.The results are then presented to the wider community in a larger event. Appreciative Inquiry therefore works best when it is run as a long term process of change.
• Encourages people to focus on their own personal experiences through the use of stories.
• Fosters community involvement and engagement.
• Builds on what has worked in the past and therefore is more likely to succeed.
• Creates a strong vision.
• Encourages partnership working. AI helps to develop partnerships by helping people to identify the values and behaviour they want the partnership to have in the future.
• Uses a set of principles to apply to other decisions in the future.
• Each community develops its own response to its own situation.
• It is a philosophy first and a method second, so it is fairly loose.
• Some people view the lack of direct attention to problems as a weakness.
• Because of the relatively small numbers involved it can exclude some people
Developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastra at Case Western Reserve University in the U.S.. They wanted to challenge the problem-solving approach to the management of change, by showing that organisations are not machines to be fixed but organisms to be appreciated and affirmed.
Cooperrider, David, Whitney, Diana, Stavros, Jacqueline. 2008. Appreciative Inquiry Handbook. Ohio: Crown Custom Publishing.