Appreciative Inquiry

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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.

AI aims to explain how human growth and organizational success flow in the direction of constructive change due to a positive and persistent inquiry, and it works around five core principles:

  • The Constructionist Principle – which states that our beliefs shape our actions. We do what we feel is right and this is what forms the organizational culture as a whole.
  • The Simultaneity Principle – that states that appreciative inquiry or the way we question our internal and external systems help in bringing about the desired change.
  • The Poetic Principle – that states that performance culture in an organization grows based on expressions and communication within the human personnel. How we talk to each other, the stories that we share at work, and the emotions that attach employees is what counts for success or failure.
  • The Anticipatory Principle – proposes appreciative inquiry happens when we raise questions on things that have meaning to us now, or that will have some value for us in the future.
  • The Positive Principle – which coins that appreciative inquiry evokes positive emotions like hope, inquisitiveness, and motivation, all of which collectively contribute to changing the work environment for the better.

What are Appreciative Inquiry Tools and Exercises?

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.

  • Appreciative inquiry tools and exercises come into the picture at the third and fourth stages of the 4-D cycle. Broadly, AI tools are a set of rules or practical hacks that we can use individually or as a team to aim for a positive change at the organizational level.
  • AI tools are strategic plans and practices that create an impetus toward large-scale corporate ventures. They give shape to the company’s ethical standards, codes of conduct and improve client satisfaction from all aspects.
  • Appreciative inquiry tools also help in:
  • Bringing together individuals who share similar traits and behavioral patterns within an organization.
  • Providing quantitative analysis and feedback that fosters organizational growth.
  • Capacitating and inspiring people to initiate the development process.
  • Facilitating each other with skills, knowledge transfer, and training to maximize productivity as a whole.

Benefits of Using Appreciative Inquiry Tools

Appreciative inquiry tools work great as icebreakers and communication exercises in professional meetups and discussion.

Some of their benefits include:

  • Open communication
  • More engagement and work responsibility
  • Scope for developing new skills and improving the existing ones
  • Better decision-making power
  • Positive learning environment in the workplace
  • Fostering a conducive environment at the work.

4 Tips and Techniques For Application

As mentioned before, appreciative inquiry is the skill of asking relevant and positive questions (see Appreciative Inquiry Questions) that strengthen individual and organizational strength.

AI is collaborative and impacts several areas of functioning including:

  • Education
  • Healthcare and mental health
  • Small business, micro business, and start-ups
  • Overall job satisfaction and work motivation
  • Interpersonal relationships of individuals both at personal and professional levels
  • Collaborations and global transactions in companies.

AI 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 them. 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.

4 Appreciative Inquiry Tools

1. Appreciative Inquiry in Evaluation Practice By Hallie Preskill

Hallie Preskill is a Doctorate and a Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the Claremont Graduate University. She is a renowned author and has done great works in the field of appreciative inquiry and organizational learning. Her workshops and research publications are used by professional and educational organizations to alleviate the inhibitions related to asking the right questions, at the right place, and to the right person.

Her workshop on Appreciative Inquiry is a collection of principles and research-backed techniques to conduct positive AI sessions with more efficacy.

Her manual is suitable for individuals of all ages and includes tasks such as:

  • One on one interview sessions with co-participants.
  • Taking turns to narrate each others’ stories.
  • Asking appreciative interview questions such as ‘three things you value the most,’ ‘best experience with clients so far,’ and the like.
  • Building listening skills by actively paying attention to each others’ stories and taking notes while doing the same.
  • Collaborating in the workshop to build a joint vision of the future and discuss ways to get there.

The workshop by Preskill guarantees a positive drift in the mindset of the participants from a deficit viewpoint to a strength-based approach.

2. Appreciative Inquiry Coaching Toolkit

This toolkit is based on the 4 D’s of appreciative inquiry – discovery, dream, design, and deliver.

It follows a step-by-step approach and discusses practical strategies of AI that works best in each of the four stages of the 4-D cycle.

For example, the relevant AIs in the discovery and dream phase would be asking ‘what’ to the existing systems and getting the right answers as to where participants wish to see themselves in the future.

In the design and delivery phases, the AIs would focus more on the ‘how’ aspect of it, exploring better ways to implement the thoughts and gathering knowledge on how to put the ideas into actions.

3. KS toolkit

The KS toolkit for AI is an adaptation of the Appreciative Inquiry Commons Model. It is a brief model containing the most relevant information that we can successfully apply in personal and professional fronts. The KS toolkit overviews the basics of how and when to use AI.

It is a great resource to ensure that the participants have a clear insight before they take the plunge. Besides, the toolkit has additional sources like examples, stories, and useful hacks that participants can follow to optimize the benefits of AI.

4. The Do It Now Appreciative Inquiry Toolkit

The Do It Now Appreciation Toolkit is a collection of appreciative inquiry exercises used in an AI workshop in Nepal, 2000. The tasks are varied and explained in details in the downloadable resource in the toolkit. The Do It Now Toolkit is a highly recommended set of exercises that individuals at any stage can use to build their skills thoroughly.

It is research-backed, successfully tested, and provides an excellent base for companies who are planning to implement AI as a part of their organizational system.

You can learn more about the research and download the exercises from the link above.

10 Exercises and Activities for Applying AI

Appreciative inquiries are flexible and applied in a variety of ways (see our article on How To Apply Appreciative Inquiry). The AI tools and exercises mostly vary depending on the target population and the contexts in which they come into play.

Here are ten AI activities that are more or less versatile and work equally well for all people and settings. Some of these exercises were also a part of the Do It Now toolkit mentioned earlier and proved to be extremely useful in the workshop it was first used in.

1. Appreciative Meditation Exercise

Appreciative meditation is a short yet powerful exercise to build a firm intention for appreciative inquiry. Usually used as the first exercise in most AI programs, the task merely involves collecting ourselves for a moment.

We can do this by breath control, thought monitoring, or attending to an external focal point and immersing ourselves entirely into it for a while. Appreciative meditation as the initial task makes the participants aware of their internal feelings and help them realize why they want to invest in AI.

2. Individual Self-discovery

This is a fun activity and works exceptionally well with kids and youngsters. The practice involves giving paper and pen to each participant and asking them to recall and sketch one of the happiest moments of their lives. The sketch need not be too elaborate, just a simple illustration that the respondents would then take turns to describe.

In the discussion part of this exercise, each child comes up with a brief narrative of the story they have sketched, and the others are encouraged to listen to the story and inquire more about the details.

The task benefits the respondents and the audience in three main ways:

  • They relive a happy moment of the past and experience the positive emotions related to it.
  • They can reflect on their inner feelings and emotions while they narrate the stories.
  • By listening to others asking, individuals gain insight into what an AI session looks like and how they can make the most of it with their narratives and questions.

3. Group Discovery

This is an interactive AI exercise used in many organizational setups to promote employee engagement and team spirit. The activity is to form groups and discuss the achievements of each member of the team.

The administrator presents each group with a bunch of pens and a single sheet of paper and urges each team to represent their achievements pictorially.

4. Appreciative Storytelling

Storytelling encourages participants to come up with their life stories that have some meaning to them and can inspire others. The aim is to make the participants realize that their experiences can be of value to someone else.

By sharing their stories and listening to others, participants build a sense of cohesiveness among themselves and motivate each other to keep going. As a result, they do not hesitate to express their concerns, ask for advice, and give their suggestions wherever appropriate to do so.

5. Appreciative Acknowledgement

A positivity booster, this short exercise fills the respondents with energy and appreciation about each other. One or more persons are randomly chosen to come up and share one good thing that they like about each present in the room.

Appreciative acknowledgment can be one long session allowing all participants to get their chance or it can be a daily component in an AI workshop where respondents take turns to appreciate each other every day for a few minutes in between sessions.

The aim is to build a mutually benefiting relationship among participants so that they can see and bring out the best in each other.

6. Morning News Exercise

The morning news exercise was used with participants of the Kathmandu workshop. It is a group activity where participants are assigned to groups and work as a ‘Press Team.’

Their tasks involve collecting useful bits of information from the daily newspaper and reading it out at the workshop session every morning. Members take turns to present each piece of news so that each person gets a chance to be the presenter as well as an active listener.

7. Dream Exercise

As the name indicates, this is an imagery-based exercise where the participants close their eyes for a couple of moments and imagine themselves returning home after an extended stay outside.

The administrator guides the respondents to think about everything they would have wanted to achieve by then and try to feel the emotion of returning home after so long. After the session is over, participants take turns to come up and share in details of what they imagined, how they saw themselves, and what changes they desired to see in their lives after so long.

8. Appreciative Communication Exercises

Susan Gaddis, a certified life coach and wellness guide, coined a manual for positive communications systems and appreciative inquiry. Her works focus on building awareness on the benefits of clear communication and appreciative introspection.

In the ‘Good Communications’ manual, she has put forth some simple, scientific, and objective AI measures that are easy to understand and provides a quick analysis of how appreciative we are towards ourselves and others.

Learn more about her exercises here.

9. The Problem to Opportunity Exercise

Mac Odell proposed this exercise for fostering appreciative inquiry through challenging the existing problem areas and replacing them with potential opportunities.

The first part of the task is about ruling out what is currently lacking and then replacing the deficits with the scope of new possibilities.

For example, if the problem is a weak social connection within the organization, then the participants would first chalk out what has led to the challenge and what they may think can solve it. After that, they would draw a separate map or chart with the solution part – string interpersonal connections in this case, and formulate the causal factors and ways to attain the goal.

You can learn more about the administration and application of this exercise here.

10. AI Advertising Exercise

An adaptation of the Open Space Technology used by the APA framework, this exercise invites participants to form an advertisement with words, pictures, or graphics on any aspect of the dream they aspire to fulfill. After completing the sketch, the members come up one by one and present their advertisements as though they are ‘selling’ them.

The response and feedback they get from the audience during the presentation, as well as the intuitions that work while they are delivering their advertisements, serve to provide an understanding of how they should plan on achieving it in real life.

The facilitators develop interactive sessions for discussing the design and execution part of the mock-ups, and the participants encourage and appreciate each others’ efforts throughout the practice.

AI Team Building Activities

Appreciative Inquiry for building successful teams is the new choice for smart businesses today (see Appreciative Inquiry for Business). Many successful firms of different fields rely on professional group activities that are incredibly solution-focused and guarantee success in the majority of the times. If you are looking for some great ideas for incorporating AI in your organization, these tips can get you started:

1. AI team activities involve a large number of individuals

The more individuals in a team-building AI, the better the results. Whether we are the facilitators or the participants of the AI program, we must ensure that more people join the activities and each of them feels important as a part of the group. When more people work together, there are more significant exchanges of positive energy and more inputs come up in the form of personal stories and experiences.

2. A sense of trust is vital for success

AI group activities can create a sense of trust in the team by introducing trust scales in the program and asking participants to score their level of confidence in themselves and others. Marking the trust level allows open communication among members about what influence their trust in themselves and why they do or do not trust someone.

3. Set up talk-circles

Talk circles are open spaces where people are free to talk with others and share their views on customer service, organizational leadership, and team building at work.

Talk circles work best when they are amalgamated within the AI team activities and practiced daily.

4. Encourage groups to dream together

Groups that imagine together work better as a team. To promote this, we can set up brief sessions during each activity, say for five minutes, where members would visualize a dream and share their feelings.

This could be a group goal, any personal achievement, or imagery of what the ideal workplace would look like. Communicating every tidbit of the visualization helps the members to connect and agree on a single goal (dream) that they could then seek to achieve.

5. Promote the exchange of knowledge and information

Exchange of information can happen in different ways such as 1-minute wisdom bites where each member gets one minute prior or post the activity to share the most relevant information they got that day. Knowledge transfer creates a cultural shift in the organization as a whole and drives the employees to engage in a valuable exchange of positive news that can create a better ambiance at work.

Appreciative team-building activities create a conducive work environment where employees can feel good about themselves and others. Efficient and compassionate leaders today believe that a healthy and highly functioning team is a primary requisite for success. Team building AI exercises ensure a sustainable and positive performance culture that invites long term gains and ensures satisfaction at all levels of functioning.

5 Appreciative Inquiry Games

1. Thumb wrestling game

Many of us have thumb wrestled in our school days and must have so many fond memories attached to this game! But did you know that thumb wrestling is also a great AI tool for team building and performance enhancement?

The game is simple:

  • Ask the participants to choose a partner to thumb wrestle with and let them lock their finger once they are ready to start the game.
  • Explain the rules clearly to all the participants so that they do not end up hurting each other.
  • Start the game by asking the participants to wrestle with each other for one minute and give shoutouts for each time they score.
  • Make multiple pairs who compete in the game and let them collaborate as a team for scoring higher.

The best part of thumb wrestling as an AI tool is that is can be used for all populations and is a great way to promote team spirit within individuals.

2. Appreciative learning games in schools

Appreciative inquiry, when started earlier, yields the best results. For example, students and youngsters who learn to use AI exercises and activities in their educational institutions can internalize the practice better than others. They are likely to show similar positive traits in all other walks of life more spontaneously than others.

Studies have shown that children who went to schools that promoted AI through daily activities and games were more competitive and self-driven than others. They were more creative, positive-minded and regardful of others they work or study with.

3. Appreciation Cards, Kudo Cards

Praise words never fail! Appreciation or Kudo cards is a popular AI game that enhances employee satisfaction and happiness.

Expressing ‘Kudos,’ meaning appreciation or acknowledgment is the key factor in this game. Appreciation cards can be small thank you notes or simple words of recognition from the team leader or supervisor.

Managers and leaders often use this game as a means of acknowledging the employees’ hard work and appreciating their efforts. Positive feedback from superiors and co-workers bring an instant feeling of happiness and provide a positive thrust to keep working hard.

4. Agile Games

Agile games are used as appreciative inquiry instruments to solve authentic business issues and manage conflicts. They are a collection of activities and exercises that focus on manifesting positive workplace actions such as group cohesiveness, multitasking abilities, time management, etc.

The tools used for these games involve teaching, role modeling, and interactive games and the collaborative nature of the exercises help the participants in understanding, discovering, and executing their dreams.

5. Action Learning Games

Action learning games are mostly group activities that facilitators regularly conduct with other appreciative inquiry techniques. In action learning games, there is a presenter who narrates an incident, a problem, or a life experience.

The others in the group are active listeners who fully attend to the story, take notes while listening, and comes up with relevant questions after the narration is over. The facilitator motivates each person to come up with at least one question and explain how the answer would help them in their lives.

The discussions participants have with each other during the session unlock the thought blocks and make way for positive self-reflection.

Appreciative Inquiry Icebreakers

Icebreakers have a pivotal role in making AI interventions successful. They are simple, catchy, and relevant tasks that the facilitators introduce in the group session to promote appreciative inquiry in the group. (Silberman, 2006).

Hogan (2003) pointed out that icebreakers play a predominant role in an appreciative inquiry by:

  • Making participants accustomed and well-adjusted to each other.
  • Creating space for open communication and equal responsibility among all members of the organization.
  • Promoting positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Icebreakers are mostly practiced in groups, where many individuals work together. Tuckman (1965) said that there are four stages of group development, namely:

  • The Forming Stage – where members come together and create the team.
  • The Storming Stage – when they discuss and explore the group goals and the means to achieve them.
  • The Norming Stage – where the rules and group standards come into the picture.
  • The Performing Stage – where the group members embark on executing the plans and achieving the targets.

According to Tuckman, icebreakers work best when they are used in the early stages of group development (i.e., the forming and the storming stages). Introducing them earlier ensures less performance anxiety in the participants and more excitement to be a part of the performing team. And once the members become familiar with the icebreakers, they can use them repeatedly to instill energy at different levels of the AI sessions (Chulp and Collins, 2010).

Types of AI Icebreakers

There are three broad categories of icebreakers in appreciative inquiry.

1. The Just for Fun Icebreakers

These make participants comfortable and provides an initial energy boost to know and communicate with each other.

2. The Introductory Icebreakers

Introductory Icebreakers make the participants familiar to new topics, new group agendas, and also new members of the group. They may be funny and informal, but usually, aim at achieving a group goal.

3. The Topic-based Icebreakers

They are more specific, detailed, and focus on the ultimate goal of the session.

There is a vast range of icebreakers to choose from. While some of them are more suited to organizational contexts, other icebreakers may be more relevant for educational institutions, or counseling and rehabilitation purposes.

Here are three appreciative icebreakers that are more generalized and can be incorporated in AI across different spheres:

i. Friends Indeed Icebreaker

Friends indeed is an introductory icebreaker that helps people to go around and know each other in a group. It uses physical name cards that make the task more fun and enjoyable, and suitable for using with kids as well.

The job is to write their names on the name cards and stand in a circle with the facilitator in the middle. The facilitator would then call out statements, and those, for whom the comments hold would go around and stand with each other, maintaining the circle.

In each round, the odd person or persons would come to the center of the ring and call out the next statements aloud. The comments are usually simple and easy, for example – ‘friends who have pets at home’, ‘friends who are late-risers’, ‘friends who love chocolates’, etc.

The game is an excellent way for participants to know each other, participate in a group task, and realize that they have something in common, which makes the bonding easier.

ii. Storytelling AI Icebreaker

Storytelling techniques are very common AI icebreakers. They are flexible, doesn’t require any special arrangements for administration, and help people to voice out their thoughts and emotions.

The task involves allowing some time (usually 2-3 minutes) to each group member for sharing one story with the group. The stories can be personal experiences, or the facilitator can provide cues such as ‘a story about the best manager you have worked with so far’, ‘ a story about your biggest professional achievement and why you think you could attain it’, etc.

The only rule of this icebreaker is that the story participants choose must have some value and a positive note in it. Storytelling sessions usually take longer as there are many individuals involved and each person gets a fair chance to tell their story.

Once all the stories have been shared, the person in charge of the session recapitulates the critical elements of each story and discusses how the group can use them for learning purposes.

iii. Strength-based Icebreakers

Strength-based icebreakers combine creativity and positive imagery into the team for getting the desired outcomes. Strength-based icebreaker is a recent phenomenon that came up as a part of an experiment to explore how appreciative learning and appreciative inquiry can help training and orientation programs.

Researchers promoting these more intellectual and individualized strategies argue that if icebreakers can rule out and work on building individual strengths and potencies, they can be more useful than the traditional AI icebreakers.

Undoubtedly, the strength-based approach gave a new dimension to the application of AI icebreakers, but whether it can take over the conventional interventions is still a matter of investigation.

5 AI Worksheets (Incl. PDF)

1. Appreciative Inquiry Worksheet For Personal And Organizational Use

A short and straightforward worksheet for charting the four D’s of appreciative inquiry, this worksheet is the perfect option for self-exploration and introspection of where we are and how we can reach the final destination by being more regardful and considerate of ourselves and others. The task is self-directed, comes in a two-page form, and works equally well as a personal or group AI intervention.

2. Appreciative Inquiry Worksheet by Change Activation

If you are looking to start an AI program in your workplace and expect a large number of individuals as potential participants to the program, then this could be a one-stop go to for you. Change Activation is an online resource that has it sorted for people and organizations using and promoting appreciative inquiry, and their worksheets and manuals are great to have in the collection for a successful AI program.

3. Appreciative Inquiry Workbook for Children

This set of worksheets and exercises was used in a school program in Houston, Texas, and has valuable content for building AI in school children. The workbook includes simple illustrations of the 4D cycle of appreciative inquiry followed by tasks for self-reflection, positivity, and self-expression. It is undoubtedly a powerful resource to help kids understand and explore success through an appreciative inquiry from the very beginning of their lives.

4. Appreciative Inquiry Quiz

The AI quiz is a short exercise focused on building knowledge application, information exchange, and reading comprehension. The test comprises of multiple choice questions on the basics of appreciative inquiry and is easily scorable.

The quiz is suitable as a follow-up measure for participants of an AI program to ensure that they have internalized the concept and are ready to use them in their personal and professional lives.

5. The SOAR Worksheet

SOAR is an acronym for:

S – Strengths

O – Opportunities

A – Aspirations

R – Result Analysis

The SOAR worksheet is mainly designed for professional purposes and contains evaluative questions with clear explanations of the four dimensions (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and result analysis). The worksheet is free and relevant for almost all professional fields. For those who are looking for a great start to AI, the SOAR worksheet is a recommendable one to use.

Appreciative Inquiry Survey

Dr. David Cooperrider, the founder of the AI methodology, mentioned the Appreciative Inquiry Survey in his research publications and appreciative inquiry books. The survey gained immense popularity and was later used in different professional setups to introduce the concept of AI in employees.

Dr. Cooperrider noted about this first at the annual meeting of the ONL (Organization of Nurse Leaders of Massachusetts), in 2014, and previously used it as a part of the AI certifications he provided to professionals.

The survey is now used in healthcare, educational, and organizational sectors and offers comprehensive knowledge and suggestions of how appreciative the respondents are, and how they can be trained to enhance their AI skills.


Other Resources

There are no limits to the ways we can embrace and apply AI in our lives. Whether we practice them individually or enjoy its benefits from the group activities, the result of using AI is nothing but heightened motivation and achievement.

We have already seen a few exercises and games in the previous sections, and here are some more riches on appreciative inquiry to get the ball rolling.

The Research on Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) helps us move beyond typical problem-solving approaches. AI helps companies and organizations believe in a better solution that can help create a new future.

The idea of AI emerged from the doctoral research of David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University. In his research, Cooperrider was studying the various factors that contributed to the effective functioning of an organization, which happened to be the Cleveland Clinic.

In his dissertation, Cooperrider presented a set of AI principles and a rationale, which included different phases of inquiry.

The AI philosophy focuses on leveraging organizations positive core strengths in order to design and redesign the systems within the organization to achieve a more sustainable and effective future.

AI initiatives are implemented using something known as the 4D Cycle.

  • Discovery
  • Dream
  • Design
  • Destiny

This methodology allows an organization to identify its positive core strengths relative to the affirmative topic.

As a result of the Appreciative Inquiry process, concrete operational steps can then be formed for an organization to achieve its goals.

AI is based on the idea that human systems grow much more effectively in the direction of their persistent inquiries. This propensity is the strongest and the most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry are positively correlated.

With this process, an organization can consciously construct their future based upon their positive core strengths.


The discovery phase is all about identifying and appreciating the best of what is. It’s about learning to focus on what is already working instead of what is not working. During this phase, an organization would focus on peak times of organizational excellence, and times when the organization was the most effective.

Other areas of focus would include things like leadership, relationships, core processes, values, structures, learning processes and methods of planning as well as external relationships.


The next step involves dreaming. In this phase, the organization would envision its future. These dreams would stem from grounded examples from a positive past, instead of a pie in the sky idea.

This phase can be both exhilarating and invigorating.


While the dream phase is focused on a vision of sustainability, a powerful purpose and a compelling statement of strategic intent, the design phase turns its attention to creating the ideal organization.

This ideal image is once again based upon positive practical examples grounded in the past.


The destiny phase is all about bringing the discovery, dream and design phases into some kind of logical conclusion. It also forms the beginning of an appreciative learning culture.

This phase is a time focused on continuous learning, adjustments, and improvisation. This final phase helps build momentum and a shared positive image of the future.

Interesting Studies

There have been many interesting case studies and success stories when it comes to AI.


Roadway, a four billion dollar transportation company has held 65 AI summits to date. These summits have brought together nearly 300 people at a time who were all focused on innovative ways to re-design the facilities.

Through collaborative input, Roadway was able to improve customer peace of mind, collaboratively design the company’s information system and move its stock from $14 dollars a share to $48 dollars a share over a five-year time frame.

The company documented significant positive changes in survey indexes of moral, labor-management trust, retention, alignment and building an innovative culture.

Nutrimental Foods in Brazil

Nutrimental Foods in Brazil was faced with the effects of globalization on the industry in their country. Nearly 80% of manufacturers in Brazil became victims of this globalization.

The CEO, Rodrigo Loures, used the AI process as a way to survive this onslaught and to enhance the company’s culture.

The AI process was so successful that a short year later the company recorded a 300% increase in earnings, a 75% decrease in absenteeism, and was recognized as one of the 100 best places to work in Brazil.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.

When Green Mountain Coffee Roasters began using the AI process, their stock prices hovered around $18 a share. Five years later, the shares continue to grow, at $61 per share on the NASDAQ.

The company was also ranked the No. 1 on Business Ethics Magazine’s 2006 list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

AVON Mexico

AVON Mexico started with 3,000 employees at the time of the study. They had a sales force of 250,000 independent distributors.

AVON wanted to increase the number of women in senior management and in executive positions across the company.

The AVON Mexico location was the pilot project. When the project began the company had no women on the executive committee and very few female executives.

AVON used the 4-D model framework for the task at hand – Definition, Discovery, Dream and Destination.

The definition phase began with the creation of a planning team made up of internal opinion leaders who could help co-define the topics to be studied. The team then planned the next step, which would be a 2-day workshop.

The discovery phase began with the 2-day workshop in which they introduced the AI theory and philosophy.

  • They then selected learning teams who would conduct interviews.
  • Over the course of 2,000 interviews, the learning teams began uncovering best practices and compelling stories that illuminated what it looks like for men and women to work together.

The dream phase involved writing reports and summarizing the key learnings. This was reinforced with stories, presenting a wide range of possibilities for achieving gender equity.

The reports showed that the ideal was already happening and how it might be possible to foster even more of the same. They also discovered what was possible:

Men and women working together in teams.

A clearly defined plan of action for steps moving forward ensuring male and female co-chairmen for project teams.

Within six short months, the first female executive was appointed to the Executive Committee. Avon’s profit also increased dramatically. The division then won “The Catalyst Award” which was given each year to a company that had policies and practices that benefited women in the company significantly.

A Look at Appreciative Inquiry in Education

Appreciative Inquiry can also be very beneficial to education. In one study done at California State University, San Bernardino, scholars looked at the AI process as a path to change in terms of education. (Buchanan, 2014)

Most state and federal initiatives for educational change stem from a deficit model that examines what is wrong and how to fix that.

Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what is right and what is already working. The study done explored the various relationships and leadership as well as organizational learning qualities that existed within five unified school districts in the High Desert.

The study used AI as a process to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to embrace a distributed leadership structure and to create the conditions for a more impactful implementation of the next reform.

The research question involved examining the relationship between the educators’ appreciative capacity, distributed leadership, organizational learning, and preparedness in order to implement a state-mandated curricular reform, the CCSS.

The study had the potential to transform educational practice providing a valuable template for ongoing educational reform.

The study used the 5-D Model of AI, which focuses on taking a strength-based approach to improve school culture.

This 5-D approach prepares organizations for continuous growth in terms of strengths in the system.

The study examined AI in terms of distributed leadership and organizational learning. The context for the study was the educators’ preparedness to implement the CCSS reform.

Study participants were drawn from school districts in the High Desert of San Bernardino County, the largest geographical county in the U.S. and home to 33 school districts.

The district employs approximately 2,212 teachers and 177 administrators.

The hypothesis and proposed analysis were as follows:

  • AI capacities inventory will be moderately correlated with the 8 principles of AI.
  • Participative decision-making will be moderately correlated with the functions of Leadership.
  • Dialogue will be moderately correlated with the idea of taking risks.
  • Taking risks will be moderately correlated with experimentation.
  • Experimentation will be moderately correlated with dialogue.

The study concluded that Appreciative Inquiry alone is not enough. Distributed leadership and organizational learning are also necessary components to implement successful change.

Many efforts to change will fail even when people have a voice because leaders may fail to sustain input from those voices.

Distributed leadership and organizational learning each partially mediated the Appreciative Inquiry to Common Core State Standards preparedness relationship.

However, the study revealed that meaningful change takes time. Participating educators did report that the constructs of the study were related.

Furthermore, it was determined that real change cannot often be accomplished in a static one day workshop. Growth needs to be nurtured with continual input and feedback in order to monitor the change to adjust for new information which is continually being gathered.

The study did demonstrate that Appreciative Inquiry is a good fit for implementing educational reform.

According to Cooperrider and Whitney, leaders embracing appreciative inquiry “send a clear and consistent message: positive change is the pathway to success around here.” (Cooperrider and Whitney. 2005. p. 46)

Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life

Appreciative Inquiry distinguishes itself from other organizational visioning and change models by the fact that it seeks to focus on the best of what is. It uses this focus as a platform to build future directions.

This realm of AI is based upon a “sociorationalist” view of science.

Thinkers in organizational behavior are beginning to see why an administrative science based on a physical science model is not really adequate any longer.

It is not adequate because it is not a means for understanding or contributing in relevant ways to the workings of complex, organized human systems.

The sociorationalist vision of science is of great importance. It is of such importance that students, organizational scientists, action-researchers, managers and educators can no longer ignore it.

This kind of viewpoint is very powerful in terms of helping social systems adapt and evolve.

According to the essay ” Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life,” there are five ways by which theory achieves its exceptional potency:

  • Establishing a conceptual and/or contextual frame.
  • Providing a presumption of logic.
  • Transmitting a solid system of values.
  • Creating a language that serves the group.
  • Creating a vision of possibility or constraint.

Establishing a conceptual and contextual frame helps shape perceptions, cognitions, and preferences, most often at a preconscious level.

For example, when American eugenicists attributed biological determinism as a factor in poverty and as a reason for the inferior genetic construct of poor people, they could not immediately see a different remedy or perspective.

On the other hand, when Joseph Goldberg theorized that pellagra was not determined by genetics, but caused by cultural influences, he could then discover a way to cure it.

By seeing things differently, he overcame the notion that pellagra, a disease typically caused by a lack of the vitamin niacin and often attributed to the dietary habits of the poor, was a disease faced only by the poor.

Providing presumptions of logic is also important. One example is the typical performance evaluation, which is normally done on an individual basis. To adequately assess performance, one really needs to examine the individual in relation to the organizational environment.

Looking at the whole setting often changes things because it helps give you perspective.

Transmitting a system of values is also important. One example is the role that scientific theory played on slavery, colonialism and a belief in the genetic superiority of certain races.

In the 1800s, this theory led a number of America’s highest-ranking scientific researchers to unconsciously miscalculate so-called objective data.

Samuel Morton, a scientist with two medical degrees gained his reputation by measuring the size of cranial cavities as it relates to brain size. He objectively ranked them by measuring physical characteristics.

What he determined was that whites were on top, Indians in the middle and blacks on the bottom, at least as far as size goes, which he equated with the mental worth of races.

This, of course, is not an accurate assumption whatsoever which is where a system of values could have come into play.

Creating a group building language is important as well. It is well known and established that groups are formed around common ideas that are expressed in and through some kind of shared language.

This shared language makes communication and interaction possible.

The sociorationalist philosophy also involves extending visions of possibility or constraint. Theories gain a generative capacity by extending their vision of what is possible. This, in turn, helps expand the realm of possibility.

In order for action-research to reach its full potential as a vehicle for social innovation, it also needs to begin to advance theoretical knowledge of consequence.

A good theory may very well be one of the best means human beings have for affecting change in a postindustrial world.

Through our assumptions and our choice of methodology, each of us essentially creates the world we later discover.

Relevant reading: Appreciative Inquiry in Business

Using AI to Facilitate Organizational Development

Appreciative Inquiry is also a wonderful tool for organizational development. AI accomplishes this by engaging organizational stakeholders and everyone from the factory floor to the executive suite.

Doing this kind of activity without taking into consideration how many years of seniority one has is transformative. During the AI process, one might also bring in external voices such as clients or community stakeholders, in order to expand an organizations’ understanding.

In more traditional methods, the process usually involves asking very different questions such as what are the key problems or what is the root cause of failure. This is a very different approach than the AI approach when it comes to organizational development (see our post on AI questions).

While it may be important to understand the root cause or the problem, the AI process helps organizational leaders reframe the problem and look at the situation differently.

AI is also based on the idea that organizations are made up of networks of people. To quote David Cooperrider:

Get people talking about a compelling shared future, and you begin creating new levels of understanding and the future in the process.”

Let’s consider how you would feel upon asking yourself this question – “Am I feeling tired today?

By asking yourself this question, you would begin to focus on how tired you really were. If you were to ask yourself another question instead, such as “What makes me feel energized today?” you would formulate a much different answer because you would immediately focus on how good you felt.

It’s a simple shift, but a powerful one.

The Six Questions of Appreciative Inquiry

Nearly any organization could benefit from asking AI’s six questions.

  • What led me here?
  • What is the high point of the past?
  • What do I value?
  • What is changing?
  • What’s the best future I can imagine?
  • What will it take to get us there?

Looking back at what led you to a certain point, can really help you focus on the good aspects of your situation.

For example, if you were looking at what brought you to a company or led to you to be a part of a certain team, you could think back to what originally attracted you to your team or company. You could explore your initial impressions and your level of excitement. These are also very positive things.

In looking at the high points of the past, you could focus on those times when you felt truly engaged and proud of your involvement.

By focusing on those things you value, you begin focusing on those things or traits you want to preserve going forward.

The next question, what is changing, gives participants a chance to ground the topic in the current reality or situation, which is also important.

This might involve looking at current or future trends, competition or even new developments in technology.

Examining the best possible future helps people push their dreams a little. It also stimulates the imagination and removes roadblocks.

Framing this question in a playful manner is also a great way to stimulate the imagination. For example, you could ask yourself what life would look like if you fell asleep one night and woke up a year and a half or so later.

You would most likely see major changes in your life, which would prompt you to think outside of the box.

Finally, looking at what it would take you to get somewhere helps you form a strategy that can work going forward.

Focusing on three things you could make a priority, or 3-5 actionable items, is one way to do this.

Using these six questions is a great way to have a different conversation, a much more positive one.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry in Social Work

AI can also be very beneficial when it comes to social work. Social workers are professionals who help empower citizens.

They do this by helping one understand their respective rights and obligations in relation to their condition or position in life.

The idea of empowerment is a wonderful strategic tool that helps strengthen the individual. It also helps the individual take ownership of their life and their situation.

The social worker is a kind of intermediary between the problems and the resources needed to solve those problems.

Applying AI concepts to the realm of social work can help make the social worker much more effective. More often than not, allocating resources for providing problem-centered social services does not actually solve the problems for which the services were designed.

AI involves a paradigm shift from a problem-centered approach the typical social worker faces to an appreciative approach.

Virginia Satir, a social worker, and family therapist, based her professional activity on improving the communication within the family.

Satir’s work was positively focused and came from a positive consideration of the human being. According to Satir, the family must nourish and become characterized by being a provider of adequate self-esteem via direct and assertive communication.

Satir taught the importance of change and of growth via communication, which was based on self-respect when interacting with others.

In the history of Social Work, theoretical contributions can also be seen in Mary Richmond’s work. Richmond’s contributions strengthened the person through the use of skill or chances of the person and also through the use of their will to solve their social troubles, which departed from any social determinism that may have been pre-established.

There are clear links between Appreciative Inquiry and strengths. The AI approach is a solution-focused approach for things like social work, health, workforce development, and community development. AI can, of course, also be used for things like coaching and even leadership development.

Those in social services and even health care understand the importance of asking the right questions.

If one focuses on someone’s difficulties and hardships, people will continue to feel hopeless and stuck. Focusing on questions about successes, skills, and strengths, can help someone think differently.

Helping someone acknowledge their achievements is a great way to help them focus on the positive. As they focus on their strengths, they begin to feel enthusiastic, which can help them pull themselves out of a desperate situation.

It’s also important to understand that AI is not a single set of skills per se or a particular method. It is essentially a set of core principles and ideas that can help change existing patterns of thinking and patterns of conversations.

It is also a great innovative way to give voice to a new conversation and a new perspective, expanding what is possible in any given moment.

Other Fields of Application

Appreciative Inquiry can also be very useful in the world of sales. One case study examined the use of an AI Model by salespeople for a distributor in the Midwest.

A model was developed that was based on customer orientated selling (SOCO) of salespeople and the subsequent adaptive selling behaviors.

The salespeople were surveyed for their adaptive behaviors using an ADAPTS survey model. The salespeople were also surveyed for their customer orientated selling through the SOCO survey.

In a sample of approximately 20 salespeople, which were interviewed by phone, the interviewers determined their use of AI in their particular sales approach.

The results showed a positive approach was utilized by salespeople, but not as predicted.

One of the interesting findings was the usage of the AI approach to developing personal relationships.

Many of the salespeople interviewed mentioned that they often work to develop personal relationships with clients. This also helped to build trust. Discovering what their customer’s goals were and helping them achieve those goals is a big part of the process.

It was also discovered that the salespeople used two processes at once. One process involved building personal relationships. Another process was focused on selling.

The process that involved building personal relationships often utilized AI elements. This involved finding the customer’s passions and then supporting that passion to the extent that they could.

Finding out what someone likes, being interested in their life and even what their kids are doing, can help you get to know them without being overly pushy.

The study discovered that while some salespeople used the positive-based sales approach, not all did. The next step would then be to develop a formal sales process built on this positive model.

Another interesting usage of Appreciative Inquiry involved the U.S. Navy.

Dr. Ronald Fry, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, used AI principles for the U.S. Navy, which resulted in a $2 billion cost savings from the creation of a Centre for Positive Change.

AI can be used across many sectors of life including but not limited to:

  • Non-profits
  • Sales
  • Educational Institutions
  • Governmental Organizations
  • Communities
  • Coaching, etc.

A few examples of how AI can transform companies and organizations include the use of AI in:

  • The United Nations Global Compact.
  • Imagine Chicago (an AI inspired community development process copied all over the world).
  • Wal-Mart and its use of AI for its global sustainability.

The International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

The International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry is a joint effort between The David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, and Kessels & Smit, The Learning Company.

The partnership strives to build a community of individuals and organizations that support a flourishing model of AI practitioners, who work to continually support one another in their work practices.

The David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry provides cutting edge educational content in both AI and Positive Development while also providing AI-related organizational consultancy services. They also serve as a scholarship incubator to help advance the theory and practice of AI.

Kessels & Smit, the Learning Company, is an international group of professionals who have a passion for learning and development.

They see themselves as a laboratory where they experiment and find their own answers for learning and development issues. They have a firm belief that the best solutions are often developed in partnerships.

They are also interested in developing collaborations with universities, so that research can continue. The overall goal is to create a movement that helps to build an appreciative, curious and democratic society.

The site is filled with interesting articles and blogs including content such as:

  • Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness.
  • Appreciating Practitioners and the Power of Discovery – Nourish to Flourish.
  • The Power of Narrating and Listening: Connecting Through Stories.
  • The Intervention Clock – Arjan van Vembde
  • Many, many others.

A Take Home Message

Appreciative Inquiry has had a profound impact on organizational development practices around the world.

It is a strength-based approach that strives to create a positive framework. These principles can be applied both personally and professionally.

AI is a life-centric and positive approach to change. Appreciative Inquiry utilizes theories from organizational behavior, the science of sociology and psychology along with some metaphysics tossed in.

The AI methodology assumes that every system, human and otherwise, already has something that works right; it’s just a matter of identifying it and building upon it.

AI is a system that seeks to build on a model of positive change that can be sustainable, and, as a result, expand the capacity for wellbeing allowing for a culture that thrives.

For further reading, please see: The 20 Best Books on Appreciative Inquiry