Appreciative Inquiry

Part I What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has been defined by many over the years. Let’s start with a definition by its originator, Professor David Cooperrider:

Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves the discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most effective, alive, and constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking unconditional positive questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten its potential. AI interventions focus on the speed of imagination and innovation instead of the negative, critical, and spiralling diagnoses commonly used in organizations. The discovery, dream, design, and destiny model links the energy of the positive core to changes never thought possible. (Cooperrider et al., 2008, p. 3)

As a dialogic approach to Organisational Development (OD), Appreciative Inquiry represented a radical shift in mindset and practice from what I was familiar with and what I had practised before learning about it. It was a shift from:

  1. A mindset which drove me to look at the world as ‘a problem to be solved’ – thus seeking to define in detail what problems the people, teams, and organizations I worked with encountered then collecting and analysing data and defining what steps should be taken to ameliorate the situation.


  1. A mindset based on a view that people, teams and organizations consist of ‘human potential waiting to be discovered and embraced’, thus seeking to inquire into the stories of high moments from the past, what is working well or is strong now, and what is desired for the future.

In my case, this shift in mindset did not occur overnight, but very gradually. When I first heard about AI, I was deeply wedded to the first paradigm, but the more I experienced and experimented with AI, the more I discovered its generative power in driving positive change for people, their teams, organizations and communities. These days, I see AI as a solid, research-based theory, a rich and diverse body of practice, a generative ‘operating system’ that enables me to approach any application differently and, above all, a life-giving lens to see and interact with the world around me, no matter what situations I face.

Part II Introduction to The Grid

Dear OD practitioner,

Thank you for your keen interest in developing your Appreciative Inquiry competency. Being curious and motivated is a great starting point to engage with the resource in front of you.

As Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-focused approach deeply rooted in social constructionism theory, I deliberately and carefully chose some of the following terms:

  • Qualities (of AI leadership and practice) – rather than defining AI competences, I prefer to focus on presenting you with a range of AI leadership and practice qualities. This is because I believe that the word competency is more likely to result in a deficit-focused and binary conclusion (i.e., I have/I have not yet developed this competency). By shifting to qualities, I intend to stretch your awareness and ignite your curiosity about a range of possible qualities that could deepen the way you work and ‘play’ with AI, whether you are new to AI or consider yourself a seasoned practitioner. The specific choice of qualities is based on my own deep experience with and full dedication to AI over the past 15 years. It is by no means intended as the ‘ultimate truth’ or ‘the only way forward’. As an OD practitioner, you may already have some of these qualities (and no doubt many others). At the same time, strengthening other qualities could further amplify your practice. You may also have your own ideas of useful qualities I haven’t included here. That is a natural and healthy socially constructed reflective process of expansion and hopefully will be useful as you delve into this particular resource.
  • The essence – Again, rather than provide a rigid definition of each quality listed, I chose to keep it more open.
  • Clues, hints, and nuances – This column provides examples of behaviours and practices that may be observed or experienced by others and indicate the existence of a given quality.
  • Micro-practices to continue your AI journey – In this column you will find some suggestions of the (many) possible ways to further develop each quality.

And, just before you start exploring the qualities in this resource, may I gently remind you to reflect on yourself and your experience kindly, with a strength-focus and possibility mindset. Ask yourself: ‘What qualities do I already have?’, ‘How have I been able to demonstrate them (whether consistently or not)?’, ‘What have they enabled me to do thus far?’, ‘What exciting possibilities does this resource ignite in me?’ and ‘What am I motivated to explore more deeply or try next?’

Appreciative Inquiry Grid

Leadership Qualities

Qualities of Appreciative Inquiry presence and practiceThe essenceClues, hints and nuances of this qualityA few micro-practices to continue your AI journey
Embodying an appreciative/strengths-based orientation & presence
  • A grounded, internalised belief that the person, people, system or community you are interacting with have all the resources they may need at the current moment and beyond.
  • Unwavering trust that life-giving forces, strengths, hopes and possibilities are present in any situation or context, together with the wish to find and tap into them or bring them to light.
  • Paying attention to, highlighting and amplifying, micro-moments of high(er) energy, strengths or possibilities expressed by those you interact with.Quickly noticing your own internal shifts away from an appreciative-centredness and actively recentring yourself.
  • Seeing AI as an underlying ‘operating system’ to everything you do or experience, rather than a method or tool to apply in certain situations.
  • Choosing and expressing a personal intention to guide yourself in ‘being AI’.
  • Regularly practising recentering and being in the present moment (e.g., through mindfulness, meditation, spiritual or healing practices).
  • Integrating AI to multiple domains of your life – work, personal, social, family, etc.
  • Reflecting before, during and/or after conversations on ‘how can I bring into or be more AI in this conversation or situation’ (however ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ the situation may seem)?
  • Prioritising inquiry over telling
  • Adopting inquiry as your preferred approach to intervening in a situation.
  • Inquiry guided by appreciative curiosity about the positive core and life-giving forces present in any given context.
  • Accepting and embracing the notion that ‘each case is different’ (therefore what worked elsewhere before won’t necessarily work here and now).
  • Interacting with a client with an assumption that they ‘know’ or have the capacity to figure it out for themselves.
  • Seeing and demonstrating your role as primarily supporting the client’s discovery through generative inquiry.
  • Holding back from sharing your own good advice. If you feel an urge to give advice, ask a question instead.
  • Paying attention to the questions you intend to pose – Are they ‘advice in disguise’?
  • Valuing and prioritising stories as a source of insight and learning
  • A preference for finding out the stories people hold about their past, present and future (i.e., going beyond metrics, data analysis, and a notion of objective diagnostic of the ‘reality’).
  • Paying attention to people’s stories, metaphors, visions of the future, and the ways in which they make sense of the data they collect.
  • Inviting people, groups and organisations to pay attention to and value their stories, metaphors, and images.
  • Highlighting the value of narratives as a valid and powerful approach to diagnostics and change.
  • Noticing when something is presented as a data-based fact (when in fact it is yet another story in disguise).
  • Noticing and inquiring, with curiosity, into the language and metaphors that are mentioned often – especially those that seem to have higher energy associated with them.
  • Paying attention to specific parts of a story or clues indicating strengths, resources, hopes, or positive events. 
  • Depth and awareness of AI theory and ways of practising 
  • Aware of the theoretical foundation of AI including history, principles, key research, and links with other theories/practices.
  • Aware of the variety of ways AI can be applied and the many applications that have taken or are taking place. 
  • Seeing AI as a theory and research-based complete body of knowledge and practice rather than a process/tool.
  • Demonstrating confidence that AI is based on sound theory and research and that the many documented case studies of AI demonstrate its efficacy.
  • Sharing relevant examples and case studies.
  • Familiarising yourself with AI theory, research, and background history.
  • Reviewing the range of AI applications documented in books, practitioner and research journals, as well as in online resources – especially in areas that are of interest or are relevant to your work.
  • Practice Qualities

    Qualities of Appreciative Inquiry presence and practiceThe essenceClues, hints and nuances that indicate this qualityA few micro-practices to continue your AI journey
    Reframing topics & conversations
  • Facilitating exploratory conversations that support others in shifting from a view of their reality, as a problem to be solved, through to an emergence and adoption of topic(s) that indicate something more desirable or a sense of possibility.
  • Respecting and listening to people’s current understanding of their situations and challenges.
  • Gently influencing the course of conversations through appreciative curiosity until people are able to explore and share more of what is wanted or is possible instead of their present challenges.
  • Amplifying the voices of possibility and hope, and supporting others in converging on the most desirable ones.
  • Finding out what went right, what is valued and wished for, and what ‘better’ might look like.
  • Paying attention to the energy displayed around potential topics – which ones seem most inspiring to the people you are with.
  • Sharing when you notice an elevated level of energy around a topic or elements in the conversation that seem more inspiring.Refraining from suggesting a topic or influencing the choice of a topic (or reducing such interventions to a minimum).
  • Generative inquiry
  • Inquiring into life-giving forces, strengths, hopes, existing resources and possibilities in consistent, timely, and creative ways.
  • Posing questions that seem to be new or different to the people you are interacting with.Posing questions that open new or untapped possibilities.
  • Paying attention, when facing a story about problems and challenges, to the stronger parts of the story or the positive aspects that may be ignored and then inquire into them.
  • Listening attentively, with respect, to everything that is presented, acknowledging it but refraining from inquiring into problems, challenges, or deficits.
  • Daring to ask questions that bring out what has worked, what is working, or what strengths and possibilities exist.
  • Introducing Appreciative Inquiry in relevant and flexible ways
  • Introducing AI in ways that make sense to you and inspire the person/people you are interacting with. This introduction may include useful explanations, relevant examples or brief experiences of AI.
  • Introducing AI into a conversation in a natural and seamless way.
  • Having a variety of stories of your own positive experience with AI in different contexts (personal and/or professional).
  • Highlighting what is similar and different about AI in comparison to other OD and change approaches.
  • Being at ease with common concerns or resistance that people may have about AI (e.g., ‘It’s just positive thinking’, ‘Are we ignoring our problems by using AI?’). Responding to such concerns in a relevant, respectful, and illuminating way.
  • Experimenting with different ways of introducing AI.Paying attention to the AI introductions you feel more confident about and those with a stronger impact.
  • Paying attention to what people are curious about in relation to AI and adjusting the ways you introduce it.
  • Paying attention and reflecting on your own concerns about and resistance to AI. What can you read, learn, or experiment with to find a way forward (for yourself) first?
  • Co-creation with clients
  • Willingness and ability to work with, re-think, and re-shape appreciative interventions with the people involved or a representation of a client’s system.
  • Appreciating people within a system as valuable and essential partners in conceiving, designing, and optimising an intervention to work well in their context.
  • Seeking the voices of a sufficient representation of a client’s system when designing interventions.
  • Adopting a collaborative and strengths-based approach to designing and planning interventions – exploring what is possible and what could work better (than your own ideas) as an intervention with clients.
  • Designing processes based on the ‘wisdom of many’.
  • Checking your ideas of possible interventions and generative inquiry with your clients or a representative core group from the system.
  • Actively seeking ideas from your client or a core group about what could make an intervention even better for them and what would raise the chances of success.
  • Developing the AI skills of people in the system so that they can lead or support the design.
  • Appreciative facilitation & hosting
  • Convening, hosting, and facilitation of conversations that support people in discovering the positive core of their situation and the inspiring ideas they have.
  • Reorienting facilitated conversations by stepping in (with a generative reframe or inquiry) and stepping out (so that the conversation can carry on). 
  • Using appreciative guidance with people, groups, organisations and whole systems in navigating their uncertain moments with full confidence in their ability to overcome their challenges.
  • Showing deep curiosity and interest in what everyone thinks and has to say.
  • Amplifying the often easy-to-miss signs of energy and inspiration.
  • Creating sufficient safety and comfort for participants to offer their stories, recollections, perspectives, reflections, insights, thoughts, and new ideas.
  • Being at ease with ‘not knowing’, valuing emergence and trusting that someone in the room will have a good idea.
  • Noticing and highlighting important insights, drawing attention to the interesting, inspiring, good, and unexpected insights shared by people present in the conversation.
  • Asking, when people are unclear or seem confused about an instruction you have given, ‘Who understood what was asked for?’
  • Asking, when in doubt about what to do next, ‘Who has a good idea or understands how to move forward?’
  • Flexibility with AI processes 
  • Considering, proposing, and designing AI processes and/or different ways of executing an AI process. 
  • Willingness to consider many possible ways to facilitate an AI process to suit a particular situation – including ways that are new to you, the facilitator.
  • Demonstrating willingness to find creative ways to weave in an AI mindset, approach, and generative inquiry into the client’s preferred change processes, rather than prioritising your own processes.
  • Designing in the moment based on people’s energy and the emergence of new ideas.
  • Holding on to the intention to enable AI while practising letting go of a specific way or process for doing so.
  • Keeping track of the ebb and flow of participants’ energy and being ready to redesign a process by working with what’s in front of you.
  • Practising asking yourself and others:‘
      How can our brilliant plans from yesterday be adjusted to work even better today?’
      ‘What has become possible since we last explored this?’
  • Flexibility with the scale of intervention(s)
  • An ability, willingness to, and interest in using AI at different levels of a system and different scales (individuals, small and large groups, high-engagement events, etc.).
  • Comfortable working with senior and middle leadership, as well as more widely within a system. 
  • Tracking and amplifying energy at all levels of a system, whether as part of a planned intervention or an in-the-moment intervention.
  • Demonstrating ease and confidence in small or large AI interventions.
  • (For larger interventions) – Enabling a representative core group to design and facilitate an AI intervention suitable for their organisation or system.
  • Practising asking yourself and others ‘Who else would add value to this conversation?’ and ‘How can I/we involve them?’
  • Reminding yourself, when facing a large-scale intervention for the first time (or even thereafter), what you can do, what you have done before, and what great resources you have access to for help (including a core team or people within the system).
  • Deep(er) understanding of and connection with the guiding principles of AI
  • Have knowledge of the AI principles (the original five + emerging principles), understanding the links between the principles and seeing them as a strong ‘platform’ for the practice.
  • The confidence to rely primarily on practising the principles instead of a given process in all interventions, regardless of the design, context, phase, or scale of the intervention.
  • Exhibiting confidence in one’s ability to navigate any interactions or interventions in an appreciative way.
  • Demonstrating congruence with AI principles, even when needs, plans, or designs change or when disruption and challenges emerge.
  • Making sense of each principle in your own words or images.
  • Observing how you already apply these principles or when you experience others applying them.
  • Asking yourself, when feeling stuck or unsure about a process or situation, ‘How can I activate any or all of the AI principles here?’
  • Reflecting on, finding, or co-creating fresh ways to apply or strengthen AI principles in any context.
  • Part III Appreciative Inquiry Resources

    Over the years, hundreds of books about AI have been published globally, in multiple languages. It would be impossible to detail all of them; so, instead, here are a selection of some of my favourite books on Appreciative Inquiry (starting with my own books and ordered in reverse publication year):

    • David Shaked, Claire Lustig and Bernard Tollec (2019) AI5 – How to Unleash the Full Power of Appreciative Inquiry (AI5 Publishing)
    • David Shaked (2013) Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement (Kogan Page)
    • Jacqueline M Stavros and Cheri Torres (2018) Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement (Berrett-Koehler)
    • Miriam Subirana (2016) Flourishing Together: Guide to Appreciative Inquiry Coaching (O-Books)
    • Jane Magruder Watkins, Bernard Mohr and Ralph Kelly (2011) Appreciative Inquiry, Change at the Speed of Imagination, 2nd edition (Pfeiffer)
    • Sarah Lewis, Jonathan Passmore and Stefan Cantore (2011) Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management: Using AI to Facilitate Organizational Development, 2nd edition (Kogan Page)
    • Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom (2010) The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change, 2nd edition (Berrett-Koehler)
    • Robyn Stratton-Berkessel (2010) Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-Based Workshops (Pfeiffer)
    • Jacqueline M Stavros and Gina Hinrichs (2009) The Thin Book of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy (Thin Book Publishing)
    • David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney and Jacqueline M Stavros (2008) Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change, 2nd edition (Crown Custom Publishing)
    • Jacqueline Kelm (2005) Appreciative Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life (Venet Publishers)
    • James Ludema, Diana Whitney, Bernard Mohr and Thomas J Griffin (2003) The Appreciative Inquiry Summit: A Practitioner’s Guide for Leading Large-Group Change (Berrett-Koehler)
    • Sue Annis Hamond (1996) The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 2nd edition (Thin Book Publishing)

    Online Resources

    • AI Practitioner ( is a great online journal with excellent articles by leading thinkers, researchers, consultants and active practitioners in the field of Appreciative Inquiry.
    • The AI Commons ( is a great online resource that is full of great case stories and other useful resources.
    • The AI World Inquiry ( is another great resource rich with personal AI stories.
    • In addition, there are multiple LinkedIn and Facebook groups, as well as a plethora of YouTube video clips dedicated to the practice.

    Dear OD App user

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    The OD App Team