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:
- 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.
- 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
|Qualities of Appreciative Inquiry presence and practice||The essence||Clues, hints and nuances of this quality||A few micro-practices to continue your AI journey|
|Embodying an appreciative/strengths-based orientation & presence|
|Prioritising inquiry over telling|
|Valuing and prioritising stories as a source of insight and learning|
|Depth and awareness of AI theory and ways of practising|
|Qualities of Appreciative Inquiry presence and practice||The essence||Clues, hints and nuances that indicate this quality||A few micro-practices to continue your AI journey|
|Reframing topics & conversations|
|Co-creation with clients|
|Appreciative facilitation & hosting|
|Flexibility with AI processes|
|Flexibility with the scale of intervention(s)|
|Deep(er) understanding of and connection with the guiding principles of AI|
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)
- AI Practitioner (http://www.aipractitioner.com) 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 (https://ai-commons.org/) is a great online resource that is full of great case stories and other useful resources.
- The AI World Inquiry (https://www.champlain.edu/ai-home/ai-hub/ai-world-inquiry-share-a-story) 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.