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What is Appreciative inquiry?



In the mid-seventies, David Cooperrider and associates at Case Western Reserve University in the USA, began to challenge ways of thinking and introduced the concept of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI, instead of looking for the problems in an organisational ‘system’, suggests we look at what works. The result of the process is a series of statements that describe where the organisation wants to be, based on the high points of where they have been. Because the statements are based on real experience and history, people know how to repeat the process and achieve their objectives.

Whether the ‘system’ is an individual in the context of a wider group, or a family, team or organisation, AI is a way of engaging people in the system to reveal and examine strengths and desires. It is a way to discover those things people can and should be proud of, things that provide the foundation for building greater personal and group effectiveness and satisfaction.

Listen to any conversation, and notice how good we are at talking about what doesn’t work! How many conversations start with, “The problem is….”. We say that we learn from our mistakes. Why not learn from our successes, from what works for us?

Behind this seemingly simple idea lies a sophisticated philosophical view of reality. AI assumes, for example, that [1]:

- In every society, organisation, group, or family, something works.
- What we focus on becomes our reality. If we look for problems we will find problems!
- There are multiple realities. Each point of view is a view from a particular point.
- The moment we ask a question of an organisation or group or family or individual influences them is some way. The questioner is as much a part of the ‘system’ he/she is inquiring into as are the members of the system themselves.
- People have more confidence journeying into the future when they carry forward parts of the past.
- What we carry forward should be what is best about the past.
- Social realities are created in and by language.

AI is a powerful and exciting approach for change. There are many examples of its use in a variety of cultural and organisational contexts [2].

1 Hammond, S. A. (1996). The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry. Plano, Texas: CSS Publishing Co.

2 Hammond S. A. & Royal, C. (Eds) (19980 Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry. Plano, Texas: Practical Press Inc.