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Appreciative Inquiry Can Benefit Organizations

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a way of thinking about the world around us.

Its assumption is simple: Every organization has something that works right, things that give it life when it is most alive, effective, successful and connected in healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities. AI begins by identifying what is positive in an organization and connecting that to ideas and wishes for the future.

AI, as we know it today, started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when David Cooperrider wrote his dissertation on the AI approach to change at Case Western Reserve University. Cooperrider and his associates wanted to focus on what people appreciated about a situation and discover how they could have more of what they appreciated.

Five principles guide the AI process:

* Constructionist - We create our future.

* Simultaneity - We begin the change process when we ask a question.

* Poetic - Telling our story as an organization is important.

* Anticipatory - We create the blueprint for our future.

* Positive - We have more hope for the future when we think more positively.  

AI consists of four steps, or the four “D’s”:

* Discovery – finding out what you appreciate about a situation and making sure you keep it

* Dream – looking to the future and sharing ideas (wishes) you have for the future

* Design – taking ideas from discover and dream phases to create what the future should be for the

* Destiny – creating an action plan of how to make the ideas from the design phase a reality

The AI planning process is done through 15- to 30-minute interviews involving two or three individuals. Questions are created for each “D” phase that assists the individuals in thinking about a particular focus. An example of discovery phase questions are: What was a high point for you in this organization? Why was it a high point?   Questions are created for all four “D” phases, and individuals ask each other the appropriate questions, depending on which “D” they are discussing. The end result of this process is one or more documents with all ideas from the four “D” phases listed, including an action plan of how to accomplish the ideas that were generated throughout the process.

The AI process can be used as an entire planning process, utilizing all four “D’s,” or it can be utilized by taking the discovery and/or dream phases and asking questions that pertain only to these areas.

AI questions are excellent ways to start meetings; they cause people to think more about possibilities than about problems. AI questions also can be used in individual conversations as a way of redirecting the individual to think more positively and more about the future possibilities.

“By deliberately changing the internal image of reality, people can change the world,” said the late Willis Harman, an American visionary thinker, futurist and social scientist.


Marie Hvidsten, PhD
Rural Leadership Specialist & Rural Leadership North Dakota Program Director

Filed under: lce news
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