Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)6 is strategy for purposeful change that focuses on a collective search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.


Developed by Dr. David L. Cooperrider7 of Case Western Reserve University, AI builds from what is being done right. In essence, it is the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system's capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It is the crafting of 'positive questions' and cultivating an attitude and perception of appreciation.


By focusing on and appreciating the positive (a glass of water half full, rather than half empty), AI leads to imagination and innovation instead of negation and criticism. AI builds a bridge between past and present capacities (i.e. achievements, assets, unexplored potentials, innovations, strengths, elevated thoughts, opportunities, benchmarks, high point moments, lived values, traditions, strategic competencies, stories, expressions of wisdom, insights into the deeper corporate spirit or soul) and visions of valued and possible futures.


AI builds from the belief that we have a choice - that we can consciously choose what we 'see' and act upon. Instead of focusing on needs and deficits - the traditional problem - solving approach, we can choose to see possibilities, capabilities and assets - the basis of appreciative inquiry.



The process of AI unfolds through a cycle of five phases:



Define and explain what the inquiry is about.


What are the past and present areas of appreciation for the organization (OR regarding a specific issue/area of inquiry)? What values and actions made them such?


Given that those values and actions are already present, what highest future do you envision for the organization (OR regarding a specific issue/area of inquiry)?


What programs, policies, processes and products (including targets and objectives) would support our vision of the future?


What sort of epic journey are you on? What higher purpose are you serving? What are the cultural values you believe in? What attitudes and actions do you reward? How do you demonstrate this?

Appreciative Inquiry draws on the work of Dialogue, which avoids debate and analysis and encourages meaningful sharing. It is recommended that you sit in an unobstructed circle when practicing AI. Here are some basic conversation guidelines:


Appreciative Inquiry Guidelines

  • We talk about what's really important to us.
  • We listen to each other carefully. We see how thoroughly we can understand each other's views and experience - focusing on what we are curious about and what we appreciate.
  • We say what's true for us without making each other wrong. We realize that we can both hold our own truths and wisdom while simultaneously making room for the truths and wisdom of others.
  • We see what we can learn by exploring things together.
  • We avoid monopolizing the conversation. We make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
  • We honour silence and the time required to deeply reflect.

An external or un-invested facilitator is recommended, in order to pose questions and record values, visions, actions, ideas, etc -


Sample Session

Our appreciative inquiry circle today will focus on the capacities and possible future of recreation and park practitioners.


    • Round 1: Discovery
      Describe a time when you felt most personally satisfied with your work within our community - your peak experience? (this question will need to be customized) What compelled you to tell that story? Was accomplished in that story? What did you most value about that story?


    • Round 2: Dream
      If we were to act 'as if' these values and behaviours were already present everywhere, what might that future be like?


    • Round 3: Design
      What are the strategies and actions required to implement our dream and support this future? Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?


    • Round 4: Destiny
      In your highest aspiration, what sort of purpose does your involvement in our community fulfill? What is the highest and deepest meaning of this work? What will I do to sustain the dream and designs? What can I offer?



6 Based on: Watkins, Jane Magruder, and Mohr, Bernard J. Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA. 2001

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