Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry was developed at Case Western Reserve University in 1980 by a doctoral student, David Cooperrider, and his thesis advisor, Suresh Srivastva. Fundamentally, Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. It suggests that we not only experience reality, we actually create it in our conversations and interactions with others. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive, strength-based approach to making changes in organizations. It includes co-creating inspiring images of what we want, and then building on positive ideas to make them happen. It means becoming more aware of our internal and external dialogues and intentionally shifting them to focus on what we want. It unleashes the positive potential within people and organizations through attention to the positive core. It suggests we build on our strengths, successes, and best practices to achieve our greatest hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is all this and more.

Appreciative Inquiry is about asking questions that focus attention on strengths and possibilities. The questions we ask ourselves and each other set the stage for and empower positive change. The What, How, When and Where questions go something like this:

What? Tell me about an experience when you felt particularly positive and empowered in your life or in work or relationships.

How? How did what you and others were doing strengthen the experience?

Where and When? Where and when have you seen the approach used in this experience used before?

Generally, the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions open up the conversation best. “Tell me about a time when . . .” is good for getting stories started. “Give me an example . . .” gets into important contextual details. “How did you feel when . . . ?” helps to expose the storyteller’s core values. Avoid either-or questions or any questions that begin with the words do or does, will, can, should, or is, which normally lead to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or very brief responses.

The questioning in Appreciative Inquiry begins with a suggestion like this: “Tell me a story about a time when you felt most effective, most passionate, when you felt the best about your work and the work of your organization.” After this question is fully answered, the group is then invited to tell exactly what the employees and the organization were doing so effectively that it made a difference in the workers and in the world. This search in Appreciative Inquiry is an effort to find those values held by the majority of the group. This focus identifies what we want to do rather than search the tasks that we hate to do.

Leaders have discovered through this model that we can do more than prop up the organization; we can actually heal its problems with vision and efficiency of operation. If we focus on those things that we do well, that we feel passionate about, then the employees and the organization can more easily rise to a level of excellence. Uncovering positive attitudes and feelings increases the base of appreciation, which is the goal.

Appreciative Inquiry has had a fundamental affect both on my personal life and my counseling. Older models of therapy focused on pathology, an effort to fix what was wrong. Appreciative Inquiry concentrates on what is right, both in me and in the people that I serve.

A biblical story powerfully illustrates this approach. The story springs from the life of Jesus when a hungry crowd needed food, and a child brought five loaves and two fishes to the Master. Rather than looking at the deficiencies in what he had, the boy gave it all to Jesus and that was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. This story inspires me to value what I have and what others have. I encourage people to bring to life what they have rather than fretting over what they don’t have. Very often I encounter people who make the assumption that “life will be good when . . . . when I make more money, when I get a different job, when I get the car I want.” These illusions block our being present to this moment; looking for our life in the future is a form of avoidance. Healthy people look open-eyed at the present and make decisions based on what is.