Appreciative Inquiry- my brief summary and thoughts about it

I have recently read two books about Appreciative Inquiry:  Appreciative Inquiry:  A Positive Revolution in Change by David L. Cooperrider & Diana Whitney; and The Power of Appreciative Inquiry:  A Practical Guide to Positive Change by Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom.  This post will not be a review of these books, but rather a brief summary of my understanding of Appreciative Inquiry and how I see it potentially applied.  

First of all, to the question of what Appreciative Inquiry is, according to two of its pioneers, it “is the cooperative, coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.  It involves systematic discovery of what gives life to an organization or community when it is most effective and most capable in economic, ecological, and human terms” (Appreciative Inquiry, 8). I think anyone would want to get behind the ideas of this.  Further, this process revolves around a positive core and  a focus on the affirmative and positive, because it is believed that when you ask questions about the positive or focus on strengths, the greatest sense of discovery, evolution, and advancement can occur (as opposed to focusing on negatives or deficits).

The Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Cycle
The Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Cycle

Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom have developed the 4-D Cycle (pictured at right).  This cycle is a process which is central to Appreciative Inquiry and its power.  The 4-D’s stand for:  Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.  Whitney and Trosten-Bloom explain that the cycle,

“is based on the notion that human systems, individuals, teams, organizations, and communities grow and change in the direction of what they study.  Appreciative Inquiry works by focusing the attention of an organization on its most powerful potential- its positive core- and unleashing the energy of the positive core for transformation and sustainable success.  This is the essential nature of the organization at its best- people’s collective wisdom about the organization’s tangible and intangible strengths, capabilities, resources, and assets” (The Power of Appreciative Inquiry. 6).

Appreciative Inquiry (or “AI” as I will refer to it now as) is not a “one size fits all” approach.  This is something I appreciate.  Maybe its just a post-modern reality, but context always matters and so I would argue there really is not much at all that can truly be effectively “one size fits all.”  This is part of the uniqueness of AI is that it is:  1) fully affirmative, meaning that it focuses on possibilities and not problems at an organization or community when it is at its best (present, past, and/or future); 2) inquiry based, meaning that there is a search for learning and discovery and an openness to learn through the asking of questions; and 3)  it is improvisational, meaning that each iteration or time through AI is unique depending on needs, context, experience, etc., and that through this, each iteration is also in a way an experiment and experience to learn from and grow through (based on The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, 10-15).

I definitely recommend reading the second edition (2010) of The Power of Appreciative Inquiry because it offers a detailed and discernible way to go step by step through the process of what Appreciative Inquiry can look like.  If you need a very quick read summary of AI, check out the Appreciative Inquiry:  A Positive Revolution for Change.  I kind of found that to be the sort of “commercial” if you will for the possibilities of AI.  But just about everything covered in that shorter book is covered in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry and with much greater detail.

The stories and case studies shared to help illustrate the 4-D process of AI in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry speak volumes to how this process has been helpful for building cross-sector collaboration, but also creating good societal change.  The repeated notion is that once people are given the means and empowered to ask the questions about how what they do matters and causes good in the world, they run with the opportunity.

AI seems to be a means that not only empowers people, it creates space for their presence and to help them feel valued as participants, contributors, and cocreators of a larger community or organization.  As the authors note, “In public communities AI can help expand and uplift the voices of the public, of people in formal leadership roles, as well as those whose voices more often go unheard” (The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, 263).   This has great implications especially for the work I do and hope to do long into the future.  What really excites me though is the recognition that, “In all communities, as in organizations of all types, Appreciative Inquiry fosters openness to learning, a willingness to meet ‘the other,’ and a capacity to create life-affirming ways of going forward together” (264).  There is a true sense of accompaniment in this process, a process that recognizes that we are all connected in community to the world, and in this recognition we meet and appreciate people where they are at.

If there is interest, I will offer up actual book reviews on these two books in an upcoming post.  I also hope to share insights about the 4-D process from my own experience with upcoming projects.  I plan on integrating this process into some of the work I do and will share any thing I discover that may be helpful with you from those experiences.

Thanks to David Cooperrider, Diane Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom for their writing and contributions in this field. I feel like I am just discovering the surface and barely scratching the potential of AI.  Thanks also to my Dad for encouraging me to think critically and discover the potential of AI.  What do you think?  Are you curious and interested in how AI might inform or be beneficial for what you do?

Credits and Resources:

Appreciative Inquiry:  A Positive Revolution in Change, (San Francisco, CA:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2005).

The Power of Appreciative Inquiry:  A Practical Guide to Positive Change, (San Francisco, CA:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010).

The Diagram shared above of “The Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Cycle” was adapted from the one presented in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, 6.  It is provided here thanks to The Project Management Hut.

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