What is Appreciative Inquiry? Description
The following practice-oriented definition of Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
is provided by David L. Cooperrider:
Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people,
their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus,
it involves systematic discovery of what gives "life" to a living system when
it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic,
ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice
of asking questions that strengthen a system's capacity to apprehend, anticipate,
and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization
of inquiry through the crafting of the "unconditional positive question" often
concerning hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.
In AI, the arduous task of intervention is replaced by the speed of imagination
and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis,
there is discovery, dream, and design. AI seeks, fundamentally, to build
a constructive union between a whole people and the massive entirety of what
people talk about as past and present capacities: 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. Taking all of these together as
a gestalt, AI deliberately, in everything it does, seeks to work from accounts
of this "positive change core" - and it assumes that every living system has
many untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link the energy
of this core directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible
are suddenly and democratically mobilized.
According to the AI philosophy, human systems grow in the direction of
what they persistently ask questions about, and this propensity is the strongest
and the most sustainable when the means and ends of inquiry are positively
correlated. The most prolific thing a group can do, if its aims are to liberate
the human spirit and consciously construct a better future, is to make the
positive change core the common and explicit property of all.
Cooperrider mentions 5 basic principles of Appreciative Inquiry
- Constructionist Principle. Simply stated: human knowledge and
organizational destiny are interwoven. To be effective as executives, leaders,
change agents, etc., we must be adept in the art of understanding, reading,
and analyzing organizations as living, human constructions.
- Principle of Simultaneity. Here it is recognized that inquiry
and change are not truly separate moments, but are simultaneous. Inquiry
is intervention. The seeds of change - that is, the things which people
think and talk about, the things which people discover and learn, and the
things that inform dialogue and inspire images of the future - are implicit
in the very first questions we ask. Our questions are influencing what we
"find". And what we "discover" (the data) becomes the linguistic material,
the stories, out of which the future is conceived, conversed about, and
- Poetic Principle. A metaphor here is that human organizations
are much more like an open book than, say, a machine. An organization's
story is constantly being co-authored. Moreover, the past, the present,
or the future is an endless source of learning, inspiration, or interpretation.
Precisely like, for example, the endless interpretive possibilities in a
good piece of poetry or a biblical text. The important implication is that
we can study virtually any topic related to human experience in any human
system or organization. We can inquire into the nature of alienation or
joy, enthusiasm or low morale, efficiency or excess, in any human organization.
- Anticipatory Principle. The infinite human resource which we
have for generating constructive organizational change is our collective
imagination and discourse about the future. One of the basic theorems of
the anticipatory view of organizational life is that it is the image of
the future, which in fact guides what might be called the current behavior
of any organism or organization. Much like a film projector on a screen,
human systems are forever projecting ahead of themselves a horizon of expectation.
In their talk, in the metaphors and language they use. This brings the future
powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent.
- Positive Principle. This last principle is not so abstract. It
grows out of years of experience with appreciative inquiry. Most simply,
it is our experience that for building and for sustaining change momentum,
large amounts of positive affect and social bonding are necessary. Things
like hope, excitement, inspiration, caring, camaraderie, sense of urgent
purpose, and sheer joy in creating something meaningful together. What we
have found is that, the more positive the question we ask in our work, the
more long lasting and successful the change effort will be. It does not
help, we have found, to begin our inquiries from the standpoint of the world
as a problem to be solved. We are more effective the longer we can retain
the spirit of inquiry of the everlasting beginner. The major thing we do
that makes the difference, is to craft and seed, in better and more catalytic
ways, the unconditional positive question.
Origin of the Appreciative Inquiry method. History
AI has been described by observers in a myriad of ways: as a paradigm of
conscious evolution geared for the realities of the new century (Hubbard,
1998); as a methodology that takes the idea of the social construction of
reality to its positive extreme - especially with its emphasis on metaphor
and narrative, relational ways of knowing, on language, and on its potential
as a source of generative theory (Gergen, 1996); as the most important advance
in Action Research in the past decade (Bushe, 1991); as offspring and "heir"
to Maslow's vision of a positive social science (Chin, 1998; Curran, 1991);
as a powerful second generation OD practice (French and Bell, 1995; Porrras,
1995; Mirvis, 1993); as model of a much needed participatory science, a "new
yoga of inquiry" (Harman, 1991); as a radically affirmative approach to change,
which completely lets go of problem-based management, and in so doing vitally
transforms strategic planning, survey methods, culture change, merger integration
methods, approaches to TQM, measurement systems, sociotechnical systems, etc.
(White, 1997); and lastly, as OD's philosopher's stone (Sorenson, et. al 1996).
Steps in the Appreciative Inquiry. Process
- Discovery. Mobilizing a whole system inquiry into the positive
- Dream. Creating a clear results-oriented vision in relation to
discovered potential and in relation to questions of higher purpose, i.e.,
"What is the world calling us to become?"
- Design. Creating possibility propositions of the ideal organization,
an organization design which people feel is capable of magnifying or eclipsing
the positive core and realizing the articulated new dream; and
- Destiny. Strengthening the affirmative capability of the whole
system enabling it to build hope and momentum around a deep purpose and
creating processes for learning, adjustment, and improvisation like a jazz
group over time
Organizations, says AI theory, are centers of human relatedness, first
and foremost, and relationships thrive where there is an appreciative eye.
When people see the best in one another, when they share their dreams and
ultimate concerns in affirming ways, and when they are connected in full voice
to create not just new worlds but better worlds. The velocity and largely
informal spread of the appreciative learnings suggests, we believe, a growing
sense of disenchantment with exhausted theories of change. Especially with
those wedded to vocabularies of human deficit. AI suggests a corresponding
urge to work with people, groups, and organizations in more constructive,
positive, life-affirming, even spiritual ways.
Book: David L.
Cooperrider - Constructive Discourse and Human Organization -
Book: David L.
Cooperrider - Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The first in a series of ...
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