Appreciative Inquiry is both a specific methodology and a perspective and has been defined as the study of what gives life to human systems when they are at their best. As such it ties deeply into fields such as Positive Psychology and Flow which, like AI, stand in contrast to our culture's typical "problem-based" or "deficit-based" mindset.
To understand the phrase more deeply, we need simply look at the two words that make it up.
- Appreciate has two meanings: to look for the best in something and to increase something in value, such as when a stock or real estate appreciates.
- Inquiry means to seek understanding using a process based on provocative questions.
The specific methodology of Appreciative Inquiry gives us the tools to do this, while involving both left and right brains, and exploring the past, present and future. It consists of five main phases:
- Affirmative Topic Choice - An interview is carried out using several provocative questions and, from the clients' responses, several themes are chosen as the focal points for the rest of the inquiry process.
- Discovery - Further provocative questions are explored regarding each of the Affirmative Topics and, from the clients' responses, several themes are again chosen. These themes, a virtual DNA sample of the system at its best, reflect its central success factors - its best strengths, talents, assets, values and ideals - and are known as its "positive core".
- Dream - Creative processes are used to verbally and/or experientially explore what the future might be like if the positive core were more thoroughly enacted throughout the system and to examine, looking back from that vantage point, what must have happened in order for it to have reached such an optimal state.
- Design - The system is organized into an architecture, and preferences chosen for each element of that structure, that will enable further enactment of the positive core and lessons from the Dream phase throughout the system. "Provocative Propositions," in which clients put in writing broad goals or ideas that will help encourage the organization to move in the direction of optimization, may also be developed.
- Destiny - Concrete plans are made and supporting resources put in place for enacting the chosen preferences in the service of amplifying the positive core and making the clients' dreams a reality.
Though a simple and enjoyable process for clients to experience, Appreciative Inquiry ties into fields as diverse as evolution, chaos theory, Systems Thinking, and other systems sciences. A quote from The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change sums up the mindset of this field well. "We are not saying to deny or ignore problems. What we are saying is that if you want to transform a situation, a relationship, an organization, or community, focusing on strengths is much more effective than focusing on problems."
More Appreciative Inquiry Resources
- Appreciative Inquiry Section of my bookstore.
- Emergent Associates - My personal (life) coaching, group/organizational/business consulting and training company, which uses a process rooted in Appreciative Inquiry to help individuals and groups achieve greater satisfaction and success in all aspects of life from health to career to relationships.
- Archive for the Appreciative Inquiry Category of my Blog
- Psychiatrist uses training to build a new company - 2006 Detroit News article describing how Appreciative Inquiry played a key role in my transition from medicine to forming and developing Emergent Associates.
- The Appreciative Inquiry Commons - A worldwide portal devoted to the fullest sharing of academic resources and practical tools on Appreciative Inquiry.