Appreciative inquiry is an approach to generating useful evidence and improving practice. Feedback about what is working well will provide useful information about what to keep doing. It’s also a good basis for asking about what would make the project activities or service even better.
Appreciative Inquiry has evolved, less as a specific method, and more as a set of core principles which stand in contrast to deficit-based approaches to change. It is more than ‘the power of positive thinking’; it is a change methodology that seeks to test out and evaluate inquiry-generated forms of thinking and acting through the use of the four D’s structure: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Deliver (or Destiny).
This approach sits well with a personal outcomes approach and with strengths or assets-based approaches. It helps to get personal feedback about personal outcomes and to recognise and value the skills, capacities, and resources that already exist for a person, community, or organisation.
The primary principles are:
- That inquiry begins with appreciation.
- That appreciative inquiry is applicable to the system in which the inquiry takes place and is tested out in practice.
- That the inquiry should be provocative and create new knowledge compelling to the system members.
- That it is collaborative, in the sense that system members must be part of the design and execution of the inquiry.
How we ask questions makes a difference
The way questions are asked is very important to setting the tone and direction of responses. Constructive questions move conversations forward and help to identify experiences that can be drawn on to make change where it’s needed.
This kind of appreciative inquiry works from a set of assumptions. These include:
- In every society, organisation or group, something works, at least some of the time.
- What we focus on becomes our reality – if we ask about the problems we will become focused on them and forget or sideline the good things.
- The act of asking questions of an organisation or group influences the group in some way.
- The language we use creates our reality – so the words we use influence the responses we get.
Many of us know how important it is to ask the right questions when working with groups of people or individuals. And we know from our own experience that we can very easily focus on what isn’t working and start problem solving.
Being appreciative does not mean ignoring the negative things, but rather that starting on a positive, appreciative note sets the tone and opens up potential for more engaged inquiry and a more collaborative, solution-focused approach to change.
- The Educational Resource: Using appreciative inquiry to develop practice is a useful entry point to explore how to apply this approach. The resource has been developed as part of the My Home Life Scotland initiative, University of the West of Scotland (UWS), in partnership with Age Scotland and Scottish Care.
- Lots of further information and resources can be found on Appreciative Inquiry Commons, an online portal devoted to the fullest sharing of academic resources and practical tools on appreciative inquiry.
- For more information on the use of the four D’s structure of Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver (or Destiny), see Ludema, J. D; Cooperrider, D. L. and Barrett, F. J. (2001). Appreciative Inquiry: the Power of the Unconditional Positive Question, in Reason, P and Bradbury, H (eds), Handbook of Action Research, Sage pp. 191-196.
- For more information on transformational appreciative enquiry, see Bushe, G. R and Kassam, A. F (2005) When is appreciative inquiry transformational? A Meta Case Analysis, The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, Vol 41, (No 2), 161-181.
- Assumptions of appreciative inquiry as outlined above are adapted from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Sue Annis Hammond, Thin Book Publishing, 2nd Edition, 1998.