This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Defining Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is about discovering and applying new knowledge/new ideas about key aspects of organization life. In particular it focuses on generating and applying knowledge that comes from inquiry into moments of excellence, periods of exceptional competence and performance — times when people have felt most alive and energized. Appreciative Inquiry is a perspective that can be used with any change process in human systems — productivity, innovation, strategy development, customer service, business process redesign, safety and quality, mergers, diversity, evaluation, organization culture, management audits, leadership, and a host of others.

Appreciative Inquiry is an organization development philosophy and methodology that enhances organizations’ capacities for positive change and ongoing adaptability. It was developed in the mid 1980s by David Cooperrider, Ph.D. and Suresh Srivastva, Ph.D. of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. It provides a philosophy and tools for leaders to understand and build upon the best of what has been and might yet be within their organizations through inquiry into their “positive core.” An organization’s positive core is described as the collective wisdom, knowledge, and capabilities — often un-discussed — of the organization at its best.

Appreciative Inquiry is both a process and a philosophy.

Appreciative Inquiry as an inquiry-based change process (Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver) for engaging people in building the kinds of families, communities, organizations and world they want to live in. It is a process that:

  • begins with agreeing on what we want to learn about (Define)
  • followed by participative inquiry into conditions which are present when the organization is performing optimally in human, ecological and economic terms (Discover)
  • leading to discovery of life-giving forces that form a powerful image of a desired future (Dream)
  • that knowledge is then translated into the fabric of the organization’s daily life (Design)
  • and in recognition that all knowledge is evolutionary, the organization continues to learn from that which is working and improvises based on those new learnings (Deliver)

Appreciative Inquiry as a philosophy of change (applying learning from what works and gives life is more effective and sustainable than learning from breakdowns and pathologies) that can guide our work with families, communities, and organizations. It is a philosophy that:

  • emphasizes collaboration and participation of all voices in the system
  • approaches change as a journey (rather than an event)
  • has a system orientation (focus is on changing the organization rather than the people)
  • values continuity along with innovation and transition management, and
  • most uniquely, builds on the “life-giving forces” present when a system is performing optimally in human, economic and organizational terms.

Appreciate: To value or admire highly; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems. To increase in value.

Inquire: To search into, investigate; to seek for information by questioning. The act of exploration and discovery. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities.