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Appreciative Inquiry

At New Paradigm we have found 'Appreciative Inquiry' to be a very effective approach to changing organisational culture. It offers an effective and exciting way to re-think the way organisations make sense of the world and the basic interactions between individuals.


Appreciative Inquiry (often known as AI) was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The approach is based on the premise that ‘organisations change in the direction in which they inquire.’ So an organisation which inquires into problems will keep finding problems but an organisation which attempts to appreciate what is best in itself will discover more and more that is good. It can then to use these discoveries to build a new future where the best becomes more common.

Cooperrider and Srivastva contrast the commonplace notion that, “organizing is a problem to be solved” with the appreciative proposition that, “organizing is a miracle to be embraced”. Inquiry into organizational life, they say, should have four characteristics. It should be:









Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry

Richard Seel's Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry offers a concise introduction to the theory and practice of AI.

The Appreciative Inquiry approach is often worked out in practice by using the ‘4-D’ model:


Discover—people talk to one another, often via structured interviews, to discover the times when the organisation is at its best. These stories are told as richly as possible.


Dream—the dream phase is often run as a large group conference where people are encouraged to envision the organisation as if the peak moments discovered in the ‘discover’ phase were the norm rather than exceptional.


Design—a small team is empowered to go away and design ways of creating the organisation dreamed in the conference(s).


Destiny—the final phase is to implement the changes.

What is Appreciative Inquiry? by Joe Hall and Sue Hammond also offers a reasonably brief and readable introduction to the principles and practice of AI.

Richard Seel: "We use AI principles quite a lot in our work – for instance, when a team I was working with suddenly had the plug pulled on their project they were very angry and depressed. I encouraged them to undertake a brief appreciative inquiry into the times when they had worked really well as a team. The results were extremely positive. It didn’t change their disappointment at the cancellation but it added a positive and realistic dimension which could easily have got lost otherwise."

Although AI is often presented as an organizational intervention it can be very useful for facilitators working with small groups or teams. Gervase Bushe has written a couple of useful articles on his experiences of using AI with teams (see below). More recently, AI has been used in leadership development and in personal coaching.

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

When Appreciative Inquiry started it was usual for the four phases to be spread out over a long period of time. But today it is more common for the whole process to take place at an ‘Appreciative Inquiry Summit’, a large group event lasting four days. Each phase takes place on a separate day and the energy and momentum gained can be significant.

Although the cost of the AI Summit can seem high in terms of ‘lost’ work, the value of getting so many people together in an appreciative climate can easily lead to productivity benefits which are significantly greater than the costs.

For instance, Roadway Express, a US trucking company, increased its fourth quarter turnover by 25% just a few months after holding an AI Summit. Nutrimental in Brazil hosted an AI Summit for 750 people. Six months later revenues were up 300% and staff morale up 200%. John Deere took 250 people offsite for 5 days. As a result they improved product cycle time, saved $3 million and projected both income growth and further cost saving over time.



The following is a selection of useful and significant articles; just a few of the many now published on Appreciative Inquiry. More can be found on the AI Commons site.

Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life by David Cooperrider & Suresh Srivastva (1987)

This article outlines Cooperrider's proposal to redefine action research in a more generative way. This is quite a technical and academic paper; you won't find any mention of the 4-D cycle here but it gives a lot of the theoretical basis for a shift to a different way of doing action research in organisations.

Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis of Organizing by David Cooperrider (1990)

In this article, Cooperrider examines evidence for the 'heliotropic principle' (that is, "they exhibit an observable and largely automatic tendency to evolve in the direction of positive anticipatory images of the future") from a variety of disciplines.

Generative Metaphor Intervention: A New Approach for Working with Systems Divided by Conflict and Caught in Defensive Perception by Frank Barrett & David Cooperrider (1990)

Contains details of the intervention Frank and David made in the Medic Inn in 1984. There was serious internal conflict at all levels. They show, using a model they call Generative Metaphor Intervention Process, how they approached the issue and the effective outcomes. It is AI as such, but it provided a lot of the ground work.

Advances in Appreciative Inquiry as an Organization Development Intervention by Gervase Bushe (1995)

An early paper, discussing the basis of AI. Busche suggests a simple three stage model: Discovering, Understanding, Amplifying.

Five Theories of Change Embedded in Appreciative Inquiry by Gervase Bushe (1998)

How does AI relate to existing theories of change? Busche suggests five: social constructionism and 'heliotropism', both suggested by Ai proponents and also three more suggested by Busche himself.

Appreciative Inquiry with Teams by Gervase Bushe (1998)

Referenced above, this gives an introduction to different ways of using AI in team settings.

Meaning Making in Teams: Appreciative Inquiry with Pre-Identity and Post-Identity Groups by Gervase Bushe (2001)

In this article Gervase Busche reflects further on his Appreciative work with teams and team building.

When is Appreciative Inquiry Transformational?: A Meta-Case Analysis by Gervase Bushe (2005)

An important article, looking at the evidence for the effectiveness of Appreciative Inquiry, especially in the Design phase.

Appreciative Inquiry Is Not (Just) About The Positive by Gervase Bushe (2007)

Appreciative Inquiry is sometimes disparaged as merely looking at the positive and ignoring the 'real world' of mess, error and confusion. Although this misses the point of AI it sometimes seems that practitioners think that it's really just about 'positive thinking'. In this article Busche points to the importance of generativity as a (the?) key principle of Appreciative Inquiry.

Generativity and the Transformational Potential of Appreciative Inquiry by Gervase Bushe (2007)

Busche takes his arguments in the previous paper further, focusing on the importance and power of generativity and exploring some of the characteristics of generative interventions.


In recent years a plethora of books on AI have emerged. Here is a fairly random selection:

Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination by Jane Magruder Watkins & Bernard Mohr, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Appreciative Inquiry Handbook by David Cooperrider, Diana Whitney & Jacqueline Stavros, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007 (2nd edition).

The Appreciative Inquiry Summit: A Practitioner's Guide for Leading Large-Group Change by James Ludema, Diana Whitney, Bernard Mohr & Thomas Griffin, San Francisco`: Berrett-Koehler, 2003.

Experience AI: A Practitioner's Guide to Integrating Appreciative Inquiry with Experiential Learning by Miriam Ricketts & James Willis, Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Taos Institute , 2004.

Appreciative Leaders: In the Eye of the Beholder by Marjorie Schiller, Bea Mah Holland & Deanna Riley, Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Taos Institute , 2001.

Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change by Sara Orem, Jacqueline Binkert & Ann Clancy, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Social Construction: Entering the Dialogue by Kenneth Gergen & Mary Gergen, Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Taos Institute , 2004.


AI Practitioner is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to aspects of Appreciative Inquiry. Founded by Anne Radford, AI Practitioner is well-produced in Adobe portable document format and a subscription gives you access to download current issues. Past issues are also available to download for a small fee. Most issues have a number of articles on a particular theme or aspect of Appreciative Inquiry.


A number of organisations have made videos about their Appreciative Inquiry experiences. one of the most prolific has been the US Navy:

The first Navy Leadership Summit was held in 2001. The video (21 minutes; Real Player) is a very good introduction to the process, giving a good sense of what an AI Summit can be like.

Other Navy videos include the Third Fleet Summit in 2002 (11 minutes; QuickTime [mpeg]), Naval Reserve in 2003 (11 minutes; QuickTime [mpeg]) and Information Professionals, also in 2003 (26 minutes; QuickTime [mpeg]).

Appreciative Inquiry can also be used for strategic planning. This video from Northern Essex Community College (streaming wmv, 13 minutes) in Massachusetts, USA features the SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations & Results) process developed by Jackie Stavros and Marge Schiller. The movie focuses on the people involved in the process, rather than the process itself.

Fairmount Minerals  have a movie (about 10 minutes; Flash) about their AI summit held in August 2005, facilitated by David Cooperrider. Their topic was sustainable development. The Flash video gives a fast-paced and fairly impressionistic account of the event. If you aren't familiar with the stages of an AI Summit you might get a bit confused.

The United Nations Global Compact used Appreciative Inquiry at a Summit in 2005 with 500 CEOs, Civil Society Leaders, Labour, and UN Leaders. A video can be found via the AI Commons (21 minutes; Real Player)—although it is much more about the Global Business Compact than AI.

There are more movie clips on the AI Commons site.


The first place to look for AI resources is the Appreciative Inquiry Commons. It has up-to-date articles and comments on the theory and practice of appreciative inquiry together with news of workshops and courses.

The Taos Institute in New Mexico is one of the centres of Appreciative Inquiry, with both David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva on its board. It runs workshops and courses.

Ann Radford publishes the AI Practitioner and has other AI resources.

There is also an Appreciative Inquiry e-mail list where people swap ideas and information about AI.

AI & Strategy

Nick Heap offers an outline of a one-day Appreciative Approach to Strategy. If runs through the whole 4D process in a very simple way.

JP Consultants offer a brief account of an Appreciative Intervention they made to help the Muncie Children's Museum develop their strategy.

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Last modified: 12th January 2008
.nickheap.co.uk/articles.asp?ART_ID=174"> Appreciative Approach to Strategy. If runs through the whole 4D process in a very simple way.

JP Consultants offer a brief account of an Appreciative Intervention they made to help the Muncie Children's Museum develop their strategy.

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