By Karen Sander, EDRD 6000
University of Guelph, March 2014
“An approach to transformation and development that is all based on a questioning type
of approach that searches for everything that gives life to a living human system when it
most aligned.” David Cooperrider
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) values the local environment and the world around us. AI uses an
inquiry process of carefully crafted questions to find the good the better and the best, paying
attention to what is right and what is working. This is done by placing expectations on
capabilities and hope, by affirming past and present strengths (successes) and by discovering
and being open to new potentials and possibilities.
Appreciative inquiry fosters high participation, involvement and cooperation
among organization members and stakeholders.
Appreciative inquiry changes the dialogue from problem-oriented,(deficit) to
discourse to possibility-oriented,(appreciative).
History of Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
Appreciative inquiry (AI) was developed by David Cooperrider, Professor of
Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western
Dr. Cooperrider’s doctoral dissertation in 1986 was "Appreciative Inquiry: Toward a
Methodology for Understanding and Enhancing Organizational Innovation." Dr.
Cooperrider’s work is especially unique because of the ability of Appreciative Inquiry
methodology to enable positive change and encourage innovation in large and
View an interview with David Cooperrider at
How is AI Different than other Participatory Methods?
AI suggests an alternative approach that is appreciative in nature, rather than
problem oriented which focuses on positive words, stories, and images.
AI ask the questions such as “what works” and “why” and “what can we learn
from the things that work?” AI recognizes that an organization’s history is a
powerful source of positive possibilities.
Appreciative Inquiry assumes:
that people individually and collectively have unique gifts, skills, and
contributions to bring to life;
that organizations are human social systems, sources of unlimited relational
capacity, created and lived in language;
that the images we hold of the future are socially created and once
articulated, serve to guide individual and collective action; and
that through human communication people can shift their attention and action
away from problem analysis to lift up worthy ideals and productive
possibilities for the future. (Whitney & Cooperrider 1998)
The 4 Dimensions
(Corporation for Positive Change)
Discovery: what has been?
The Discovery phase is a diligent and extensive search to understand the “best of what
is” and “what has been.” It begins with the collaborative act of crafting appreciative
interview questions and constructing an appreciative interview guide. Appreciative
Inquiry questions are written as affirmative probes into an organization’s positive core,
in the topic areas selected. They are written to generate stories, to enrich the images
and inner dialogue within the organization, and to bring the positive core more fully into
Dream: imagine what might be?
The Dream phase is an energizing exploration of “what might be”: a time for
people to explore their hopes and dreams for their work, their working
relationships, their organization, and the world at large. It is a time for groups of
people to engage in thinking big, thinking out of the box, and thinking out of the
boundaries of what has been successful and meaningful in the past.
Design: what should be?
The Design phase involves making choices about “what should be” within an
organization or community. It is a conscious re-invention or co-creation of the
strategies, structures, culture, processes and systems needed to achieve the
organization’s or community’s highest ideals. During Design an organization’s
or community’s positive core of strengths, and its hopes and dreams for the
future are aligned, integrated and embedded into a set of design propositions or
principles. They in turn become the blueprint for its destiny.
Destiny: what will be?
The Destiny phase initiates a series of inspired actions that support ongoing
learning and innovation – or “what will be.” Since the entire 4-D Process
provides an open forum for participants to contribute and step forward in the
service of the organization, change occurs in all phases of an Appreciative
Inquiry process. The Destiny phase, however, focuses specifically on personal
and organizational commitments and paths forward.
Examples of Appreciative Inquiry Questions (Strickland)
Considering your entire time as an employee at your organization, can you recall a time
when you felt most alive, most involved, or most excited about your involvement in the
organization? What made it an exciting experience? What gave it energy?
What was it about you — unique qualities you have – that contributed to the exchange?
Who were the most significant others? Why were they significant?
In what ways did your organization contribute to the creation or support of this
Your organization builds on “proven strengths” and has a history of being a pioneer in a
wide number of areas. In your opinion, what is the most important achievement that you
can recall that best illustrates this spirit of “being the best”?
Can you think of a time when there was an extraordinary display of cooperation between
diverse individuals or groups at your organization? What made such cooperation possible?
How could these lessons be applied to your team?
In your mind, what is the common mission or purpose that unites everyone on the
Leadership Team? How can this continue to be nurtured?
What is the core factor that gives vitality and life to you organization (without it the
organization would cease to exist)?
If you could develop or transform your organization in any way you wished, what three
things would you do to heighten its vitality and overall health?
Appreciative Inquiry and the Collaborative
have a voice
Appreciative Inquiry: building from the
positive – strength based
I don’t like it but
I will support the
I don’t like itI LOVE
I like the
I don’t want to stop
anyone else but I don’t
want to be involved in
I can live
THE AGREEMENT GAUGE
Case Study: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Create a Sustainable Rural School
District and Community.
Purpose: To document an action research process in order to improve communication
and collaboration strategies among stakeholders in a rural school district in a
Methodology: An appreciative inquiry (AI) action research methodology was used for
this Case Study which took place over four consecutive weeks with nine purposively
Findings: The Appreciative 4-D cycle, through shared personal narratives, promoted
greater respect and value of participants' strengths/assets. Their defensive and reactive
standpoint was altered to one of greater trust and hope through a collaborative process
where participants shared concerns with the school district, community agencies which
improved the relationships among the stakeholders.
Implications: the participants came into the “research” process feeling powerlessness
and encumbered with school district and stakeholder deficits. They left the process
empowered as conduits of hope for their rural community by assuming leadership roles
to improve stakeholder communication, build partnerships and capacity at many levels
and to initiate transformative projects.
Calabrese, R., Hester, M., Friesen, S., & Burkhalter, K. (2010). Using
appreciative inquiry to create a sustainable rural school district and
community. International Journal of Educational Management, 24(3), 250-
Cooperrider, D.L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J.M. (2003). Appreciative Inquiry
Handbook. 1st Ed. Bedford Heights, OH : Lakeshore Publishers
Corporation for Positive Change. Appreciative Inquiry for Global Good.
Retrieved from: https://positivechange.org/how-we-work/what-is-appreciative-
Elliott, C. (1999). Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction to
Appreciative Inquiry. Winnipeg; International Institute for Sustainable
Strickland, Donna. Appreciative Inquiry Questions. Retrieved from:
Whitney, D., & Cooperrider, D. L. (1998). The appreciative inquiry summit:
Overview and applications. Employment Relations Today, 25(2), 17-28.