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Definition

Appreciative inquiry (AI)

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analyzing why it is working well and then doing more of it. The basic tenet of AI is that an organization will grow in whichever direction that people in the organization focus their attention. If all the attention is focused on problems, then identifying problems and dealing with them is what the organization will do best. If all the attention is focused on strengths, however, then identifying strengths and building on those strengths is what the organization will do best.

The process of Appreciative Inquiry requires a particular way of asking guided questions that encourage positive thinking and employee-to-employee interaction. The questions focus on four key areas: discover, imagine, design and deliver (DIDD).

Here are some examples:

Discover questions facilitate the identification of processes in the organization that work well.

Question: What part of the product launch do you think went exceptionally well?
Answer: One thing that seemed to go well was using Twitter to build anticipation for the product launch.

Imagine questions facilitate analysis of why a particular process works well and help brainstorm ways to apply that knowledge elsewhere.

Question: Why was Twitter a successful tool for the product launch and how else might we use it?
Answer: It worked because it was easy to administer and didn't take up much time or cost any money. We liked how we could see people Tweeting about our new product weeks before it actually launched commercially. We could imagine it working well as a way to promote special Internet deals.

Design questions facilitate the creation of an action plan

Question: How could we test using Twitter to promote special Internet deals?
Answer: Bob could tweet a new coupon code each day for a week.

Deliver questions facilitate the creation of criteria for success and a way to determine whether or not the action plan was successful.

Question: How will we know if it's worth Bob's time to tweet a new coupon code each day?
Answer: We will have at least one online customer use the special coupon code during the test period. 

The theory of Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in a paper they published in 1986. Group facilitators are encouraged to customize how the four key areas are presented to meet the needs of their audience, but the goal of the process should remain the same: Help an organization build upon what they do best in a positive manner.

This was last updated in January 2010
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