Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a way of thinking, seeing, and acting for powerful, purposeful change in organizations. AI works on the assumption that whatever you want more of already exists in all organizations. It also assumes that what you pay attention to grows over time.
Think about it. We’ve been schooled from the beginning to solve problems. The way we learned most subjects in school was to solve problems presented to us around various subjects. We go on into life looking for the next problem to solve. And if we miss finding or focusing on a problem, we fear the thought of being irresponsible. Right?
When we work with groups as facilitators, consultants, coaches, or therapists, we tend to start with the questions, “So what’s the problem here? What’s wrong? What needs to change?” etc.
The problem with this is that we place the spotlight on problems that may have not been worrisome before we showed up to highlight them. AI is an alternative way to support people and groups by asking questions such as “What’s going well around here? What ideas can you tell me about that I can share with others? How are you documenting your excellence?”
Your role takes on the form of one who facilitates the discovery of conditions that made excellence possible in the past, and ways to project more of this into the future.
Through AI, we help groups articulate the themes and dreams of “what could be” and “what will be.” What will be is the future envisioned through an analysis of the past. The entire system maintains the best of the past by discovering what it is and stretching it into the future possibilities. This differs from other visioning work because the envisioned future is grounded in the reality of the actual past.
The Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry
- In every society, organization or group, something works.
- What we focus on becomes our reality.
- Reality is created in the moment and there are multiple realities.
- The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
- People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
- If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.
- It is important to value differences.
- The language we use creates our reality.
According to AI practitioners, when you do more of what works, the stuff that doesn’t work goes away. The table below illustrates the differences between the traditional Organizational Development perspective and the AI perspective.
|Traditional OD Process
|Define the problem||Search for solutions that already exist|
|Fix what’s broken||Amplify what’s working|
|Focus on decay||Focus on life giving forces|
|What problems are you having?||What’s working well around here?|
An organization called “Banana Kelly” began in 1977 when 30 residents gathered to stop the demolition of their homes in the South Bronx. This organization began to practice many of the AI principles and has become a successful organization now employing 100 full-time staff in their community. Many of them would be considered “at risk” youth, but who are very successful, entrepreneurial members of this organization. Out of over 800 nominations, they were recognized in 1996 by the UN as one of the six Gold Medal Best Practices for improving the living environment.
For complete text of the article used for this issue and the complete story on Banana Kelly, click here.
Try using the Appreciative Inquiry perspective we describe here with a friend, client, or group this week. Share what this article inspires in you in the comments section below.