Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry


This is an approach, method and philosophy based on the ideas of David Cooperrider.

Appreciative Inquiry: and described in the book  “Locating the Energy for Change” by Charles Elliott.


Basically, as a methodology, it can be used with organisations, communities or groups of  people who would like to concentrate on their most important issue or challenge, to change the way the individual members see themselves in relation to the group, and to unleash the positive energy that can lead to innovative approaches to the issues, and/or expanded commitment to addressing them. It enables us to achieve a more positive view of the future, and implement it. It works in four phases which can be described as:

Discovering periods of excellence and achievement:

Here the idea is to understand that everyone’s perception of history is different. We co-construct our reality through the lens of our perceptions. In asking people to concentrate on the high points and the positive experiences of the past, we can visualise and tell the story of a culture for the organisation, which is in the minds of its members, and creates, or expresses an already existing but suppressed,  positive feeling about it, i. e. there is not one reality, but many, and we can learn an enormous amount by listening to others’ perceptions of the same past events. By doing this, people identify the unique factors, such as leadership, technologies, values, learning processes, external relationships, or planning processes which have contributed to making the organisation what it is. The negative aspects are not ignored, but put in a different perspective. For example, instead of saying “Politicians don’t care about farmers”, we can rephrase this in “appreciative mode” and say “Good politicians care about farmers”. Or instead of saying “that man is polluting the river”, we can say, “we can form a group of people interested in improving the quality of the water in the river”.


Dreaming an ideal organisation or community:

In this step, people use past achievements to envisage a desired future, based on the background of the history and memories uncovered in Step 1. The dream is an extension of the past, and describes that vision of the preferred future in words, pictures, music or other “right brain” creative methods.


Designing new structures and processes:  

This stage is intended to be provocative, to develop, through consensus, concrete short and long term goals that will achieve the dream. For example, a provocative proposition for a community of small farmers who can no longer sustain their families because the international prices for coffee beans have been halved over the last 3 years, could be “we  can build our own coffee processing plant and sell our coffee to a Fair Trade organisation”, but this would be a decision taken by the community, not imposed from outside, and should be achievable, because it is based on real experiences from the past, current reality, and the dreams or visions for the future.


Delivering the dream:

Here people act on their provocative propositions, establishing roles and responsibilities, developing strategies, and redefining them in the light of new experiences. They are able to do this, because they have learned the methodology of Appreciative Inquiry, which empowers them to make their decisions in a truly participative way. People who have a clear vision built on their strengths and grounded in their individual and collective experience are able to take action and move forward from a position of clear and mutual goals.


The process of Appreciative Inquiry initially requires a “facilitator” who is well versed in the Appreciative Inquiry methodology. Also, there are books, manuals and courses for learning the methodology. Once the process has started, a person or persons from within the group with the necessary abilities and interests, learns to take over the job of the outside “facilitator”. With smaller groups this is easier than with large groups. When successful, which of course is not always the case, the results are extraordinarily rewarding. Although the process requires a lot of hard work, those who have used it feel the extra effort is really worthwhile, and continue to learn from their mistakes, making sure it is an on-going activity which becomes part of the normal way of thinking of the members of the group.


Before beginning the process some pre-requisites must be fulfilled. The members of the group should be aware that they should:

1)    avoid a biased distribution of power;

2)    reduce the imposition of ideologies;

3)    increase the level of identification with the process;

4)    adopt an auto-critical stand point.


There will always be some people who do not agree to participate in the process, but usually they are a minority, and separate voluntarily from the group, allowing those who do wish to participate to proceed.


With the aid of an Argentinean volunteer, Julieta Mazzola, we wrote a case study of the use of Appreciative Inquiry in three communities. This case study includes explanations of the use of this method and can be used as a methods manual. It is available in Spanish for $10. Contact us.