Appreciative Inquiry is a way of being and seeing. It is both a worldview and a process for facilitating positive change in human systems like organizations, groups, and communities. Its assumption is simple: every human system has something that works correctly, things that give it life when it is vital, effective and successful. AI begins by identifying this positive core and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy, sharpen vision and inspire action for change. As Innovation Partners International consultant Bernard J. Mohr says, “Problems get replaced with innovation as conversations increasingly shift toward uncovering the organization’s (or group’s, or community’s) positive core.”
“At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to 'inquire' into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes.”
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was pioneered in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, two professors at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. AI consultants around the world are increasingly using an appreciative approach to bring about collaborative and strengths-based change in thousands of profit and nonprofit organizations and communities in more than 100 countries.
In describing Appreciative Inquiry (AI), David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney suggest that change begins the moment we ask our first question. When members of the organization engage in conversations that matter around their shared future, systemic change begins. As a result, questions must be purposeful and aimed at assisting the team or organization to move in the direction of what it is seeking rather than what it wishes to avoid. Those who use AI illuminate and leverage the strengths of a system and its people. They deliberately go looking for diverse individuals and groups and listen to their stories to discover why these positive outliers have been able to find answers when others in their social circle have not.
As Whitney and Trosten-Bloom suggest, Appreciative Inquiry is “the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best.”
Among the strengths of Appreciative Inquiry are the principles that guide the work. The origins of these principles can be found in the theory of social constructionism, which proposes that reality is socially constructed through the social interaction of people. Supporting this theory are discoveries in new sciences such as chaos theory, complexity theory, and self-organizing systems as well as research on the power of positive imagery.