Appreciative Inquiry – Overview by Kendy Rossi



Primary Purpose








·         A strategy for intentional change that identifies the best of “what is” to pursue dreams and possibilities of “what could be”; a cooperative search for the strengths, passions and life-giving forces that are found within every system and that hold potential for inspired, positive change.


·         A process of collaborative inquiry, based on interviews and affirmative questioning, that collects and celebrates “good news stories” of a community; these stories serve to enhance cultural identity, spirit and vision.


·         A way of seeing which is selectively attentive to  — and affirming of — the best and highest qualities in a system, a situation, or another human being;

 an appreciation for the “mystery of being” and a “reverence for life.” 

 (phrases from Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987)



Potential Uses






·         Mission Statement/Vision Development

·         Strategic Planning

·         Organizational/System Redesign

·         Process & Service Enhancement

·         Improvement Initiatives

·         Group Culture Change

·         Civic/Community Development

·         Umbrella for Multiple Change Initiatives in a System




Conditions for Use



Identified need or desire for:

Heart-felt inquiry, discovery & renewal

Positive, grass-roots revolution


Systems & situations in which there is (are):

Support for full voice participation at all levels

Commitment to change as an ongoing process, not a one-time event

Leadership belief in the positive core and affirmative process as a viable change driver

Structures/resources to encourage sharing of “good news stories”

and to support creative action


Times to

Avoid Use


Situations in which:

Predictable, linear process & outcomes are required

Problem-identification/problem-solving is the preferred method for change

There is lack of support for passionate dreaming & inspired self-initiative





Potential Outcomes


·         Change in basic orientation from problem-focused to possibility-focused

·         Clarified or enhanced sense of identity, shared values & culture

·         Established climate of continual learning & inquiry

·         Renewal of group energy, hope, motivation & commitment

·         Increase in curiosity, wonder and “reverence for life”

·         Whole system changes in culture & language (increase in cooperative practices & decrease in competition; increased ratio of positive: negative comments; increase in affirmative questions and/or narrative-rich communication)

·         Improved working relations/conflict resolution

·         Decrease in hierarchical decision-making; increase in egalitarian practices & self-initiated action

·         Successful achievement of intents listed above (see “Potential Uses”);



Key Principles & Assumptions














Four Guiding Principles:

1.       Every system works to some degree; seek out the positive, life-giving forces and appreciate the “best of what is.”

2.     Knowledge generated by the inquiry should be applicable; look at what is possible & relevant.

3.     Systems are capable of becoming more than they are, and they can learn how to guide their own evolution — so consider provocative challenges & bold dreams of “what might be.”

4.     The process & outcome of the inquiry are interrelated and inseparable, so make the process a collaborative one.


About Reality. . . 

·         We co-create reality through our language, thoughts, images and beliefs

       about reality.

·         The act of asking a question influences the system’s reality in some way

       (i.e. questions are a form of intervention).

·         The types of questions we ask determine the types of answers we receive; and “the seeds of change are implicit in the very first questions we ask.”

·         We manifest what we focus on, and we “grow toward what we persistently ask questions about.” (both quotes from Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999)



Key Principles & Assumptions, cont.


About Problem-Solving. . .

·         AI is distinctly different from problem-solving: AI focuses on a desired future or outcome, built on strengths/passions of the past and present.

·         Problem-solving attempts to analyze deficits, identify root causes, then fix problems or correct errors; because it searches for problems, it finds them.

·         AI doesn’t ignore problems — it recognizes them as a desire for something else, then works to identify & enhance the “something else.”





Theory &















Constructionist Principle: we construct realities based on our previous experience, so our knowledge and the destiny of the system are interwoven.


Principle of Simultaneity: inquiry and change are simultaneous.


Poetic Principle: the story of the system is constantly being co-authored, and it is  open to infinite interpretations.


Anticipatory Principle: what we anticipate determines what we find.


Positive Principle: as an image of reality is enhanced, actions begin to align with the positive image.



Other related research/theory:

Sports psychology re: visualization; educational research re: Pygmalion effect; medical research re: mind/body health, placebo effect, etc.; spiritual practices of meditation and visualization.



·         Story, metaphor, image, and dialogue are powerful change agents.

·         AI reveals common ground (shared values & dreams).

·         AI reveals higher ground (the most compelling, desirable possibilities).

·         Affirmative competence (ability to recognize & affirm the positive) is a skill that can be practiced and learned.



& Types of



“Everyone” who is within the system or touched by it in some way;

     those who hold images and have stories about the system

20 – 2000 or more, involved in interviews, meetings and collaborative actions


Typical Duration


AI Summit: large scale meeting that “gets the whole system into the room;”

                    lasting 1 – 6 days

Non-conference Design: interviews and dialogue that spread “web-like” throughout

                     the system; timeframe indefinite


Process –

Steps of Implementation







The process usually takes participants through the stages of

The 4-D Cycle:   Discovery — Appreciating & Valuing the Best of “What Is”

               Dream — Envisioning “What Might Be”

               Design — Dialoguing “What Should Be”

               Destiny — Innovating “What Will Be”


AI Principles are adapted and customized to each individual situation; the

Full AI process typically includes:

1.        Selecting a focus area or topic(s) of interest

2.       Interviews designed to discover strengths, passions, unique attributes

3.       Identifying patterns, themes and/or intriguing possibilities

4.       Creating bold statements of ideal possibilities (“Provocative Propositions”)

5.       Co-determining “what should be” (consensus re: principles & priorities)

6.       Taking/sustaining action


Creator(s) & Creation Date


David Cooperrider, Suresh Srivastva in 1987

    with colleagues from Case Western University & Taos Institute



References Used for this

Fact Sheet










Cooperrider, David L. & Srivastva, Suresh (1987). “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational

     Life.” In Pasmore,W. & Woodman, R. (Eds.), Research in Organizational Change and

     Development, Vol. 1, p. 129-169. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.


Cooperrider, David L. & Whitney, Diana (1999). Appreciative Inquiry. In Holman, P.& Devane,

     T. (Eds.), Collaborating for Change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


Hammond, Sue Annis (1998, 2nd edition). The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry.  Plano, TX:

     The Thin Book Publishing Co.


Holman, Peggy & Devane, Tom (Eds., 1999). The Change Handbook – Group Methods for

     Shaping the Future. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


Kelm, Jackie (1998).  “Introducing the AI Philosophy.” from Hammond, Sue Annis & Royal,

     Cathy (Eds., 1998).  Lessons From the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry. (p. 161-172).

     Plano, TX: Practical Press Inc.


Pinto, Michael and Curran, Mary. (1998)  “Laguna Beach Education Foundation, Schoolpower.”

     from Hammond, Sue Annis & Royal, Cathy (Eds., 1998).  Lessons From the Field:

     Applying Appreciative Inquiry. (p. 16 -47).  Plano, TX: Practical Press Inc.


Whitney, Diana & Cooperrider, David L. (Summer, 1998).  “The Appreciative Inquiry Summit:

     Overview and  Applications.”  Employment Relations Today, p. 17-28.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick