What Is Appreciative Inquiry?

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What is Appreciative Inquiry? By Bliss Browne, Imagine Chicago
Appreciative inquiry is an approach to organizational and community development that has been used successfully worldwide to cultivate hope, build capacity, unleash collective appreciation and imagination, and bring about positive change. It is based on the simple idea that human beings move in the direction of what we ask about. When groups query human problems and conflicts, they often inadvertently magnify the very problems they had hoped to resolve. Conversely, when groups study exalted human values and achievements, like peak experiences, best practices, and worthy accomplishments, these phenomena tend to flourish. AI deliberately asks positive questions around affirmative topics to ignite constructive dialogue and inspired action within organizations and communities. Change research shows that community innovation methods that evoke stories, and affirm and compel groups of people to envision positive images of the future grounded in the best of the past, have the greatest potential to produce deep and sustaining change and inspire collective action.

Appreciative Inquiry differs fundamentally from traditional problem-solving approaches. The basic assumption of problem-solving methodologies is that people and organizations are “broken” and need to be fixed. The process usually involves: (1) identifying the key problems; (2) analyzing the root causes; (3) searching for possible solutions; and (4) developing an action plan. Deficit-based analysis, while powerful in diagnosis, tends to undermine human organizing and motivation, because it creates a sense of threat, separation, defensiveness and deference to expert hierarchies. Problem solving as a means of inspiring and sustaining human systems change is therefore limited. In contrast, the underlying assumption of appreciative inquiry is that people and organizations are full of assets, capabilities, resources, and strengths that can be located, affirmed, leveraged and encouraged. There are a variety of AI models that guide how Appreciative Inquiry is practiced but all of them are based on: 1. Choosing the positive as the focus of inquiry

2. Inquiring into stories of life-giving forces
3. Locating themes that appear in the stories and selecting topics for further inquiry 4. Creating shared images of a preferred future
5. Finding innovative ways to create that future.

Through constructive dialogue, trusted experience is shared, new possibilities imagined and new partnerships created to bring the desired future into being. The classic AI 4-D cycle includes: (1) discovery (valuing); (2) dream (envisioning); (3) design through dialogue; and (4) destiny (co-constructing the future.)

For resources on Appreciative Inquiry, see the AI Commons: appreciativeinquiry.case.edu

Strengthening (Our) Questions

Every question has a direction. Where it leads depends on its often hidden assumptions. Few questions are neutral; most carry a generative or destructive energy. What questions build a bridge or turn on a light? Which offer a path into shared understanding? What questions invite new ways of seeing and connecting to a community or country’s future as one that citizens have the choice to create working together?

Our choice of questions has a moral impact. “Why can’t you ever do anything right?” presumes and creates an identity of incompetence. “What crime will ‘you people’ commit next?” enflames violence. “Who made such a stupid decision?” looks to assign blame. “How can we get even?” rallies support for retaliation. “Why bother to invest in a ‘lost generation’?” reinforces despair about the future.

Conversely, questions can inspire, intrigue, delight, clarify, invite and build community. They can create pathways to positive experiences and affections, stimulate reflection on issues of importance, and help people notice what is of value. “How did you learn to do such a...
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