What is Appreciative inquiry?

In a nutshell, Appreciative inquiry (Ai) is a change-management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analysing why it is working well and then doing more of it. The basic principle of Ai is that an organisation will grow in whichever direction their people focus their attention. If all the attention is focused on criticising, blaming and fear, the culture and practice of the organisation will reflect that. However, if all the attention is focused on learning from its customers, building on its strengths, and supporting development, the organisation culture and practice will reflect that.

When individuals, teams, or organisations want to make changes, usually a ‘fix it’ and deficit-focussed model is employed where data is collected about what’s wrong, obstacles identified and diagnoses made. Or we choose to seek out what is already working, good and right about the individual, team, or organisation and seek to do more of it. That’s the Appreciative inquiry (Ai) approach. The difference is in i) taking an Appreciative stance at the outset and the questions asked. For example, “What can we to do minimise customer complaints?” is an example of an deficit-style question. Using Ai, we would ask, “When have customers been most pleased with our service and what can we learn and apply from those moments of success?”

Appreciative inquiry opens whole new doors for us and opens our eyes to a new way of thinking.

Ai as a cycle-of-change



Ai starts with examining our strengths and talents, the values we hold, what we are known to be good at, we call this inquiring into our ‘Positive Core’. With a clear view of our core strengths, we can discover new ways of doing or expanding what we are good at and plan how to reach our goals. We can be free to dream new ambitions and set ourselves up for success. After a plan is made, we can design how to reach our goals and create our own destiny – realising the ambitions we aimed for.




Discovery is about finding what type of processes, organisation and skills work for you and will help you along your way. It is also a process of learning to appreciate what has been given to us and using it to our benefit. Employees often discover some of this information by speaking with colleagues and learning about what has worked for the business in the past. This can lead employees to feel more appreciative about their role in the business and what they can do to make meaningful contributions.

  • Recalling a high-point experience with the business
  • Talking with other employees about their best business experiences
  • Asking managers what methods have worked in the past
  • Observing your past actions that have been successful




The dream inquiry-phase focuses on what would work for yourself and the company in the future. This ‘dream session’ can be run in a large group conference or can be done with a few peers. Either way, it should allow everyone to open up about what they want to see from the business and any ideas they may have for development. The idea of the ‘dream’ part of this model is to use positive ideas to create a vision for the future, that is based on examples of known success from the past. Along the way you would create goals and accomplishments that will help you, and the business, to realise the dreamed-of scenario.

Examples of dream inquiry-phase questions:

  • “Imagine if what was known to work well was expanded – what would the ideal and perfect situation look like?”
  • “How would this work in the future?”
  • “What do I want to see happen?”
  • “What would be perfect for me and the business?”





The design inquiry-phase is all about how you and the business plan to reach the goals and dreams that were mapped out in the discovery and dream inquiry-phases. This part of the model focuses on what needs to be done to reach these goals and achieve the progress needed. Generally this part is carried out by a small group of members that concentrate on how to move forward, but it can be done with larger groups as well. Anyone in this group is encouraged to use positive language and to think positive in their work.


  • “What do we need to do to make this happen?”
  • “What things, if any, need to be changed or altered?”
  • “Do we need to innovate?”
  • “What resources and support is available to us?”



destinyThe destiny inquiry-phase is the final stage of the Four-D model, and focuses on implementing plans and ideas that were thought out and developed in the previous phases. In this part of the model, employees need to take the necessary actions to progress toward change and to positively obtaining their goals. Experience shows that the Ai process builds momentum and motivation along the way. When those required to make changes are involved in creating the plan, they become committed to implement the changes identified.

  • Gain resources and support for the change
  • Implement any changes needed
  • Remove elements that no longer work
  • Assign roles, tasks and duties as needed
  • Learn and train others to do things differently

The truth is, Ai is a proven effective approach to change management. It does require change-leaders and practitioners to understand the Ai change principles and the method involved. It is easy to learn – Ai makes the complex topic of change accessible and manageable. Whether you are a professional change agent, a manager who has to introduce changes in your workplace, or you are looking to learn how to make a change in your personal or work life, this course will help you. If you’d like to learn more about Appreciative inquiry and how it can help you or your organisation, sign up for a free sample course with us today.