It is a simple technique with a complex background.
David Cooperrider and colleagues at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, first developed the term Appreciative Inquiry in the mid 1980s.
Since then AI has been used successfully all over the world to consult with people and learn from their experiences, involve a whole organisation or community in change and development, and build a vision for the future that everyone can share and help put into practice.
Many of us think our resources are limited, which limits us in achieving our goals – in reaching those horizons we feel we can only dream about.
One of the underlying principles of Appreciative Inquiry is that we have within us all the information and resources we need to renew our workplaces, our communities and ourselves.
This is very different from more traditional approaches that rely on an outside “expert” to come in, recommend or implement solutions and leave.
Appreciative Inquiry and Problem Solving
Instead of beginning with the question What are the problems we are facing here? we start from What is working best for us right now?
Appreciative Inquiry is based on the idea that we do have a choice about how we see the world and act upon it.
We can focus on problems, deficits and needs – the traditional problem solving approach. Or we can focus on what is best about our current situation, looking for assets, potential and possibilities.
The problem-solving approach certainly has its place and can be a very helpful strategy.
However when people, organisations or communities focus only on problems, they may find themselves responding to crisis after crisis. Responses can be fragmented, as they are constantly “putting out fires” or implementing one isolated strategy after another.
This approach sometimes can also lead to the “blame-game” and further fragmentation of responses.
Instead of looking at what is not working, if we ask questions to encourage stories that highlight and explore what works, the answers can point the way to further success and growth.
By focusing on what’s right rather than what’s wrong with an individual, organisation or community, Appreciative Inquiry generates enthusiasm and energy.
It can help us find the confidence and commitment we need to reach those new horizons – to achieve an improved vision for the future.
Finally, for those who would like to hear more, our colleague and friend, Dr. Lindsay Godwin, Associate Professor of Management at Champlain College, explains Appreciative Inquiry in this interview with CCTV and Common Good Director Lauren-Glenn Davitian, in Vermont, USA.