Appreciative Inquiry – Building on the Positive


Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a transformative approach to organizational change and development that diverges from traditional problem-solving methods. Instead of focusing on what's wrong or broken, AI emphasizes identifying and amplifying what's already working well. This strengths-based methodology engages people in the process of discovering positive aspects, dreaming about future possibilities, designing strategies to achieve these visions, and sustaining positive change.


Appreciative Inquiry can be used in various contexts, including:
  • Organizational Development: Help organizations improve their culture, processes, and overall effectiveness by leveraging strengths.
  • Change Management: Facilitate smooth transitions during times of change by focusing on what's working and building on that.
  • Leadership Development: Develop leadership skills by encouraging leaders to recognize and amplify the strengths of their teams and organizations.


While traditional inquiry approaches focus on addressing what isn’t good, appreciative Inquiry (AI) is focused on amplifying what’s good and what is working. It is a strengths-based approach to engage people in discovering, dreaming, designing, and sustaining positive change. To appreciate is to look for the good and to inquire is to explore and discover possibilities. The core idea is that by asking positive questions and highlighting what is working well, organizations can foster positive change and bring out the best in people, processes, and the organization. AI is grounded in the belief that organizations grow and evolve in the direction of what they focus on. Perception is shaped by the language and discourse we use. AI focuses on using positive, affirmative language to shape the future and emphasizes building on strengths rather than fixating on weaknesses. Problem-solving can focus more on what’s broken and thereby can generate blame and drain energy. AI on the other hand looks to celebrate and build on what’s working, creating positive energy and optimism.   Appreciative Inquiry (AI) differs from other change management approaches in several key ways:
  1. Focus on strengths vs. problems: AI emphasizes identifying and building upon an organization's strengths and positive potential, rather than focusing on problems and weaknesses. Other approaches often start by analyzing problems to fix.
  2. Positive questions drive change: AI proposes that the questions we ask shape the change process. Positive, affirmative questions lead to positive change and action. This contrasts with problem-focused questions that can reinforce negative patterns.
  3. Collaborative process: AI engages all stakeholders in a collaborative process of discovering, dreaming, designing and sustaining positive change. Many change initiatives are driven top-down without broad involvement.
  4. Shared vision of the future: AI involves creating a shared, positive vision of the future that inspires and mobilizes change. Other approaches may not invest as much in developing a compelling vision.
  5. Builds on what's working: AI seeks to identify and amplify what is already working well in an initiative, process, organization, or community. It builds on existing strengths.
  6. Promotes positive culture: By focusing on the positive, AI fosters a more positive culture and increased engagement and motivation among employees. This can lead to higher levels of commitment to the change.

Sample Activity

Here is a process for using Appreciative Inquiry to tackle a challenge:
  1. Define the Positive Question Start by framing the challenge in a positive, affirmative way. Ask questions like "How can we leverage our strengths to address this challenge?" or "What would success look like in tackling this issue?" These types of questions shift the focus towards positive possibilities rather than problems.
  2. Discover Positive Practice Engage the relevant stakeholders in discovering past positive experiences and successes related to the challenge. Ask them to share stories about when they felt most effective, alive, and successful in a similar situation. This helps identify existing strengths and best practices to build upon.
  3. Dream of the Ideal Future Use the insights from the discovery phase to envision an ideal future state - what the successful resolution of the challenge would look like. Encourage participants to dream big and imagine the greatest possible positive outcome. This creates an inspiring, motivating vision.
  4. Design Strategies Collaboratively design specific strategies and action plans for achieving the desired future state. Ensure the plans leverage the organization's strengths and positive core, as identified in the discovery phase. This creates ownership and commitment to the solutions.
  5. Deliver and Continuously Improve Implement the designed strategies, continuously monitoring progress and making adjustments as needed. Maintain an appreciative, strengths-based mindset throughout the delivery phase, celebrating small wins and learning from setbacks. This fosters an ongoing culture of positive change.
The key is to focus on what's working well, the organization's positive potential, and the ideal future, rather than solely on the problem. This strengths-based, collaborative approach can lead to more innovative and sustainable solutions.


Appreciative Inquiry was originally proposed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in 1987 but is now widely used in organizational and community development.

Target Audience:

  • Facilitators
  • Community Organizers
  • Consultants

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