Module Nine: Appreciative Inquiry

Traditional communication often focuses on what is wrong and how we can fix it. Think back to your last performance review, visit the doctor or your latest disagreement with a friend or spouse.

An appreciative inquiry does the opposite: it focuses on what is right and how we can make it better. Many organizations have found it to be a refreshing, energizing way of approaching problems and revitalizing their people.

Although we could spend a whole day talking about appreciative inquiry, this module will give you a brief taste of what AI is all about.


The Purpose of AI

To understand the purpose of Appreciative Inquiry, let’s look at each of its parts.

  • Appreciate is defined by the Random House dictionary as, “to value or regard highly; to be fully conscious of; be aware of; detect; to rise in value.”
  • In the same dictionary, inquiry is defined as, “the act of inquiring or of seeking information by questioning.”

Therefore, appreciative inquiry can be defined as, “the act of seeking information about the things that we value.”


The Four Stages

Appreciative Inquiry includes four basic stages. Note that these stages are viewed as a cycle – AI allows people and organizations to grow and evolve through the continuous use of the process.



Examples and Case Studies


Appreciative inquiry has been used in many different ways in many different organizations. Some projects where it has been a key tool include:

  • Creation of a learning network for organizational psychologists at the California School of Professional Psychology
  • Process improvement at John Deere that resulted in millions of dollars in savings
  • Relief efforts for children orphaned by AIDS in Zimbabwe.
  • Integration of mental health services in England.

For detailed case studies, please visit the Appreciate Inquiry Commons.