Understanding Appreciative Inquiry
I was just about to publish an article about three incredible true stories when I realized I had not written about how those stories (or any story) can be used to help team members at all levels of an organization rediscover the unwritten influences that drive every organization. One such process is called Appreciative Inquiry
“Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.” [i]
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is based on the understanding that questions not only elicit answers they focus our attention. Many survey systems are based on deficiency models. They are good at identify problems but the continued focus on problems also increases the validity and therefore significance of organizational shortcomings.
Felt need, identification of problem(s)
Appreciating, valuing the Best of What Is
Analysis of Causes
Envisioning what might be
Analysis of possible solutions
Engaging in dialogue about what should be
Action Planning (treatment)
Innovating, what will be
A recent client provided a perfect example of “Compounded Deficiency Awareness”. The problems identified there were all valid. What was disproportionate was the weight of the issues of concern. Small problems were of huge importance simply because they were not given the opportunity to influence any organizational processes. When we have no control of time, team, or technique the only outlet is often temperament.
AI is a wellness based approach
Healthcare in America is based on a reducing disease model where Ayurvedic Medicine is based on increasing wellness. AI is a wellness approach to interviewing. The process seeks first to understand both the negative and positive attributes of an organization. Only after there is a shared understanding do all participants (not management and not an outside expert) begin the process of developing a plan for maximizing positive attributes by envisioning a better future.
Sustainable transformation in a complex system cannot come from the top down our outside in but must come from the inside out.
The drivers of the AI process are the “Positive Deviants” who with the same resources as everyone else find their own way to do things better.
Whatever picture we create we move toward. If we spend our time imagining what is wrong we will get more of what is wrong. If we place our attention on what is right we will move in that direction.
This is neither philosophy nor motivation it is an irrefutable law of nature.