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Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution


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A ppreciative Inquiry (AI) is a theory and practice of inquiry-and-change that shifts the perspective of organization development (OD) methods by suggesting that the very act of asking generative questions has profound impact in organizational systems. Inquiry and change are not separate moments. Our questions focus our attention on what is " there " to be noticed. Reflecting its social constructionist roots (Cooperrider, Barrett, and Srivastva 1995; Gergen 1995), which suggest that words create worlds, AI offers a new change imperative by suggesting that we be aware of the negativity bias that pervades our investigations into organizational life and instead shift our focus to the good, the better, and the possibilities that often go undernoticed in our systems. Building on Gergen (1995) and Cooperrider and Avital (2003), Cooper-rider and Godwin (2012) summarize, " AI posits that human systems move in the direction of the questions they most frequently and authentically ask; knowledge and organizational destiny are intimately interwoven; what we know and how we study it has a direct impact on where we end up " (740). Leveraging the power of generative questions, AI changes the focus of what we typically study in organizational life, questioning the prevailing mindset that " organizations are problems to be solved, " (Cooperrider and Srivastva 1987). Instead, AI suggests that " organizations are mysteries and miracles of human relatedness; they are living systems, alive and embedded in ever-widening webs of infinite strength and limitless human imagination. Organizations, as centers of human connectivity and collaboration, are 'universes of strengths,' " 96
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Appreciative Inquiry
Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution
Jacqueline M. Stavros, Lindsey N. Godwin, and David L. Cooperrider
ppreciative Inquiry (AI) is a theory and practice of inquiry-and-change
that shifts the perspective of organization development (OD) methods
by suggesting that the very act of asking generative questions has pro-
found impact in organizational systems. Inquiry and change are not separate
moments. Our questions focus our attention on what is “there” to be noticed.
Reflecting its social constructionist roots (Cooperrider, Barrett, and Srivastva
1995; Gergen 1995), which suggest that words create worlds, AI offers a new
change imperative by suggesting that we be aware of the negativity bias that
pervades our investigations into organizational life and instead shift our focus
to the good, the better, and the possibilities that often go undernoticed in our
systems. Building on Gergen (1995) and Cooperrider and Avital (2003), Cooper-
rider and Godwin (2012) summarize, “AI posits that human systems move in the
direction of the questions they most frequently and authentically ask; knowl-
edge and organizational destiny are intimately interwoven; what we know and
how we study it has a direct impact on where we end up” (740).
Leveraging the power of generative questions, AI changes the focus of what
we typically study in organizational life, questioning the prevailing mindset that
“organizations are problems to be solved,” (Cooperrider and Srivastva 1987).
Instead, AI suggests that “organizations are mysteries and miracles of human
relatedness; they are living systems, alive and embedded in ever-widening
webs of infinite strength and limitless human imagination. Organizations, as
centers of human connectivity and collaboration, are ‘universes of strengths,’”
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(Cooperrider and Godwin 2010, 10). AI invites change agents to look into
their organizations with “appreciative eyes”—scanning the system for things
for which to be grateful, seeking out what is next and what is possible, and
focusing on valuing those things of value worth valuing. AI theorists posit that
such a shift in our approach to organizational change is needed if we are to
inspire our imaginative capacities to their fullest potential.
An entirely different approach to organization inquiry, transformation, and
change emerges when such an appreciative approach is applied to OD work.
Transforming our underlying metaphor of organizations transforms how we
approach them as agents of change. If organizations are not problems to be
solved but instead are conceptualized as alive—as living systems—then the
fundamental question of change also shifts. Instead of seeking to answer What
iswronghereandhowdowefixit? We instead search for What gives life to the
living system when it is most alive?What is the positive core of this system—
including all past, present and future capacity—and how do we magnify and
engage this positive core with constructive, transformational intent?
At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organiza-
tions, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not
so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but a
fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change
process to “see” the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that
system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes. The appreciative paradigm has
emerged as a way to describe any OD change approach that attends to the pos-
itive core of relationships and organizations. It is a causative theory applicable
to OD, transformation, and change methods. Examples of interventions with an
appreciative perspective are discussed throughout this book.
AI practitioners discover that applying such an appreciative perspective
increases the power, effectiveness, and sustainability of any classical OD inter-
vention, from strategic planning and organization redesign, to team building
and diversity, to coaching and personal growth approaches. AI is being used
worldwide in both small- and large-scale change initiatives across every type
of organizational sector (case studies, podcasts, and video clips are available
at Given the vast usage of AI across the
globe, Ken Gergen, a thought leader in social constructionism, reflects that,
“The growth and application of Appreciative Inquiry over the past two decades
has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is arguably the most powerful process
of positive organizational change ever devised” (in Whitney, Trosten-Bloom,
and Rader 2010, x).
This chapter begins by further defining AI, followed by a brief history of
AI, and an overview of both the classic and emergent principles of AI. The
AI 5-D model is then briefly reviewed, and AI is situated within the emerging
field of positive organization development (POD). The chapter concludes with
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a discussion of how AI is providing the grounding philosophy for the emerging
three circles of the strengths revolution within the field.
To begin understanding Appreciative Inquiry (AI), it is important to first
examine the very words themselves that is what it means to appreciate
and inquire.
ap-pre-ci-ate, v., 1. to recognize and like a favorable critical judgment or opin-
ion; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living
systems 2. to feel or express gratitude 3. to increase in value (e.g., the econ-
omy has appreciated in value) 4. to fully know of; realize fully. Synonyms:value,
prize, esteem, honor.
in-quire, v., 1. to explore and discover 2. to question 3. to be open to see-
ing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: discover, search, systematically
explore, and study (Cooperrider, Whitney, and Stavros, 2008, 1).
Over the years, AI has been defined in many ways. It has been called a
philosophy, an approach, a method, a process, and a way-of-being for engag-
ing all levels of an organizational system in an inquiry into its positive core.
The positive core is that which makes up the best of an organization and its
people and all of its relationships. This positive approach leads to changes in
the organization based on images of the best possible future as articulated and
visualized by the people and stakeholders who make up the human system of
the organization. The most commonly cited practitioner definition says:
AI is the cooperative co-evolutionary search for the best in peo-
ple, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves the
discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most effec-
tive, alive, and constructively capable in economic, ecological, and
human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking uncon-
ditional positive questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to
apprehend, anticipate, and heighten its potential. AI interventions
focus on the speed of imagination and innovation instead of the
negative, critical, and spiraling diagnoses commonly used in orga-
nizations. The discovery, dream, design, and destiny model links
the energy of the positive core to changes never thought possible.
(Cooperrider, Whitney, and Stavros 2008, 3)
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Many articles, book chapters, and books have defined AI as an approach to
organization dialogue, development, design, and learning. No matter how AI is
defined, it is deliberate in its life-giving search to help organizational systems
discover their positive core of what gives life to their system. The 5-D Process
(described later in this chapter) for applying AI in organization systems is, like
the classical OD process, dramatically transforms Kurt Lewin’s action research
model. The major difference is in the appreciative perspectiveandtheroleofthe
OD practitioner. Rather than the practitioner working to identify problems and
deficits in an organization, AI involves the whole system in dialogues among
members (including external stakeholders) of the organization. These conver-
sations focus on lifting up all of the “life giving factors” inside and outside of
a system, and are narrative rich. Instead of analysis of the information being
done only by the OD practitioner, AI encourages narrative process and dialogue
to learn about the best of the past to understand what relevant stakeholders
want more of, and to use that as a basis for imagining the most preferred future
for their organization. It is not a top-down approach, nor is it bottom-up; rather
the approach is “whole,” with all voices in the system working in concert dur-
ing each phase. When the whole organization aligns with a positive image of
the future based on discoveries from the storytelling, dialogue of strengths and
opportunities, and images of the future, multiple projects are designed, agreed
on, and implemented to create that future.
The birth of AI came in 1980 via the coauthorship, thought leadership, and
collaboration between Dr. David Cooperrider and his advisor, Dr. Suresh
Srivastva. As a doctoral student, David was involved with a group from Case
Western Reserve University working with the Cleveland Clinic in a conventional
diagnostic organizational analysis in search of “What is wrong within this
organization?” In gathering his data, David was amazed by the level of positive
cooperation, innovation, and egalitarian governance he was finding in the
organization. Suresh noticed David’s excitement and suggested he follow his
fascination and excitement and make it the focus of his inquiry.
David obtained permission from the Clinic’s chairman, Dr. William Kiser, to
reverse the diagnostic organizational focus and instead take a life-centric stance
in his analysis of the Clinic. This analysis focused on the factors contributing
to the most highly effective functioning of the Clinic when it was at its best in
every way. The Cleveland clinic became the first large organizational site where
a conscious decision to use an inquiry focusing on life-giving factors formed
the basis for an organizational analysis. The term Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was
first introduced and written as a footnote in the feedback report of “emergent
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themes” by David and Suresh for the board of governors of the Cleveland Clinic.
The report created such a powerful and positive stir that the board called for
ways to use this method with the whole group practice. The momentum set
the stage for David’s seminal dissertation and AI’s first theoretical articula-
tion in a journal article calling for an appreciative paradigm shift for the field
of organization and management thought (Cooperrider 1986; Cooperrider and
Srivastva 1987).
The research, in brief, demonstrated a Heisenberg “observer effect” on
steroids, how just the mere act of inquiry in human systems can change a
whole organization. That realities shift as we put our attention on something,
asking questions, gathering information, and paying attention to someone, is
so commonplace by now that we forget that it might just be the most important
first principle for a field devoted to human systems development and change.
For some, this simultaneity between inquiry and change is an incidental phe-
nomenon. It has a name. It has been dubbed “the mere measurement effect.”
However, as it relates to the generative task of AI, there is nothing at all minor
about it. The Cleveland Clinic—under the leadership of Dr. William Kiser, who
saw the power of AI to bring out the best in human beings—became one of the
finest medical systems in the world. As Dr. Kiser later commented, AI created
the goodwill, the collaborative mindset, and the positive practice environment
to inspire an entirely new generation of extraordinary achievement at the
Cleveland Clinic (see Cooperrider 1986).
AI was articulated first as a method for building generative theory. It was a
call for “a scholarship of the positive,” focusing our attention on “what gives
life” to human and ecological systems when they are most alive (Cooperrider
2013). Quickly—beyond its use as a positive organizational scholarship and
theory-building method—the applied power of AI was discovered, and soon it
spread to many domains such as organization development, strengths-based
management, applied positive psychology, evaluation studies, change manage-
ment, coaching and counseling, corporate strategy, sustainable development,
social constructionism, design thinking, organizational behavior, biomimicry,
and learning theory. In his New York Times best-selling book, Go Put Your
Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham (2006) points to the theory of AI
was one of the important academic catalysts for the “strengths revolution” in
management. Beyond the work of Cooperrider and Srivastva, the other two
foundational sources of the strengths revolution in management included Peter
Drucker’s The Effective Executive (1966) and Martin Seligman’s call for positive
psychology (Seligman 1999). Together, AI, Drucker’s management theory, and
positive psychology have created a society-wide, positive-strengths movement,
argued Marcus Buckingham, “because it works.”
Now, nearly 30 years since that seminal work at the Cleveland Clinic
occurred, AI has spread to become a global phenomenon. Today, many OD
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practitioners and scholars are advancing the theory and practice of AI as
part of a historical shift in the social sciences toward more constructionist,
strengths-based, and positive approaches to research, OD, transformation, and
change. Thousands of organizations are embracing this positive OD revolution
by applying AI in for-profit, nonprofit, government, and social sectors. These
range from global and government agencies, nongovernmental agencies,
Fortune 100 organizations, nonprofits, and school systems to community
planning organizations. World conferences on AI have been held in the United
States, Nepal, Belgium, and South Africa.
Given the impact from almost three decades of practice in every corner of
the world, we can assert with confidence that AI is both a way of being with a
process that respects and affirms both the differences and similarities in gender,
culture, and nationality. It is a way to talk generatively across differences and
to find ways forward no matter how challenging the path. AI is an approach
to OD that is highly culturally sensitive and adaptable across a wide variety of
national cultures (Yaeger, Head, and Sorensen 2006). Whenever an appreciative
approach is used, though, it is grounded in the fundamental principles of AI—to
which we now turn our attention.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI), in whatever form it takes, rests on a set of five
principles originally articulated by David Cooperrider (1986): constructionist,
simultaneity, poetic, anticipatory, and positive. These five original principles are
central to AI’s theoretical basis and practice for OD work that is generative and
strengths-based. The defining article that first outlined these principles is “Ap-
preciative Inquiry into Organizational Life” (Cooperrider and Srivastva 1987).
Besides these original principles, there are also five emergent principles, which
include: wholeness, enactment, free choice, awareness, and narrative. Knowing
these 10 principles facilitates the application and adaptation of the original AI
4-D cycle to any organization, from the interpersonal to the whole system level.
Organizations that work to embed the AI principles into their culture have been
shown to become generative and creative, leading to even more innovation in
the use and form of AI itself.
The Five Original Principles
The five original principles detail the underlying beliefs that connect AI from
theory to practice. Besides using these principles to guide organizational change
efforts, applying these principles in one’s life leads the OD practitioner to expe-
rience their relevance in creating strengths-based relationships and success in
organizations and communities (Stavros and Torres 2005).
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Constructionist Principle. Reflecting a social constructionist stance toward
reality and knowledge creation (Gergen 1995), this principle states that knowl-
edge about an organization and the destiny of that organization are interwoven.
Rather than assuming one absolute truth, this stance suggests that truth is
local, meaning that organizational members are continually co-constructing
their own realities (Gergen 2001). Therefore, what we believe to be true about
an organization, how we “know” it, will affect the way we act and the way we
approach change in that system. It reminds us that organizational systems are
never static entities; rather they are continually evolving and products of our
collective co-constructions through our conversations and interactions. These
constructionist dialogues predict the next moment.
Simultaneity Principle. Working in concert with the Constructionist Princi-
ple, this principle proposes that inquiry is intervention. This means that change
begins simultaneously at the moment we first pose a question in a human
system, not after we find an answer. Questions, whether positive or negative,
become fateful because they are the catalytic force that sets the stage for the
areas on which we focus our attention and energy. Therefore, one of the most
impactful things an OD practitioner does is to ask questions. The questions we
ask set the stage for what we “discover,” and what we “dream” creates the
narratives that lead to conversations about how the organization lives in the
present moment and will construct its future, which is “design” and “destiny.”
Just as Heisenberg’s (1949) principle holds true for the physical world, so it is
true for our social systems; we create new realities during the process of inquiry.
What we focus on appreciates, or grows, in value.
As Cooperrider and Godwin (2012) describe, an organization-wide survey
on low morale produces ripple effects through the mere act of asking: “What
are the causes of low morale?” This question concentrates attention on what or
who is causing the low morale; it provides a more precise language for speaking
about low morale, and provides a presumptive assurance if we “figure out the
problem,” then we can apply the “right” intervention to help the system return
to a more normal state. However, one more expensive low-morale survey, even
with all the good intentions, will not tell us how to create a supercharged,
highly engaged workforce. If we want to learn about how to create an engaged
workforce, we must ask questions about when people have felt most engaged
and what engagement looks like to them.
Poetic Principle. The Poetic Principle acknowledges that human organiza-
tions are like open books to be interpreted. An organization’s story is constantly
coauthored by the people within the organization and those outside who inter-
act with it. The organization’s past, present, and future are endless sources of
learning, inspiration, and interpretation, just as a good poem is open to endless
interpretations. We can study any topic related to human experience in any
human system. We can inquire into stress or the nature of positive emotions.
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We can study moments of innovation or moments of failures. We have a choice
because all aspects of humanity exist in every system.
Anticipatory Principle. This principle suggests that human beings act based
on their “anticipation” of future events, and this anticipation affects themselves,
the people, and systems in the organization. Leveraging the Simultaneity Prin-
ciple with the power of questions and the Constructionist Principle with the
power of co-construction, the Anticipatory Principle invites organization sys-
tems to ask questions that help them generate a collective understanding of the
present and vision for a desired future. This image of a better tomorrow guides
the current behavior of any person or organization. If we act from our expec-
tations and we move toward what we anticipate, an important task for change
agents is to help organizations articulate a powerful image of their ideal state,
which becomes a beacon for the realization of that vision.
Positive Principle. This principle’s premise is that the more positive and
affirmative the images we carry, the more likely we are to move into these
images. The Positive Principle supports the other four principles. Positive ques-
tions lead to positive images of the future, and positive images lead to positive,
long-lasting actions (Cooperrider 1999). Taking an appreciative stance in orga-
nizational change helps positively impact the affective side of transformation
by creating upward spirals of positive emotions in organizations (Fredrickson
2009). The positive emotions of hope, optimism, compassion, and awe gener-
ated by appreciative work literally strengthen a person or organization’s ability
to bring their positive images of the future into fruition (Fredrickson 2003).
The Five Emergent Principles
The five original principles have since been augmented by the principles
of wholeness, enactment, free choice (Whitney and Trosten-Bloom 2010),
awareness (Stavros and Torres 2005), and narrative (Barrett and Fry 2005).
A summary of these are presented in Table 6.1. These emergent principles have
elevated and extended the original principles, further helping OD practitioners
apply an appreciative stance when leading organizational change work.
If these principles represent the overarching gestalt of Appreciative Inquiry
(AI) work, the 5-D cycle offers generative yet practical scaffolding upon which
AI work is often built, as illustrated in Figure 6.1. Each of the Ds represents
different activities and generative dialogues happening in a systematic manner
throughout the organizational system. Regardless of the level of work within
the system, from one-on-one coaching, to team building, to system-wide
change, the 5-D model can be leveraged as a guide for creating positive change.
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Table 6.1. Five Emergent AI Principles
Principle Meaning
Wholeness (Whitney
and Trosten-Bloom
To include all parts of a system in creating the future.
Important to recognize that an organization is a “whole” and
all parts are interrelated.
Enactment (Whitney
and Trosten-Bloom
When we act as if something is true in our organization, then
it becomes true. If we want a more egalitarian organization,
then use an egalitarian process to create it.
Free Choice
(Whitney and
Trosten-Bloom 2010)
People can choose how to engage and contribute in the
change process; they then perform better and are more
committed to the change.
Awareness (Stavros
and Torres 2005)
Self-reflective awareness of the connectivity of original
principles is needed to apply AI in daily living. Being aware of
your thoughts, habits, and actions allows you to operate in an
appreciative paradigm.
Narrative (Barrett
and Fry 2005)
Stories have a transformative power in organizational life.
Stories should be told and written to reflect the best realities
“What gives life?”
The best of what is.
“How to empower,
learn, and improvise?”
Topic Choice
“What should be
the ideal?”
“What might be?”
Figure 6.1. AI 5-D Cycle
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Each phase is summarized briefly below, but many resources further articulate
the details of these phases depending on the OD work one is leading. We rec-
ommend that you visit the AI Commons (
and the AI Practitioner: The International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry web-
site ( that combined has hundreds of illustrations of
AI in action.
The Defining Phase—What Is the Topic of Inquiry?
While the AI 4-D (Discovery, Dream, Design, and Delivery) cycle remains the
simplest and the most often-used visual when describing the appreciative pro-
cess, in OD work there should always be a conversation on defining the purpose
of how and why AI will be used. Many OD practitioners have concretized
this process by adding this fifth D, Define, to center the model to cover what
OD practitioners typically call the “contracting” phase of the process. In this
phase, the guiding question is, “What generative topic do we want to focus on
together?” This phase often involves reframing or clarifying a pressing organi-
zational issue into opportunity areas for further inquiry.
For example, when British Airways launched a change initiative that
became the largest customer responsiveness program in the company’s history
(Cooperrider and Whitney 2005), the first step in the process was to define
the generative topic in which they wanted to invest. While the topic initially
presented as a problem of “How do we deal with excessive baggage loss,”
it ultimately evolved into “How do we create outstanding arrival experiences.”
The generative reframing of the topic was fateful, as it helped launch a
discovery process into the existing moments of outstanding arrival experiences
and a dreaming process of what outstanding arrival looks like, and so on.
Ultimately, it became one of the most successful and well-documented change
programs ever done at British Airways (Whitney and Trosten-Bloom 2010).
The Discovery Phase—What Gives Life?
In the Discovery phase, the goal is to inquire, learn about, and appreciate
the best of “what is” in a person or organizational system via appreciative
one-on-one interviews. The ability to collect strengths-based, life-giving
(i.e., the Positive Principle), and future-oriented data (i.e., the Anticipatory
Principle) is key to the Discovery phase. The guiding question for this phase
is, “When we have been at our best, what were we doing?” The assumption is
that every person or system has strengths, high-points, and positive things to
be discovered (i.e., the Poetic Principle) and leveraged for the future.
The Discovery phase has several important aspects. First is the importance of
lifting up individuals’ stories (i.e., the Narrative Principle). Through sharing sto-
ries, the organization’s members get in touch with their ideas and beliefs about
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what makes a peak experience and understand how to create more of these
positive experiences (i.e., the Constructionist Principle). According to research
on the human brain, stories have the power of connecting the left brain,where
reason and language reside, with our right brain, where our artistic nature,
innovation, and creativity reside (Dew 1996). By tapping into the whole brain
(i.e., the Wholeness Principle), we access our full range of ideas and emotions,
giving a powerful base to our images of an ideal state. Five classic appreciative
questions are:
1. Reflecting on History and High Point Moments: What is a peak experience
of “x” or at “y” (customized to the focus of the inquiry)?
2. Learning from Others/Search for Inspirational Practices:Whatarebest
practices from others regarding “x” and how can we learn from what
has worked elsewhere to inform what we want to do?
3. Building on What We Value Most/Continuity: No matter what changes
about “y,” what do we value most about ourselves, our colleagues, and
our organization?
4. Images of the Future: Imagine it is five years in the future and the
organization has become what you most want it to be, what does it
look like?
5. Three Wishes: If you had three wishes for your organization, what would
they be?
The “x” refers to a topic of inquiry such as a high-performing team and
“y” could refer to the organization. AI interviews can go deep when interview
partners are coached to listen with curiosity and probe their partners to share
details about their experiences and visions for the future. The insights from this
phase are typically culled and themed (often by a facilitator in collaboration
with members of the organization) and then shared back to participants to help
set the stage for the Dream phase.
The Dream Phase—What Might Be?
The Dream phase is an invitation for the participants to amplify the positive
core of the system by imagining possibilities for the future (i.e., the Positive
and Anticipatory Principles). For example, the conversation may center on what
a high-performing team might look like, based on the list of themes created
from the interviews in the Discovery phase. The guiding question for this phase
is, “When we achieve our ideal state of success, what will it look like?” The
Dream phase seeks to expand the organization’s true potential and begins to
“shift” the current status quo toward a desired future reality. This phase cre-
ates momentum, synergy, and excitement among the participants of “what can
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be.” Dreaming is a significant activity that leads to higher levels of creativ-
ity, commitment, and enthusiasm for the organization’s future. It is in these
higher levels that participants access the ideas and energy for identifying and
articulating tasks and actions in the Design phase.
How data are gathered in this phase depends on the size of the organizational
system. Typically, teams across the organization will engage in this process and
then share their collective visions with the wider system. There is no method-
ological recipe to do this, you just have to decide how to work the process and
what you want to discover in the Dream phase. For example, in the British Air-
ways example, they “wanted to uncover and transport from station to station
all the best practices that would support British Airways’ world-class service”
(Whitney and Trosten-Bloom 2010, 130).
The Design Phase—What Should Be the Ideal?
The Design phase focuses on leveraging the best of the past as discovered in the
stories (continuity) to help move the system toward action steps for achieving
(transition) their desired state as articulated in the Dream phase. The design
steps vary depending on the complexity of the project, but include a two-step
process: (1) brainstorming and (2) rapid-prototyping. First, the team, group, or
organization brainstorms a list of activities and ideas of things they want to
create in their ideal organization. These are activities and processes that can be
planned and implemented in alignment with the dreams created in the previous
Dream phase. A guiding question for this process is often, “How might we make
our vision a reality?”
Once the brainstorming ideas are synthesized and prioritized, the focus then
becomes on exploring the question, “What will these ideas look like in action?
While there are a variety of models and processes within the purview of OD
practice that can be blended with an AI perspective to help answer this ques-
tion, one of the most promising approaches has come from the field of design.
As detailed by Coughlan, Suri, and Canales (2008), prototyping helps an orga-
nizational system concretize their ideas into tangible artifacts. Prototyping rep-
resents the Constructionist Principle in action, where an idea such as “We need
a new employee-orientation program” gets co-created into an initial iteration of
what that would look like (i.e., the elements of the program are sketched out,
communication templates are mocked up, a calendar for the program is drawn
out, etc.) for further evolution in the Destiny phase.
The Destiny Phase—How to Empower, Learn, and Improvise?
In this phase, the organizational members discuss how to deliver the dream
and design by leveraging the strengths and resources lifted up during the dis-
covery dialogues. Like the previous three phases, the Destiny phase (sometimes
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it is also referred to as the Delivery phase) continues with a whole system dia-
logue. The guiding question now becomes, “How do we continue to leverage
our strengths to deliver on the promise dreams and ensure our system flourishes
in the future?”
While there are many forms of the Destiny phase, this phase will depend
on the complexity of the system and what are the expected outcomes of the
5-D application. Many systems will create an interval process where the 5-Ds
are continuously used to access how projects are proceeding and update plans
for the future. This review involves asking the system/group another discovery
question: “Tell a story about the best things that have happened in this project
since we began.” This is followed by a dream question that refocuses them on
creating an updated image of success; that is, “Imagine it is three months from
now and the project has become wildly successful, what does that look like?”
This can be followed by another Design process to continue moving the project
forward with new iterations. Ultimately, the Destiny phase transforms the orga-
nizational culture into an appreciative learning culture and the cycle continues.
While these phases for applying AI are fairly concrete and understandable—
whether 4 or 5 Ds—the way those steps are carried out makes all the difference.
In traditional OD processes, large-group planning often aims to produce a list
of things that the group wants done expecting some senior-level people will
make it happen. The AI process, however, must be “owned” by the “whole”
of the organization so any external facilitator/consultant functions as coach or
advisor. Of major importance in all of these phases is that some configuration
of the whole is working together to bring about the lasting change they have
identified as desirable. This might literally be the whole system of thousands
of people coming together as in an AI Summit (see examples in Cooperrider,
Godwin, Boland, and Avital 2012), or it may be representative members from
across the system collaborating on behalf of the whole.
Compared to the deficit-based management culture that dominates much of our
organizational life, it is perhaps no surprise that the strengths-based movement
that has emerged within the field of OD is being called a revolution. Since the
1940s, organizations have used the traditional deficit-based approach to solving
problems. Traditionally, it starts with identifying problems, then diagnosing and
analyzing the problems and ends with a plan to fix the problems. As detailed
above, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) provides an alternative to this approach and
challenges the traditional approach to a more affirmative, strengths-based way
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to look for what is working well in the organization and what the organization
wants more of in its future.
Strengths-based Principles
AI posits that organizations need not be fixed. Instead, they need constant
reaffirmation and opportunities to be solution-seeking. More precisely, orga-
nizations as heliotropic systems grow toward the direction of what they most
focus on, or put more precisely, what they most persistently ask questions
about. Whereas traditional OD work has aimed at asking questions to identify
problems, diagnose the underlying causes of those problems, analyze possible
solutions, and plan how to lessen those problems, the appreciative approach
starts the change process from a different paradigm, with a different set of
questions. AI invites people to appreciate and ask about the best of what exists
within their system, envision what might become in the future, dialogue about
what should evolve, and innovate together to make their highest hopes become
realities. Cooperrider and Godwin (2012) created a set of strengths-based prin-
ciples, which are summarized in the left-side column of Table 6.2. We present
the implications for OD practitioners in the right-side column.
Table 6.2. Principles of Strengths-based Approaches and Implications for Positive OD
Strengths-based Principle Implications for Positive OD Practitioners
1. We live in worlds our
inquiries create.
Be aware of the questions being asked within
organizations as well as the ones you pose. The ROI on
change initiatives is dependent upon what we inquire
into: deficiencies or the best in life.
2. We excel only by
amplifying strengths,
never by simply fixing
Pay attention to the initial framing of your work and
beware of the negativity bias inherent in our traditional
OD approaches because excellence is not the opposite of
3. Small shifts make
seismic differences;
strengths-based change
obeys a tipping point.
Instead of focusing 80 percent on what’s not working and
20 percent on strengths, it is important to put this 80/20
rule in reverse to harness the transformative power of the
“positivity ratio.”
4. Strengths do more than
perform, they
It is important to help organizations and the individuals
within them to uncover the best within themselves and
imagine “what is next” in order for them to create upward
5. We live in a universe of
strengths; what we
appreciate (see as
having value)
appreciates (increases
in value).
Focus your attention and the attention of the organization
on what they want to become more of, not less of. There
are unlimited strengths in any organizational system to be
found and amplified if we seek them out, including
success, vitality, and flourishing.
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These principles are informing a new epoch in our work as leaders of
organizational change. Building on the strengths revolution (Buckingham
2006; Rath 2007) and fueled by AI, positive OD work entails three main stages:
(1) the elevation of strengths, (2) the alignment or connected magnification
of strengths, and (3) the creation of strengths-based organizations to become
positive institutions—vehicles for elevating, magnifying, and refracting our
highest human strengths outward to the world (Cooperrider and Godwin 2012;
Cooperrider et al. 2008). As illustrated in Figure 6.2, these three circles of work
are undergirded by the appreciative paradigm—the capacity to see beyond
problems and see possibility and inquire into what gives life to a system when
it is. These three circles, while not exhaustive, provide a framework for the
many streams of scholarship informing the strengths-based approaches we are
seeing gain traction today in OD.
Three Circles of the Strengths-Based Revolution for Positive OD
The focus of the first circle—Elevation of Strengths—leverages the theo-
ries and methodologies in domains such as positive psychology (Seligman
Elevation of Strengths
Positive Psychology Movement
Appreciative Intelligence
Gallop-Buckingham Strengths
VIA Classification of Human Strengths
Peter Drucker’s Management
Principles; Whole Systems,
AI Summits; Nets, Webs, and
Tipping Point Dynamics;
Social Constructionism
Positive Institutions
Business as Agent of World
Benefit Sustainable Societies
Configuration &
Magnification of
Refraction of
Figure 6.2. Strengths-Based Revolution for Positive OD
Source: From D. Cooperrider, “The 3-Circles of the Strengths Revolution,” AI Practitioner: International
Journal of Appreciative Inquiry (November 2008, 8), with permission.
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2011; Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson 2005), appreciative intelligence
(Thatchenkery and Metzker 2006), positive organizational scholarship
(Cameron, Dutton, and Quinn 2003; Cameron and Spreitzer 2012), emotional
intelligence (Boyatzis and McKee 2005), and strengths-based management
(Buckingham 2006; Rath 2007). The guiding question of this level of work is:
“What are the strengths of individuals within this system?”
To help answer this question, OD practitioners are benefiting from the grow-
ing array of tools being developed that lift up strengths and talents of indi-
viduals, small groups, and teams. From strengths-finders such as the Values
in Action (VIA) (Peterson and Seligman 2004) and Strengths-Finder 2.0 (Rath
2007), to tools such as the Best Self Analysis (Roberts, Dutton, Spreitzer, Hea-
phy, and Quinn 2005), the SOAR Profile (Stavros 2013), to appreciative coaching
methodologies (Orem, Binket, and Clancy 2007), there are a wide assortment
of instruments, frameworks, and processes at the modern OD practitioner’s dis-
posal to discover and lift up the individual strengths and assets that have often
gone unnoticed, unlabeled, and underappreciated.
Elevating strengths lays the foundation for the work of the second circle,
which involves creating an alignment and magnification of individual’s
strengths. The guiding question for this level of work is: “How do we take
isolated strengths and amplify them to a new level?” The domains of work
informing this circle of work include the anthropological power of narrative
from the social constructionist realm (Miller, Potts, Fung, Hoogstra, and Mintz
1990), the Drucker-esque management philosophy that emphasizes the impor-
tance of the alignments of strengths (Drucker 1966), and investigations into
high quality connections (Dutton and Heaphy 2003). One of the most powerful
tools used in this sphere of work is the classic AI Summit methodology, which
has been used to convene whole systems of hundreds to thousands of indi-
viduals (see examples in Cooperrider, Godwin, Boland, and Avital 2012). New
technologies are making it even easier for the AI Summit to truly become
a macro-management tool that aligns disparate parts of complex systems
across time and space (Godwin, Bodiford, and Kaplan 2012). Other tools
for aligning and magnifying strengths include the World Café model (visit:, Asset-Based Community Development (Kretzmann
and McKnight 1994), Future Search (Weisbord and Janoff 1995), and SOAR
(strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results; Stavros 2013)—the apprecia-
tive alternative that leverages and amplifies the “S” and “O” of SWOT.
The lifting up, magnifying, and aligning of strengths become the building
blocks for the third circle—the creation of positive institutions, which “not only
elevate and connect human strengths (internally) but serve to refract and mag-
nify our highest human strengths into society” (Cooperrider and Godwin 2010,
738). This circle is perhaps the greatest realm of work affecting the future of
OD, as it asks: “How do we co-create institutions that support both the creation
and reflection of our best selves outward to the world?”
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11 2
A myriad of terms have emerged to describe the work being done in
this domain—sustainability, eco-efficiency, social entrepreneurship, social
responsibility, triple bottom-line, and sustainable development, to name a
few. Theoretical frameworks informing this work include stakeholder theory
(Freeman 1984), the call for sustainable value (Laszlo 2008), and the search
for business to act as an agent of world benefit (BAWB; Piderit, Fry, and Coop-
errider 2007). From advances in biomimicry (Benyus 2002), to the BAWB world
inquiry (see, tools for accomplishing
these lofty aims include the bottom of the pyramid protocol (see www.bop- and the next generation AI Summit, or “the sustainable design
factory” (Cooperrider 2008).
These circles are not necessarily linear. As detailed by Cooperrider and Fry
(2012), organizations can also cultivate what they refer to as “mirror flour-
ishing” by committing to sustainability and other initiatives that help to bring
out the best of the individuals within them. They define mirror flourishing as
“The consonant flourishing or growing together that happens naturally and
reciprocally to us when we actively engage in or witness the acts that help
nature flourish, others flourish, or the world as a whole to flourish” (8). When
people see positive outcomes happening within their organizational system, it
helps inspire them to bring their best selves to their work and their world. Pos-
itive institutions can lift up and align individuals’ strengths, just as individuals’
strengths can be aligned to create positive institutions.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was originally intended and used first as a qualitative
research process—an appreciative way of exploring what is going right in a
system to build future-oriented prospective theory (Cooperrider 1986). Over
the years, AI has evolved to become part of the OD discipline as a philosophy
and process that engages individuals across the organizational whole system in
processes that create renewal and positive transformational change.
Today, AI is a global phenomenon that offers a way of being and a framework
for organizational inquiry from an appreciative, strengths-based lens. Anchored
in its principles, AI can be embedded into all levels of an organization, from an
individual’s life, to team dynamics, to entire systemic change initiatives. There
are several ways to apply AI (via its 4-D or 5-D cycle). The AI 5-D cycle oper-
ates on the belief that the responsibility for transformation and change resides
with the people. The shift begins with individuals within the organization tak-
ing responsibility for the process through story sharing and dialogue that is
The impact of AI across organizations has been felt around the globe.
A recent empirical study by Verleysen, Lambrecths, and Van Acker (2014)
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11 3
suggests that “leaders of change would be well advised to help enact and
sustain the principles of AI and 4-D cycle of AI” and that “AI is an effective way
to increase psychological capital which are conditions for co-creating new
possibilities and effective systematic change” (21). There are many possibilities
to transforming and creating a positive future for you, your department,
organization, or industry. The probability that any of these comes into reality
depends on how you embrace the possibilities; ask yourself: What kind of
future should we live into?
Discussion Questions
1. Take a negative situation; using the AI philosophy and principles, how
would you reframe the situation into a positive situation—something that
you wish to learn about and have more of?
2. How are you seeing the three circles of the strengths revolution affecting
the field of OD today? How are you working to lift up, magnify, and refract
strengths in yourself and others through your work?
3. Reflect on how you might experiment with the impact of inquiry—how
much do you track the impacts of different types of questions you ask?
How does a deficit-based question lead to a different dialogue than an
appreciative question?
4. How can you integrate the principles of AI with other OD methodologies
to experiment with new approaches for creating positive organizational
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Circular ecosystems can be a role model in the transition to a circular economy, can inspire and motivate other entrepreneurs, and may possibly have a transformative effect in the transition. For example, by deploying knowledge and experience for a targeted lobby for policy change – such as changes in the law and regulations. Four circular ecosystems were studied to discover how they function, and what they may contribute to the transition to a circular economy. The research shows that cooperation in ecosystems can provide circular start-ups with much added value. At the same time, the research also shows that the influence of the four circular ecosystems investigated is limited regarding the local transition to a circular economy. The ecosystems are not examples of a circular economy yet. But ecosystems are not static entities. They are on the move, as this research demonstrates.
... Studying human systems-observing, asking questions-causes them to change. Inquiry and change happen simultaneously (Stavros, Godwin, & Cooperrider, 2015). In this same way, positive questions create positive change. ...
Employers set out to create positive cultures where employees can thrive. Despite this effort, engagement surveys find more than 60% of employees are just going through the motions at work. Disengagement affects such key workplace factors as productivity, customer satisfaction, absenteeism, safety, and turnover. What will it take to shift employees from being disengaged to bringing their best self to work? The field of positive psychology may offer promising possibilities. Mounting evidence on the use of appreciative inquiry, strengths-based development, and self-determination theory in the workplace illuminate pathways to initiate and sustain greater well-being and productivity. Managers and others who coach employees are a critical to creating and sustaining this enhanced work environment. This paper examines how the findings of current positive psychology research points to potential ways coaching conversations can foster higher levels of motivation, cultivate a sense that one’s work is valued, and strengthen a commitment to goals. This literature review identified a number of evidence-based practices managers may use when coaching to constructively develop individuals in ways that are aligned with personal values and motivation. A discussion of future directions for this work is proposed through a positive psychology coaching intervention aimed at increasing employee engagement.
A major challenge for community, business, political leaders, and all other stakeholders in cities is to transform their cities as sustainable ecosystems (CASE), to stimulate a healthy economy, and to promote mass social prosperity. Meta-organizing community stakeholders and organizations in cities with a macromanagement approach for sustainable innovation has been proposed as a means for addressing city-level collective action by open communication, positive framing, whole system, generative strengths-based solutions, and quality collaborative stakeholder relationships. The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Platform along with the Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results (SOAR) framework has been well studied as an effective means towards systems and city-level effectiveness towards sustainability by the macromanagement approach. However, leaders, managers, and stakeholders have found it difficult to effectively measure a macromanagement approach such as AI-SOAR, specifically for city-level innovative capacity and resilience. Therefore, we first seek to develop a measurable model of AI-SOAR on innovation and resilience by conceptualizing, structuring, operationalizing, and measuring AI-SOAR. Specifically, drawing upon the social construction and macromanagement literature, we identify a meta-organizing governance structure of AI, and strategies of SOAR that are based on strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results that help lead towards CASE. Second, we propose a structural model where the operationalized system of AI-SOAR influences innovative capacity and resilience in the CASE. A survey of 340 city stakeholder respondents supports both the measurable model of AI-SOAR and also the structural model by which AI-SOAR influences system-level innovative capacity and resilience, particularly in cities. The study’s implication for employing an AI-SOAR platform on the city-level sustainable innovation and resilience building is discussed.KeywordsAppreciative InquirySOAR frameworkPositive psychologyCity developmentSustainable citiesInclusive innovationMacromanagement
This experiential exercise teaches students what constitutes Appreciative Inquiry and how it is different from other feedback models, along with giving students the opportunity to apply their knowledge. Students practice giving Appreciative Inquiry to their peers’ presentations through the use of an online platform that allows for written words along with memes, GIFs, and photos to express their feedback. The activity is suitable for face-to-face undergraduate and graduate-level organizational behavior and management classes who have at least one, ideally two teams-based presentations, and are looking to provide strengths-based, positive feedback to produce high-performing teams. Information is presented about how to set up, run, and debrief this activity to meet learning objectives.
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In this paper, we examine the interactions, decisions, and evaluations of an interdisciplinary team of researchers tasked with developing an intelligent (AI-based) agricultural decision support system (DSS) that can provide farmers site-specific information about managing nutrients on their land. By doing so, we answer the following research questions: (1) How does a relational perspective help an interdisciplinary team conceptualize ‘responsibility’ in a project that develops precision agriculture (PA)? and (2) What are some lessons for a research team embarking on a similar interdisciplinary technology development project? We look to the project team as a source of inquiry and question what responsible innovation (RI) means to them and, therefore, what that means for a project that strives to achieve responsibility in PA research. We show that how RI is materialized in practice within an interdisciplinary team of researchers can produce different understandings of responsibility, different notions of measurement of ‘matter,’ and different outcomes or metrics of success. Future interdisciplinary projects should (a) create mechanisms for team members to see how power and privilege are exercised in the design and development of new technology and (b) harness social sciences as a bridge between natural sciences and engineering for organic and equitable collaborations.
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Background: Using the technique of co-production to develop research is considered good practice. Co-production involves the public, practitioners and academics working together as equals throughout a research project. Co-production may help develop alternative ways of delivering care for older adults that are acceptable to those who live and work in care homes. However, guidance about applying co-production approaches in this context is lacking. This scoping review aims to map co-production approaches used in care homes for older adults in previous research to support the inclusion of residents and care staff as equal collaborators in future studies. Methods: A scoping review was conducted using the Joanna Briggs Institute scoping review methodology. Seven electronic databases were searched for peer-reviewed primary studies using co-production approaches in care home settings for older adults. Studies were independently screened against eligibility criteria by two reviewers. Citation searching was completed. Data relating to study characteristics, co-production approaches used, including any barriers and facilitators, was charted by one reviewer and checked by another. Data was summarised using tables and diagrams with an accompanying narrative description. A collaborator group of care home and health service representatives were involved in the interpretation of the findings from their perspectives. Results: 19 studies were selected for inclusion. A diverse range of approaches to co-production and engaging key stakeholders in care home settings were identified. 11 studies reported barriers and 13 reported facilitators affecting the co-production process. Barriers and facilitators to building relationships and achieving inclusive, equitable and reciprocal co-production were identified in alignment with the five NIHR principles. Practical considerations were also identified as potential barriers and facilitators. Conclusion: The components of co-production approaches, barriers and facilitators identified should inform the design of future research using co-production approaches in care homes. Future studies should be explicit in reporting what is meant by co-production, the methods used to support co-production, and steps taken to enact the principles of co-production. Sharing of key learning is required to support this field to develop. Evaluation of co-production approaches, including participants' experiences of taking part in co-production processes, are areas for future research in care home settings.
Positive organizational scholarship (POS) is an umbrella concept used to emphasize what elevates and what is inspiring to individuals and organizations by defining the possibilities for positive deviance rather than just improving on the challenging, broken, and needlessly difficult. Just as positive psychology explores optimal individual psychological states rather than pathological ones, POS focuses attention on the generative dynamics in organizations that lead to the development of human strength, foster resiliency in employees, enable healing and restoration, and cultivate extraordinary individual and organizational performance. While POS does not ignore dysfunctional or typical patterns of behavior, it is most interested in the motivations and effects associated with remarkably positive phenomena how they are facilitated, why they work, how they can be identified, and how organizations can capitalize on them. This book is a major resource on POS. Eighty articles review basic principles, empirical evidence, and ideas for future research relating to POS. They focus on using a positive lens to address problems and challenges in organizational life and they draw on POS to expand the domain of other disciplines including ethics, economics, peace, spirituality, social movements, and sustainability.
Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach was first published in 1984 as a part of the Pitman series in Business and Public Policy. Its publication proved to be a landmark moment in the development of stakeholder theory. Widely acknowledged as a world leader in business ethics and strategic management, R. Edward Freeman’s foundational work continues to inspire scholars and students concerned with a more practical view of how business and capitalism actually work. Business can be understood as a system of how we create value for stakeholders. This worldview connects business and capitalism with ethics once and for all. On the 25th anniversary of publication, Cambridge University Press are delighted to be able to offer a new print-on-demand edition of his work to a new generation of readers.
How is it that some people seem to have great relationships and success in their lives while others do not? Why are some organizations successful at sustaining positive change while others make a great start but let it fade away? It rests on the dynamics of their relationships. Creating positive dynamics and sustained success requires continuous awareness and informed appreciative action. Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry in Daily Living invites us to step into the appreciative paradigm where the principles governing our actions and relationships offer a means for increased value and meaning in our lives and our communities of work and play. Dynamic Relationships offers us the opportunity to practice these principles through cycles of reflection and action in ways that empower us to become a force for creating and sustaining life-affirming relationships and success in daily living.
Appreciative Inquiry Handbook explains in-depth what AI is and how it works, and includes stories of AI interventions and classic articles, sample project plans, interview guidelines, participant worksheets, a list of resources, a glossary of terms, and more.