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Appreciative Inquiry Summary

Appreciative Inquiry is a process for engaging people in building the kinds of
Organisations and a world they want to live in. Working from people’s’ strengths and positive experiences, AI co-creates a future based on collaboration and open dialogue. –David Cooperrider

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of approaching organizational health from a strengths perspective rather than from a deficit based perspective. David Cooperrider, the founder or Appreciative Inquiry describes it this way:

“More than a method or technique, the appreciative mode of inquiry is a means of living with, being with and directly participating in the life of a human system in a way that compels one to inquire into the deeper life-generating essentials and potentials of organizational existence.”

Definition: Appreciation, noun
1. gratitude; thankful recognition:
2. the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.
3. clear perception or recognition, especially of aesthetic quality: a course in art appreciation.
4. an increase or rise in the value of property, goods, etc.
5. critical notice; evaluation; opinion, as of a situation, person, etc.
6. a critique or written evaluation, especially when favorable. (

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) uses “understanding-through-empathy” utilizing first-hand interviews with stakeholders of the organization. The AI philosophy is focused on what can be “appreciated,” in other words, what’s going right, what’s going well, and what is good, and what can we create in our present situation. Instead of relying merely on an objective set of  facts, figures, charts, benchmark comparisons, and discussions solely with leadership. AI prefers direct and substantive interaction with everyone connected with the organization.

AI is NOT a set of techniques, but a way of thinking, a philosophical approach, an attitude that considers an organization (in our case a congregation) a “mystery to be explored” rather than a “problem to be solved.”

Cooperrider AI principles are::

The constructionist principle – Words create worlds
The simultaneity principle – Inquiry is change – the first question is fateful…
The anticipatory principle – Image inspires action
The poetic principle – What we focus on grows
The positive principle – Positive questions lead to positive change

There are three tools utilized by AI that put these principles into practical use:

I.     Appreciative Inquiry Conversations. This is the heart of the AI process and is sometimes called “appreciative conversations.” AI conversations are structured conversations centered on strategically crafted questions that build on Cooperrider’s AI principles.

II.     The 5D cycle – Definition, Discovery, Dream, Desiny/Delivery

  • Definition –  Choose the “issue-at-hand,” the area, theme or concern to be processed.
  • Discovery – The main approach are your strategically crafted questions, an in depth investigation on “what works,” building on previous successes of the organization, known strengths, existing resources.
  • Dream – Within the bounds of the organization’s history, the question is asked: What do we as an organization wish to be?
  • Design – In this stage, the stories and other input from the AI conversations combine with the imagination and creativity from the dream. From this, structures and plans are created and work arrangements are made toward goals set.
  • Destiny/Delivery – Continued fine tuning of the dream, structures, plans and work arrangements to build momentum and drive toward results. A lot of focus on commitment across the organization.

III.    SOAR™   (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results/Resources)

SOAR is the AI alternative to the traditional SWOT analysis. The intent of SOAR is to encourage a more innovative and positive approach to asset-based strategic planning. It is believed that it creates enthusiasm and greater positive momentum.

A Christian Leadership Application

Dr. Rob Voyle and Dr. Kim Voyle from refer to AI for congregations as The Five Phases:

  1. Define –-Awareness of the need for development. Preparing for an appreciative process. Committing to the positive.
  2. Discover – What in God’s name is going on in your church? Interview process and gathering of life-giving experience within congregation. Valuing the Best of What Is.
  3. Dream – What is God and the community calling us to be? What would our church look like in 5 years time? Developing common images of the future. Visioning the Ideal.
  4. Design – Aligning values, structures and mission with the ideal. Developing achievable plans and steps to make the vision a reality. Dialoguing What Should Be.
  5. Deliver – Doing Christ’s Work in the World. Co-creating a sustainable, preferred future. Who, What, When, Where, How? Innovating What Will Be.

Helpful Insights about AI:

  • AI is NOT just about positive thinking. AI is the first cousin of positive psychology and has a long and well-documented history.
  • It’s about a way of thinking and working based on principles (not a set of rules or procedures).
  • AI handles issues just as effectively as traditional methods (some say even better!), but endeavors to find the opportunity and strength rather than “the problem” that must be solved or corrected.  
  • When practiced well, AI can be transformational for individuals and organizations.
  • AI training is advised; see below for some resources to understand AI better.
  • Even if not professionally trained, there is phenomenal benefit to learning to ask powerful questions.
  • Practice thinking in terms of “open-ended” and positively phrased questions. Open-ended questions are especially helpful since most organizational issues involve adaptive challenges (closed questions are better suited for technical challenges).

A couple of helpful visuals:


Branson, Mark Lau, Ed.D, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry, Missional Engagement, and Congregational Change, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; June 9, 2016, Second Edition.

TheDruckerSchool Distinguished Visiting Professor David Cooperrider talks about Appreciative Inquiry and the power of strength-based leadership.

The power of resilience: David Cooperrider at TEDxUNPlaza 2013; David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. is the Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship.

Appreciative Inquiry & Positive Psychology Resources: Getting Started (UNC Health Sciences Library); (many resources here).

The Appreciative Way (mentioned above), Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings. Many resources for using AI in your congregation or other Church ministry.

Cooperrider, David L. (1990). “Positive Image, Positive Action: The Affirmative Basis of Organizing”. Appreciative Management and Leadership, Srivastva, Suresh, Cooperrider, David L. and Associates. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cooperrider, David L. and Srivastva, Suresh (1987). “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life”. Chapter 4 in W. Pasmore and R. Woodman (Eds.), Research in Organizational Change and Development, Vol. I, 129 – 169. JAI Press.