Appreciative inquiry

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Contributing author
Simon Hearn
Kate Roberts

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organisational change which focuses on strengths rather than on weaknesses - quite different to many approaches to evaluation which focus on deficits and problems.

"Appreciative Inquiry is about the coevolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential."

(Cooperrider & Whitney 2005, p.3)

Appreciative Inquiry is often presented in terms of a 4 step process around an affirmative topic choice:

1. DISCOVER: What gives life? What is the best?  Appreciating and identifying processes that work well. 

2. DREAM: What might be? What is the world calling for? Envisioning results, and how things might work well in the future.

3. DESIGN: What should be--the ideal? Co-constructing - planning and prioritizing processes that would work well. 

4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): How to empower, learn and adjust/improvise? Sustaining the change

The 4-D model described above was developed by Srivastva et al. (1990). See David Cooperrider's website for more information on these stages.

While Appreciative Inquiry has always had an evaluative focus (working out what is working well and seeking to improve performance and conditions), in recent years there have been explicit efforts to embed AI principles and processes in formal evaluation processes:

"Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a group process that inquires into, identifies and further develops the best of “what is” in organizations in order to create a better future. Often used in the organization development field as an approach to large-scale change, it is a means for addressing issues, challenges, changes and concerns of an organization in ways that build on the successful, effective and energizing experiences of its members. Underlying AI is a belief that the questions we ask are critical to the world we create."

(Preskill & Catsambas 2006, p2)


Cooperrider, D., & Whitney, D. D. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. Berrett-Koehler Store.

Preskill, H., & Catsambas, T.T. (2006). Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry, Thousand Oaks, California. Sage Publications

Srivastva, S., Fry, R., & Cooperrider, D. (1990). Appreciative Inquiry Commons - AI History and Timeline.

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