It is common practice to approach projects, issues or changes in organizations with a traditional methodology focused on identifying gaps between the current situation and the desired one. The goal is to resolve the problem by addressing the gaps. This helps us to uncover the symptoms, analyze the causes of the problem, propose solutions and, ultimately, develop an action plan for the management team to follow.
In that methodology, the assumption is that individuals and the organization are flawed and need to be repaired. Based on past experience, we believe it is better to tackle issues, projects and changes in organizations using very different hypotheses:
- Individuals and organizations have natural strengths, skills, resources and talents that deserve to be identified, acknowledged, enhanced and encouraged. The past successes of all organizations offer the proof.
- Organizations and individuals evolve in a direction determined by the questions asked or determined by their outlook or explorations. For instance, an inquiry into a group’s human problems and conflicts often leads to an increase in the number and severity of problems. Likewise, an inquiry into a group’s ideals and achievements, that is, their best moments, best practices and past successes, tends to result in these behaviours being repeated and proliferating.
- Therefore, inquiry stimulates change. From the moment a question is asked, change is set in motion. When an inquiry focuses on what works well and energizes the individuals in an organization, or considers their aspirations and desired results, it provokes deeper thinking about the positive aspects, creating a dynamic that makes them even stronger.
These hypotheses or premises are central to the appreciative inquiry model and philosophy.
Instead of focusing on filling gaps to initiate change, appreciative inquiry offers a different, more effective approach. It focuses on and promotes the positive aspects in place that energize and stimulate an organization’s performance. Developed by David Cooperrider in the 1980s, this approach and philosophy addresses organizational development by emphasizing what we can learn from past successes when analyzing their causes.
The appreciative inquiry method breaks down into four phases:
- DISCOVERY: use dialogue and personal stories to understand what could be considered a source of pride and energy, and to identify strengths and resources related to the question at hand.
- DREAM: explore the exciting possibilities and take them beyond any limits perceived in the past.
- DESIGN: make choices and create a future together.
- DEPLOYMENT: put into practice what was collectively decided.
Appreciative inquiry has been successfully used to address both small and big changes with hundreds of organizations worldwide for over 30 years. It differs from other methods by deliberately asking questions that generate the energy to promote change, leading to constructive dialogue, motivation and action throughout the organization. When using this approach during our interventions, we in no way minimize the presence or importance of conflicts or problems. We simply make a conscious choice to not use them as a basis for analysis and action.