Appreciative Inquiry

Solving Problems by Looking at What's Going Right

© iStockphoto/Yuri_Accurs

Imagine that your organization's order book is full, and you're desperate to expand your business – but you just can't find the staff you need. What's worse, cash is tight, your recruitment budget is stretched to breaking point, and you strongly suspect that some of the approaches you're using just aren't working.

One approach here is to focus on the things that aren't working, and think about how you can fix them. This is the conventional approach to problem-solving. In many cases it's the right one to use. However in others, all it does is bring you up to the same bland level as everyone else.

Another approach is to shift to a positive perspective, look at the things that are working, and build on them. In some situations this can be very powerful because, by focusing on positives, you can build the unique strengths which bring real success.

This is the premise behind "Appreciative Inquiry", a method of problem solving that was pioneered by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University in the mid 1980s.

To understand the basis of Appreciative Inquiry it is useful to look at the meaning of the two words in context.

  • Appreciation means to recognize and value the contributions or attributes of things and people around us.
  • Inquiry means to explore and discover, in the spirit of seeking to better understand, and being open to new possibilities.

When combined, this means that by appreciating what is good and valuable in the present situation, we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive change for the future.

Using Appreciative Inquiry: The 5D Approach

To apply Appreciative Inquiry to a problem solving situation, it's important to focus on positives. A positive energy approach helps you build on your strengths, just as conventional problem-solving can help you manage or eliminate your weaknesses.

The first step of the process is to identify and describe the problem you're trying to solve. From there you go on to look at the issue in four phases: Discovery, Dream, Design and Deliver. This approach is described in the 5 steps below.

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