Appreciative Inquiry(1)

A very brief outline and discussion of the Five Principles of appreciative inquiry (AI)

By Michael Mallows


1/ The Positive Principle
Things like hope, excitement, inspiration, caring, camaraderie, sense of urgent purpose and sheer joy in creating something meaningful together are all essentially, what we mean by being positive. This is why it is suggested that a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that the question being asked, the direction of the inquiry is affirmative and positive.
Positive images lead to positive actions.

2/ The Constructionist Principle
Social Constructionism argues that the language and metaphors we use don't just describe reality (the world); they actually create 'our' reality (the world). This is the reason great care is taken with the choice of language - as it will influence the kind of future we create.

The way we know i.e. think/feel, influences our attitude and response. This principle suggests that we construct (make) meaning rather than extract it.

Just as different people will read the same book or article and come up with a different meaning so we can "read" an organisation differently. And just as we can come to a revised, refined or different meaning after discussing a book, we can and in fact do come to a "socially constructed" meaning about all manner of 'things' including organisations.

As we experience, process and interpret the world through various filters and influences, consciously or not, we are socially constructing' the reality 'out there'. If that is the case, why not, consciously, look for the "good stuff"?

HOPE - hearing other people’s experience.

The enlivening and liberating quality we call 'hope' (a real possibility) is liberated by sharing the "good stuff" such as our success stories.

 Appreciation involves some blend of thankfulness, admiration, approval, and gratitude. It can also mean recognition of viewpoint or value to another.

3/ The Simultaneity Principle
The moment we begin to inquire into something change begins to happen. There are no neutral questions or comments. Inquiry and change – for all intents and purposes – are simultaneous events.

We have a choice and our choice will influence the outcome.

An interesting and useful question that demonstrates this principle is: What was the best thing that has happened to you in the last week (at work)? This question can lead to genuinely interesting and 'productive' discussions.

The heart of AI is the unconditional positive question. Once asked that question becomes, as it were, the seed from which change will emerge.

4/ The Anticipatory Principle
Expectations impact the direction of action and attitudes. If we expect an event to be unpleasant and uncomfortable - often, it is so!

Our vision of the future has a very deep and profound influence on the way we act in the present. In effect ‘grow into’ the images we create. Hence if we are out to achieve deep or profound change we need to spend some time crafting or co-creating appropriate visions of the future.   

The anticipation (or vision) being referred to in this context is born out of hope based on some actual realisations or experiences. It is not a flight of fantasy. It is brought into being with the exercise of our imagination, which (Einstein says) is our most powerful ability.

In the organisational context we engage the 'whole system' to check for beliefs, hopes and aspirations that are or may be relevant to the group.

 Hence we ask questions such as what gives life to this organisation or in the vernacular: "what creates the buzz or turns people on?"

Our being, our relationships, our organisations are affected by the presence or absence of these principles.

5/ The Poetic Principle
Just as a poem expresses variety and different meanings so can people and events. Looked at appreciatively, any situation can 'reveal' useful foundations on which a desired and desirable future can be built.

 What we focus on grows.
"At my best" stories bring out qualities that had previously not been realised.   In choosing the topic for an Appreciative Inquiry or investigation (interpretation) we are, in effect, helping to write the next chapter in the life of that organisation and the people in it.

[1] Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, e.g. the economy has appreciated in value. Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.

In-quire’ (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION