Appreciative Inquiry – Why?

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Appreciative Inquiry – Why?



We recently blogged on “Form Following Function” & looked at the, “Organisational Development Jigsaw”.

We’ve asked, “Why aren’t Organisational Development principles & practices being applied to their best effect?”& we’ve also had conversations about, “Organisational Consulting” and “Leading Change”.

Today though, in acknowledgement that Organisations might be described as Complex Adaptive Systems, we want to take a closer look at an Organisational Development tool which offers an effective and exciting way to work with this complexity & rethink the way Organsiations make sense of the world and basic interactions between individuals.

We are talking about Appreciative Inquiry and at The Mudd Partnership we find this to be an extremely effective Change technique that is surprisingly straight forward to apply & it is certainly something which every skilled OD Consultant, or what Ed Nevis might call a “Skilled Intervenor”, should have in their Tool Box!

Appreciative Inquiry is a Change technique that approaches the discipline from a positive vantage point and is predicated on the belief that focusing on positive events energises and engages individuals. For any  Change Intervention to be successful & at whatever level, this is precisely what you want to see happening as it will ultimately lead to more effective and enduring change: And although Appreciative Inquiry is more often presented as an Organisational intervention, it can also be extremely powerful when working with small groups and teams, &, more recently it has increasingly been used by ourselves and others in Leadership Development and in personal Coaching contexts.

Appreciative Inquiry (or AI) was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980’s and is also based on a belief that, “Organisations change in the direction in which they Inquire”. So, for example, if an organization Inquires into problems, it will keep finding problems and ultimately that experience is debilitating and demoralizing and provides no guidance on how to grow an Organisation out of this mindset and into the mindset of becoming a Super Performing entity – But if that same Organisation attempts rather to appreciate what is best in itself it will discover more that is excellent, which in turn it can use to build the foundations for sustained & powerful change and success.

AI at its’ core is a fundamentally different way of looking at things – Turning things on their head, in fact. Cooperrider & Srivastva illustrated this subversion by contrasting the view that,“Organising is a problem to be solved” with the Appreciative Inquiry proposition that,“Organising is a miracle to be embraced”. So, AI is the cooperative search for the best in people, their Organisation and the world around them & this is very much part of the approach The Mudd Partnership takes in its work with Organisations, Businesses, Individuals, Teams, Executive Boards and complex Multi-Agency Partnerships.

As regular followers of our Blogs will know, the practice of Organisational Development is about ensuring that the Organisation or Businesses’ Whole System works in a balanced, coherent and optimal way. Also at AI’s core is the systemic discovery of what gives a system life when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological and human terms, &, The Mudd Partnership would very much see this as underpinning an Individuals, a Team, Board, Organisation or Businesses’ ability to be agile, resilient and Super Perform!

In contrast then to traditional Change Management strategies that focus on systemic deficienciesAI provides liberating, far-reaching and sustainable change by focusing on liberating human energy and motivation.

Deficit-Based Change Strategies on the other hand place the emphasis on what is not working, seeking to identify problems that need to be fixed and often involve conducting a thorough analysis of key problems, together with isolating the root causes, developing strategies to address the deficiency and then executing the action plan.

A major problem with Deficit-Based approaches is though that they often fall far short of their intended target because of their inherent tendency to be backward looking and fixing the wrong things of the past. Little wonder then that people have difficulty being energised or engaging when the focus is on fixing things that haven’t worked, rather than building on and future proofing things that have!

In our next Blog we will be talking about Transformational Leadership Transformational Change and there is certainly some symmetry and shared territory with AI. According to proponents of Appreciative Inquiry the very act of discussing positive events is atransformative experience & by tapping into the narrative of an Organisation that is functioning at its’ best, AI unleashes information and commitment which combine to create a real energy for positive change. It also stimulates thinking on how to grow an Organisation into a thriving Super Performing entity.

In practice, because the execution of AI is always specific to the respective organisation, there are few hard-&-fast rules; the most basic rule however is that the process is keenly focused on positive events and experiences with the ultimate goal being to make these experiences more conscious, deliberate and prevalent. Whilst any Inquiry into organisational life should be structured to include four key characteristics: Appreciation; Applicability; Provocation & Collaboration!

Richard Steel’s book, “Introduction To Appreciative Inquiry” offers a concise insight to the theory and practice of AI, &, Gervase Bushe has also written some useful stuff on using AIwith teams. However, it is Diana Whitney and Amanda Trotsen-Bloom who offer a four-step model for implementing AI in their book, “The Power Of Appreciative Inquiry”.

So, what are these four-steps?

–       Firstly there is the Discovery Stage: This is where the AI Champions meet both individually & with a broad cross-section of employees; Semi-structured 1-2-1 (or small group) interviews are used to gain insights into the, “Moments of achievement, creativity, operational best practice, core competencies and traditions/values”  – The Artifacts and the Architecturewe’ve talked about in our previous Blog on Authentic Leadership and the power of narrative &story telling, which are intrinsic to the culture of an Organisation and which can be used to motivate and drive forward change; These interviews are used to isolate and elaborate on the,“Best of what is” and get participants orientated to the positive organisational attributes that define their Organisatioin and provide the Thematic Data (in common with Gestalt practice) to frame discussions in down-stream activities;

–       Next is the Dream StageEd Nevis in his book, “Organisational Consulting: A Gestalt Approach” argues that to be a skilled Organisational Development Intervenor, you need an ability to appreciate the importance of fantasy and imagination, &, to be able to work with dreams and narrative; The Dream Stage in the AI process involves getting participants together in large groups to share their individual stories, but it is more than just a collective sharing of achievements; This is an opportunity to envision possibilities that are big, bold and beyond the boundaries of what has been in the past and the goal of this stage is to crystallize all the stories into a bold, collective narrative of what participants want for the future through their working relationships, organisational relationships and relationships with the wider world;

–       Third is the Design Stage: This is where the collection of stories, dreams, aspirations and best practices are synthesized into succinct statements of what participants want the Organisation to be as well as discussing what changes need to take place to realize the desired future; & finally

–       The Destiny Stage: Which is where the actions identified during the Design Stage are acted upon and participants work together to determine what needs to be done to turn the dream into reality; The outcome of this stage should be to a set of high-impact strategies that will help the organisation move towards its envisioned future.

The Mudd Partnership regards AI as a highly effective tool for acting as a catalyst, enabling and supporting organsiational change. It is a technique that liberates the hidden reservoir of positive energy in an organisation and shifts thinking from the negative, limiting and deficit mindset.

It changes the nature of conversations and interactions which we believe are so vital to achieving successful and enduring change, &, it strengthens social bonds and expands the web of relationships people have both within their organisation and beyond.

For more information and to have a conversation with us about The Mudd Partnership’swork with Organisations, Businesses, Teams, Boards, Multi-Agency Partnerships and IndividualsContact us through the Website, by Email, or LinkedIn & let us make a compelling case for working with you!


STOP PRESS: Also coming soon, Watch Out for The Mudd Partnership Takeaway – A new series of Blogs and Guest Blogs, e-Zines, You Tube posts & Digests bringing to you, “Inspiring Ideas 4 An Inspiring Life @Work @Play.”


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