Appreciative Inquiry for Planning


In this post I provide background information about the Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) method and offer an example of how Ai elements were used to successfully plan and fund a teacher education program.

Appreciative Inquiry Background
The Appreciate Inquiry method (Ai) began to take root in the 1980's by doctoral student, David Cooperrider, and his mentor, Suresh Srivastva, of Case Western Reserve University. Cooperrider was conducting research on leadership and organizational change at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. When he attempted to employ the traditional organization development method of problem diagnosis and feedback, the more discouragement and blaming began to transpire among employees. Cooperrider took a different approach by focusing on everything he could find that was positive. He noticed that when he focused less on the negative, people became more open and therefore felt more empowered. As a result of this new “inquiry” (as opposed to intervention), Appreciative Inquiry was born.

Ai has evolved into a set of core principles and processes. With principles borrowed from social constructivist theory, eight assumptions were formed:
1) In every society, organization, or group, something works.
2) What we focus in becomes our reality.
3) Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
4) The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
5) People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
6) If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.
7) It is important to value differences.
8) The language we use creates our reality.

Using these eight assumptions as the foundation, the 4-D model was developed, which includes Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.

Ai 4-D Model

Example Ai 4-D Model Application: Planning for a grant-funded community college teacher education program

Discovery
The purpose of discovery is to search for, highlight, and illuminate those factors that give life to the organization, the ‘best of what is’ in any given situation. The list of positive topics for discovery is endless.

With all of the campus human interactions, services, and programs, the grant planning team members searched for institutional success stories that needed to be brought front and center. By focusing on the successes of other key special programs (per the data), the team used these stories as the foundation for creating a teacher program that would directly address the need to implement academic and student services strategies for future teachers. The team created a set of bullet points that addressed the need to identify, support, and graduate more future teachers.

Dream
When the best of what is has been identified, the mind naturally begins to search beyond this; it begins to envision new possibilities. Because the dreams have been cued by asking positive questions, they paint a compelling picture of what the organization could and should become.

As a result of the Discovery phase, the Dream phase allowed the team to think about what vehicle to use in order to implement the new program. The group envisioned a central teacher resource hub—a one-stop service center—for students who needed help navigating the complex teacher credential maze.

Design
Once people’s hopes and dreams have been articulated, the task is to design the organization’s social architecture—norms, values, structures, strategies, systems, patterns of relationship, ways of doing things—that can bring the dreams to life.

It was challenging for the team to accomplish the items in Design with only a handful of meetings. Further, because of logistical issues, only one faculty member was able to attend the meetings. Team members understood that to ensure ownership of any new initiative, the faculty needed to be engaged. The team established a separate setting with faculty to present the set of bullet points that described the teacher resource center in order to garner feedback. By creating a separate setting with faculty to garner their “hopes and dreams" for the teacher education program, the team helped create faculty ownership for the initiative.

Destiny
The Destiny phase represents both the conclusion of the Discovery, Dream, and Design phases and the beginning of an ongoing creation of an appreciative learning culture. The Ai model suggests that Destiny is about a “shared positive image of the future, everyone is invited to align his or her interactions in co-creating the future.” 

With grant seed funding, the institution successfully implemented a new teacher education program and through an assessment of strategies and their respective student outcomes data of this is a new program, the institution maintained key strategies after the grant was over (e.g., teacher test preparation workshops and student field experience at local schools).  Ai was not employed extensively for program implementation. The grant team continually used student success data and qualitative measures to assess and adjust implementation. The feedback provided from the data was not always positive. The team had to critique itself (sometimes focus on the negative) in order to identify the problem, define it, and address it.

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I haven’t use Ai as a method to implement comprehensive initiatives. With a strong emphasis on “appreciation,” Ai could result in superficial changes because people become too comfortable focusing on the positives at the expense of ignoring blatant failures that need to be identified, defined, and addressed. Nonetheless, Ai can be a productive method for planning.

Appreciative Inquiry References:
Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Publishers.
Grant, S., Humphries, M. Critical (2006). Critical evaluation of appreciative inquiry: Bridging an apparent paradox. Action Research. December 2006 4: 401-418
Hammond, S. (1996). Thin Book on Appreciative Inquiry. Plano, TX: Thin Book Publishing.
Ludema, J., Whitney, D., Mohr, B., & Griffin. (2003). The appreciative inquiry summit: A practitioners guide for leading large-group change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Preskill, H., & Coghlan, A. (2003). Using appreciate inquiry evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 100, 5-22.

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