Appreciative Inquiry is a way of thinking, seeing and acting for powerful, purposeful change in organizations. Appreciative Inquiry works on the assumption that whatever you want more of, already exists in all organizations. While traditional problem-solving processes separate and dissect pieces of a system, appreciative inquiry generates images that affirm the forces that give life and energy to a system.  David Cooperrider, Case Western Reserve University.

AI, pioneered by Cooperrider, is a powerful tool for change. It has been well supported by research in ‘positive psychology’ which has changed best practice in many areas as well as organisational work. The assumptions of AI, as nicely summarised in a classic book are:

  1. In every society, organisation or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organisation or group influences them 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.

[Sue Annis Hammond The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 2013, 3rd Edition, Thin Book Publishing]

Employing AI methodology, the focus is on what is working well and how to generate a future with more of that in it: a strategy shown to work much better than the more traditional method with a focus on problem identification and fault correction. This approach dovetails very closely with our Open Space techniques and an ‘andragogic’ stance.


We also know that individuals and groups have a dark side, Richard Kilburg (Executive Coaching: Developing Managerial Wisdom in a World of Chaos, APA. 2000) identifies 6 ‘dark side’ problems in organisations, namely:

  1. Human behavior in organisations is highly complex, nonlinear and not amenable to prediction and control in any simple way;
  2. Psycho-dynamic processes are not available to surface scrutiny or simple ‘self-fixing’.
  3. While aspirations are usually for creativity / change, often we see regression, in behaviour and in actions in the organisation (sights set low, please the boss, etc.);
  4. There are too few levers for real change: people ‘change’ after a workshop, for a while. Then they ‘slip back’. It takes a lot of input to maintain change;
  5. People have a ‘shadow side’ which sometimes undermines their conscious efforts;
  6. Often people are promoted because they are good at one thing, then asked to do another without training (version of the “Peter principle”.)

Consequently, we have included elements that recognise this. For example, we use a modern variation of the SWOT planning technique: SOLAR. This is an adapted version of the AI method SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) developed by Stavros and Hinrichs (The Thin Book of SOAR, 2011, Thin Book Publishing). By adding a factor for Limitations we are able to leverage both the power of the strengths-based SOAR model with added realism of seeing ‘dark side’ issues.


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