Appreciative Inquiry

Do you want your people to be Delighted, Decisive and Dynamic about the Downsizing, De-layering and Decentralising, rather than feel Disgruntled, Displaced and Dispossessed? Then try a Different Dialogue…

Geof Cox was one of the first practitioners to use Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in Europe. This approach is now core to his practice in both strategic consulting and management learning.


This approach was developed at Case Western University by David Cooperrider. In contrast with the traditional problem solving approach that looks to analyse what is going wrong, Appreciative Inquiry seeks to identify what works in organisations, and to construct future propositions based on the best of what we do. By grounding the propositions of the future in concrete experience, people find it easier to relate to and to commit their energies.

We know from research in a number of different fields that if we think positive, then positive things happen. e.g. the Pygmalion Effect, where the belief of the classroom teacher regarding the ability if the pupil is reflected in practice; and the placebo phenomenon where between one-third and two-thirds of all patients will show marked signs of physiological and emotional improvement through the belief in the treatment, even if that is only a sugar pill.

It has also been shown that a double negative does not have the same effect as a clear positive image. For example, in golf to visualise hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway was much more effective than telling yourself not to hit it into the woods. The mind does not know how to negate a negative, so ‘not the woods’ actually focuses the mind on ‘the woods’ and the ball travels there with unnerving accuracy.

Appreciative Inquiry builds on this research. By focusing on the successful examples in the past and present, we build a picture of the themes and ideas that we know we can do, and that work. We develop an individual and collective mindset of what we are capable of that is grounded in reality. It is a definite shift from our traditions of education, training and institutions where the concentration is on what is wrong.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on dialogue. The first step is to collect opinions and observations of everyone involved through telling stories of what has been and is successful. These observations are then shared in a workshop format to identify the themes and topics that run through the stories. Finally, a selection of the most important of these themes forms the basis for building a series of provocative proposition that describes how the organisation will be.



Some Case Studies of applications:
Facilitating culture change in a Social Work Department to address a crisis in recruitment and retention of qualified workers.

Introducing a mentoring programme in a decentralised, high-tech organisation.

Restructuring an organisation from a hierarchy to teams.

Developing a common working philosophy to deliver the corporate mission in a sales region of a multi-national pharmaceutical company.

Identifying the strategic drivers for the economic future of Scotland.

Addressing the issues of falling membership and involvement in a professional institute.

Getting buy-in and commitment to a strategic plan in the planning department of a London borough.


An organisation, newly formed as a spin-off from a local authority was seeking to establish its organisation vision and strategy.

Fostering agreement in a complex dispute involving Local Authorities, Housing support service suppliers and the Scottish Executive.

Download a comprehensive guide to Appreciative Inquiry