Appreciative Inquiry

The Tool

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a form of professional inquiry and research. It is a tool for change and organizational development. The AI approach builds on positive practice already in existence and asks how it can be extended into other areas. It is a great tool for sharing and growing best practice within and between schools. As the term suggests AI is appreciative in nature.

The assumption of AI is that there are already a lot of good things going on in most schools. The intention is to capture it so that it can be recognized and spread and therefore have greater influence. Appreciative Inquiry brings the positive practices out into the open in the form of telling stories that can be shared and their influence therefore spread.

It is a good tool to use when carrying out action research. It is a constructivist model of learning and building greater knowledge by exploring the practice of others and learning from it.

How to use

  • a school improvement tool
  • action research tool
  • to learn from and share best practice
  • to celebrate and reinforce perceived success
  • to respect the perspectives of people whose practice you are exploring
  • to build a vision for the future
  • to create a culture of growth and development
  • to involve people in bringing about change in a positive way

Listen to this introduction to Appreciative Inquiry:


Appreciative Inquiry is sometimes referred to as the 4Ds model. This model was coined by Cooperrider and Whitney. The four stages are:

  • Discovery: begin by looking for what is working and/or what is best practice. The discovery is based on carrying out interviews with the purpose of appreciating what is happening. In this stage when carrying out interviews find out how practice has been developed and led. What were the actions, but also what were the attitudes and behaviors that had facilitated developments? Discover what actually happens which has had a positive impact on students. Find out what resources, both human and physical have helped practice become established.
  • Dream: this is where you envision what might be in your own situation or school. It involves creating a compelling positive image of the preferred future. These could be in the form of 'provocative propositions'. You consider the future - 'what might be' - through reflection on the discovery outcomes. You then consider what the implications are for people (both yourself and other people in your school) if you are going to bring about the positive change which you have learnt from your best practice discovery. What are the implications for the development of people within your school or leadership actions / behaviours? Having reflected on best practice what might your school do more of or do differently, to achieve even greater success? What resources might help this become a reality?
  • Design: This is where you start to turn your dream into reality by formulating an action plan. You may wish to choose your existing school development, operational or improvement plan as a format. It should, however, focus on both what you personally will do to make the dream become a reality and what your school will do. You need to identify those who will carry out the actions and ways in which they will be supported. What will be your role as a leader? What are the anticipated outcomes, impact measures and evaluation strategies? Establish both principles and priorities.
  • Destiny: This is the delivery stage when the actions that you have determined for the design are implemented. the focus is on taking sustained action to bring about the dream in your school.

Top Tips:

Sue Annis Hammond talks of the eight assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry:

  1. In every school something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes a 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 outcome 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.

Where to learn more

Appreciative Inquiry Commons. Click HERE to access this site which provides many resources on carrying out appreciative inquiry.

5-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry

There is also a 5D model of appreciative inquiry that starts with a defining stage - what is the topicof inquiry?

  1. Define – What is the topic of inquiry? – It is important to define the overall focus of the inquiry (what the system wants more of). Definition is used to clarify the area of work to be considered. Despite being the starting point of the cycle, it’s a recent addition – the 5Ds were originally the 4Ds, including discover, dream, design and destiny. Definition defines the project’s purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved. In this phase, the guiding question is, “What generative topic do we want to focus on together?”
  2. Discover – Appreciating the best of ‘what is’ – Discovery is based on a dialogue, as a way of finding ‘what works’. It rediscovers and remembers the organization or community’s successes, strengths and periods of excellence.
  3. Dream – Imagining ‘what could be’ – Imagining uses past achievements and successes identified in the discovery phase to imagine new possibilities and envisage a preferred future. It allows people to identify their dreams for a community or organization; having discovered ‘what is best’. They have the chance to project it into their wishes, hopes and aspirations for the future
  4. Design – Determining ‘what should be’ – Design brings together the stories from discovery with the imagination and creativity from dream. We call it bringing the ‘best of what is’ together with ‘what might be’, to create ‘what should be – the ideal’.
  5. Deliver/Destiny – Creating ‘what will be’ – The fifth stage in the 5Ds process identifies how the design is delivered, and how it’s embedded into groups, communities and organizations. In early appreciative inquiry development, it was called ‘delivery’, based on more traditional organizational development practice. The term ‘destiny’ is more prevalent now.

Moore, C., What is appreciative inquiry? A brief history and real life examples. This article provides a good background to AI and provides many resouces for use in professional development - TED Talks and YouTube videos.

What is Appreciative Inquiry? A Short Guide to the Appreciative Inquiry Model & Process, Benedictine University

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    1. ^ Cooperrider, D and Whitney, D, 2005, Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change, San Francisco, CA, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. 
    2. ^ Hammond, S, The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry. Plano, TX: Thin Book Publishing
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