Author: Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom
As I’ve learned about leadership and personal development, I’ve learned how much these areas are really just all about change. Changing yourself first and then looking to inspire and provoke change in others as well. Recently, I’ve discovered, written about and become deeply involved with another such change. A process called Appreciative Inquiry that is all about instilling organizational and community change. I wrote a couple articles about Appreciative Inquiry when I first started learning about it and so if you haven’t read those, definitely jump back and take a look at those to understand a bit more about what appreciative inquiry is. This book covers it as well, but the review I’ve written skips over much of that introductory material and gets to some of what I found to be more impactful once the basics were already understood.
What this book has to offer is an in depth description of appreciative inquiry and the main steps typically needed in planning or hosting any kind of an appreciative inquiry. There is so much content in this book I’m going to outline a few specific areas that I feel really bring out the value of appreciative inquiry.
Focus on drawing out the best instead of problems
Best example of this in the book is an example from British Petroleum’s ProCare (a US auto repair business) that was conducting customer satisfaction surveys. There was a downward trend occurring as soon as they company began the surveys. They were using the 5% of dissatisfied customers from the satisfaction surveys in an attempt to fox those areas and address any problem areas in focus groups assigned for improving the surveys. It seemed impossible to improve when the discussions and messages were about unwanted cases of customer feedback (or the problems in customer satisfaction). An appreciative inquiry team of consultants was brought in to help assess this. Despite much skepticism, they setup the same focus groups to look at 100% satisfied customer surveys only and the results were stunningly different. The customer satisfaction ratings reversed immediately and started an upward trend. This affirmative stance of appreciative inquiry created the environment needed to restore high levels of customer satisfaction and was only possible by exploring the best of customer satisfaction and to continue to focus on what was working. This is the whole premise of appreciative inquiry.
Unconditionally positive questions are crafted as part fo the process to ensure that the nature of the questions brings a shift towards the hopeful and positive elements in any response. Inquiry is a carefully selected word in this process as it implies there is a search and willingness to discover and learn. Inquiry questions do not lead to a anything in particular, they are about sharing experiences and thoughts or opinions on a topic. They have an openness that shows a genuine interest in the response which deeply engages people.
The third main trait of an appreciativeinquiry is that it is improvisational. It is loosely structured and has guiding principles only to devleop and get results from any appreciative process. It is itself guided by questions and so those involved must respond and tailor their interactions and systems specific to that inquiry. This makes every appreciative inquiry unique and it is that which keeps growing the appreciative inquiry knowledge based with new tools and techniques learn that bring out the vital elements of people and organizations.
Principles of AI
Another element that was new to me in this book was the outline of the 8 principles of appreciative inquiry. These principles have been derived from the original creators of appreciative inquiry and by the evolution from experiences in conducting inquiries with large scale organization and community change efforts. Without describing each in detail, which the book does well, here are the 8 principles:
- The Constructionist Principle – Words Create Worlds
- The Simultaneity Principle – Inquiry Creates Change
- The Poetic Principle – We Can Choose What We study
- The Anticipatory Principle – Image Inspires Action
- The Positive Principle – Positive Questions Lead to Positive Change
- The Wholeness Principle – Wholeness Brings Out The Best
- The Enactment Principle – Acting ‘As If’ Is Self-Fulfilling
- The Free Choice Principle – Free Choice Liberates Power
The authors cover some history of Appreciative Inquiry, its creators and origins. They also explore much about how it has been applied since its inception. There are large sections with great detail about the 4 main stages of appreciative inquiry:
- Discovery: Appreciative interviews and more
- Dream: Visions and voices of the future
- Design: Giving form to values and ideals
- Destiny: Inspired action and improvisation
Why Appreciative Inquiry Works?
The final chapter is called, “Why Appreciative Inquiry Works?”. I loved this chapter as it not only summarizes appreciative inquiry with evidence and continued stories of application, but it also helps solidify the new beliefs around the thinking, words and actions required and what makes it so special and powerful as a process and engaging tool. For some, it enables personal and collective power, others it enhances self esteem and self-expression. It makes a lasting change and can permanently affect a person. The book then covers that there are 6 freedoms that appreciative inquiry enables and how the process liberates power in those freedoms:
- The freedom to be known in relationships
- The freedom to be heard
- The freedom dream in community
- The freedom to choose to contribute
- The freedom to act with support
- The freedom to be positive
In conclusion, its hard to express how useful appreciative inquiry can be and what an impact it makes in an organization or community. I’ve had the wonderful experience of seeing it first hand however in my own work and am honored to be our company’s appreciative inquiry champion steering our process and engaging the whole company with the various stages, tools and interactions.
Its been a great experience so far, has no end in sight, and definitely already shifting our organization towards what is called, “life centered organization”. I’m excited to continue to learn more about appreciative inquiry and to see how else I can apply it in my life and other communities I’m involved in. I encourage you to learn about appreciative inquiry as well and bring it into your organization or community. I’m positive that you be happy that you did!
Prev: Resources December 2009
Next: Action Creates Change