Appreciative inquiry is a process that promotes positive change (in organisations or communities) by focussing on peak experiences and successes of the past. It relies on interviews and storytelling that draw out these positive memories, and on a collective analysis of the elements of success. This analysis becomes the reference point for further community action. Appreciative inquiry is all about locating the energy for change.What the appreciative approach seeks to achieve is the transformation of a culture from one that sees itself in largely negative terms – and therefore is inclined to become locked in its own negative view of itself – to one that sees itself as having within it the capacity to enrich and enhance the quality of life of all members of the community.
Just as plants grow towards their energy source, so do communities and organisations move towards what gives them life and energy. Parents and teachers are familiar with this principle; research demonstrates extensively that children’s performance is shaped by teachers’ and parents’ expectations more than it is by children’s own innate ability.
The most important lesson from appreciative inquiry is that people grow in the direction of the questions they ask. The questions we ask and the way we construct them will focus us in a particular manner and will greatly affect the outcome of our inquiry. If we ask: What is wrong and who is to blame? We set up a certain dynamic of problem-solving and blame assigning.