In many organisations and teams, there is a tendency to focus on what’s gone wrong in the past and plan to correct previous failings or weaknesses.  We don’t want to repeat mistakes and want to do better next time.

However there is a view that we get more of what we focus on.  So if we focus on problems and past mistakes, then we may end up with more of both at the expense of not identifying and celebrating past success.

A Maori proverb from New Zealand suggests that “we walk into the future backwards, looking at the past”.  We can choose what of the past we take into the future.  A focus on what did not go so well last year means that we carry that baggage going forward into the new year.

Appreciative Inquiry (or AI) is a means to focus on the past good things.  It started life as a concept in down-town Chicago when all other efforts to transform failing hospitals and run-down neighbourhoods did nothing to reverse a downward trend.  When a group started asking what had worked well in the past, what was good and what made it good, and then asked people and organisations what was their dream for the future, renewed energy and successful plans for the future were created.

The AI concept can be used in organisational development, to make strategic plans and to build teams.  The process is cyclical and follows a 4-D pattern:-

  • Discovery – identifying what has gone well in the past
  • Dream – imagining what could be (with no resource constraints)
  • Design – determine what should be (grounded reality)
  • Destiny/Delivery – creating and planning next definite steps

Appreciative Inquiry is being used in a variety of contexts in the UK including commercial and not-for-profit/voluntary organisations, churches, schools, hospitals and local communities.  It can be used with management groups, departments and teams, as part of Action Learning sets and with individuals in coaching settings.


Ref: The Power of Appreciative Inquiry by Diana Whitney (in the 3D HR Book Store)

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This work by Peter Kenworthy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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