Creating positive change through Appreciative Inquiry

Having led the City of Cleveland’s sustainability efforts for more than 6 years, a few tools really stood out as compelling ways to help organizations become the most sustainable, best corporate citizens possible. Appreciative Inquiry is one of those tools.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is the art of finding deep strengths in an organization, then leveraging those to create ways to solve challenges and achieve success. The flip-side of more traditional problem solving, AI starts with finding the positive core, creating a vision of a more “ideal” outcome, looking at “problems” as opportunities to create this vision, and working forward from there. Essentially, it focuses on increasing what organizations do well, instead of eliminating what they do badly.

Created over 25 years ago by Dr. David Cooperrider and Dr. Ronald Fry of Case Western Reserve University, the Appreciative Inquiry model is finding increasing use. Since it is a collaboration tool that thrives on the input of multiple parties, such as numerous levels of employees from many divisions or parts of the world, external stakeholders like customers, vendors and suppliers, and even watchdog groups, different viewpoints lead to unexpected outcomes. AI is self directed and inspired, harnessing the power of individual interests that lead to organizational success.

The four phases of Appreciative Inquiry – Discovery, Dream, Design, and Deploy – create a fresh perspective. Since we are barraged with little and big challenges in our daily lives, the art of AI can be a refreshing twist on finding solutions.

  • It starts with a positive mindset – Discover strengths. This positive frame of mind allows for creativity and innovation, whereas the “focus on the problem” mindset, from a psychological standpoint, closes the mind with something akin to a “fight or flight” reaction.
  • Dreaming comes naturally – what is the ideal future outcome?
  • Design flows organically with participants aligning with what they are most interested in.
  • Deploy asks participants to act and implement their design, thus fulfilling the plan. AI creates actionable plans and engages the whole system to implement them.

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