The 4D’s of appreciative inquiry

Choosing an affirmative topic

First step: Generate several affirmative topics

You can use appreciative inquiry for strategy development, performance reviews, team plans, team coaching, organizational change and much more? You need to start with an affirmative topic.

An affirmative topic invites people to come and help with transformation. In the start up phase you will need to gather a couple affirmative topics through appreciative interviews. These interviews will need representatives from every group in the organization that will be impacted by the change. A good affirmative topic can be recognized:

  • It is bold. It is something most people really want to see happen. It stretches the organization to reach for something it has not reached before.
  • It builds on what gives life to an organization.
  • It represents what people want to learn more about.
  • It represents what people or the organization wants to see more off.
  • It evokes discussion about the desired future.

Once you have your affirmative topics (3-5) we can finish the define phase and mov into the 4D’s.

The 4D's if appreciative inquiry


Discovery is about exploring narratives and gathering data regarding your affirmative topics. You and your group will start with identifying the stakeholders. Next up is deciding who will be interviewed.

You will than train your group to do the appreciative interview.  You will develop an interview protocol together.

The interview protocol will include:

  1. Stage Setting Questions, such as what do you value most about yourself, your work, and your organization?
  2. Establishingthe topic or subject matter surrounding the appreciative inquiry and developing questions with lead-ins, and
  3. Developinga closing questions that conclude the interview and begins to open the sense of possibility, such as—
    • What are the core factors that give life to this organization?
    • Looking toward the future, what are we being called to become?
    • What three wishes do you have for changing the organization?

Each interview needs to be recorded and shared. This helps in creating shared pride and reality.


Dream is about building common ground in small groups based on the insights gained from the interviews. These groups are about 8-12 people big.

The groups then discuss their individual visions of the ideal organization and describe what would be happening 5-25 years into the future. From this discussion, the group’s collective vision is developed. (If desired, facilitators can direct the process based on themes of the future that have surfaced from the interview process.) Typically, the dream or strategic focus becomes articulated as a vision of a better organizational world, a powerful purpose, and a compelling statement of strategic intent. (Cooperrider & Whitney)

These visions of the future are shared between groups in an expressive way. The expressive way should involve a performance of some kind whether in songs, play, radio or something else. By acting it out creative energy is realised and people can imagine what it feels like to live in this future. Creative energy is a positive force. Acting like it is the future already makes the possibilities of that future tangible.


Design is about creating the Social architecture needed to get to the desired future. This architecture can include leadership, culture, strategy, business processes and practices, shared values. It is about identifying what you need to reach the desired future. You start by stating how this future would look and feel like it is already here now. This is called a provocative proposition. You will need several.

Returning to groups of 8-12, the focus of developing provocative propositions is threefold:

  1. From the interviews in the discovery phase and the future images from the dream phase, find examples of the best, the ideal, the desired.
  2. Reflect and dialogue on what circumstances made the best, the ideal, the desired possible. Record these circumstances in detail.
  3. Take the stories and envision what might be. Write an affirmative statement that describes the idealized future as if it has already happened.



Delivery is also known as Destiny. It is about not just reaching the desired future, but sustaining it. What do we need to be able to adjust and improve along the way? It is about empowering employees to reach their full potential and shared image of the future. Certain questions during coaching can help employees during this process.

To encourage this process, the appreciative inquiry process can be integrated through using an appreciative questionnaire. Typically, the following questions can support the individual process.

  • What about the appreciative inquiry process most enlivened you?
  • What excites you most about introducing appreciative inquiry to your clients/organization?
  • What appreciative inquiry competencies have you discovered within yourself?
  • What’s your favorite story about appreciative inquiry?
  • What visions do you have for taking this process to a new level within your organization?
The power of narrative

What principles are the basis of the 4D’s?

It is important to know about the core principles of appreciative inquiry. These principles will help you guide people during the 4D process.

  • Construnctionist principle: Through day to day interactions an dialogues people co-construct the world they inhabit. This construction guides what we think and do. The purpose of inquiry is to generate new possibilities or actions. Since people co-construct their realities while working different groups there can be multiple realities in one organizations.
  • The principle of simultaneity: Things start to change the moment we start asking questions. Our questions will invite people to think and see things differently. In my projects I often see this happen the day after an interview. All of the sudden my interviewees see new possibilities.
  • The poetic principle: Life in organizations is expressed through stories. People co-author the stories of their company each day? These are the stories you get told your first day at work, but also the stories people tell each other in the hallway, at the water-cooler or over coffee. These informal stories matter a great deal and can be a powerful resource for change.
  • The anticipatory principle: What we believe about our future guides our actions. This is why a shared image of the future is very helpful. It gets everybody to move in the same direction. A shared image of the future should be more in depth than the usual core principles or mission statements. If it remains to vague people will not be guides by it.
  • The positive principle: Momentum and sustainable change require positive affect and social bonding.


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