When to use appreciative inquiry?

Let's start with the most important point: to me change methodologies are not mutually exclusive. So if I feel I can use appreciative inquiry in a certain situation it does not mean that I will not also use lean or six sigma.

I use an appreciative approach when I notice one or more of the following things:

  • People talk about their problems as if they happen to someone else and they have no power to change it, because ... (Some reason external to themselves)
  • A problem is complex and takes a lot of different stakeholders to solve. These stakeholders do not normally talk except to answer each other's questions. No true dialogue has happened before and as a result true understanding is missing.
  • Previous attempts to fix the problem have failed. The problem has reoccured and energy is low to try and fix it again.
  • There is no consensus on how to fix the problem.
The 4D's if appreciative inquiry

The 5 steps of appreciative inquiry

How to use appreciative inquiry

In my previous blogs you have read about the basics of how to use appreciative inquiry:

I think it is important to stress that appreciative inquiry is not about ignoring what went wrong. It is also not a way to only talk about positive things. To me appreciative inquiry is about looking both at what could/should be working better and what strengths are available in the organization to tackle these issues. Usually there is a lot of knowledge and creativity available in the organization as a whole. 

Appreciative inquiry is about empowerment and getting people to see possibilities in the face of difficult problems. 

Appreciative inquiry is also about getting people to collaborate and understand the viewpoints, strengths and frustrations of the other stakeholders involved. You cannot get people connected to one another by ignoring what frustrated them or asking them to reframe everything positively.


What appreciative inquiry has to offer you

Here two inspiring examples of appreciative inquiry: BBC and Walmart. In the video below you can see what appreciative inquiry does for you neurologically. It is about broadening your thinking and seeing more options. 

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When not to use appreciative inquiry

  1. Appreciative inquiry takes time and effort of all the stakeholders. When this is not possible appreciative inquiry may not be the best option for you. 
  2. When the stakeholders are geographically in different locations you need to think on how bring everyone in the same room. Looking each other in the eye, listening to each other is a very important part of appreciative inquiry. 
  3. Some companies have a culture that is counterintuitive to appreciative inquiry. They may feel it is too soft and not results driven. This will lead to too many people not taking it seriously or feeling safe enough to participate. And as a result true progress in your appreciative inquiry process will be lacking (proving their point). This means that you will need to work on creating the conditions necessary to use appreciative inquiry effectively.
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