This Thing Called Appreciative Inquiry

So, What Is Appreciative Inquiry?


“How can kids and grownups work together to change the world?” (SoulPancake, 2013). This appreciative question was asked to President Obama in an interview by nine-year-old Robby Novak, more widely known as “Kid President.” Novak’s question has transformational change potential; it is a question that inspires more thinking, collaboration and creativity. Learning to ask the right questions and being empowered to engage curiosity is essential to 21st century education, which emphasizes critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication, and creativity (Berger, 2014; Brown, Benkovitz, Muttillo, & Urban, 2010). Creating flourishing and innovative citizens to compete in our increasingly diverse and competitive world, challenges educators and parents to work together to teach youth how to discover and build on successful aspects of the past, dream creatively about the future, ask good questions to design plans, and deliver action.

Stan and The Four Fantastic Powers is the first book of its kind to teach youth and adults alike the power of Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry is a creative, strength-based process that drives questions and future actions. The process builds, extends and elevates strengths by looking at what is working. Appreciative Inquiry relies on an understanding of individual and collective strengths.

These four components, discovering, dreaming, designing, and delivering, are the mainstays of Appreciative Inquiry, a positive approach to organizational development (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). AI has been coined “one of today’s most successful change methods” (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008). It was developed 30 years ago as a business-based strategy to improve organizational growth, creativity, and profits (Cooperrider, 1996). However, for the past 15 years, AI has been utilized within school systems to help staff create more productive learning environments and revitalize visions and missions. It is now beginning to be used with youth to empower ownership and involvement (e.g., Shuayb, Sharp, Judkins, & Hetherington, 2009; Williams, 2011). Initial evidence suggests that AI can also improve children’s creative capacities (Eowa, Ali, Mahmudb, & Baki, 2010). While much research on teaching children how to ask good questions stems from older research (e.g., Hudson-Ross, 1989), AI is a newer approach, a marriage between positive organizational scholarship and positive education. Teaching children AI has the potential to unlock our youth’s capacity to identify strengths, build creativity, and ask the right questions to incite positive action. AI is a positive educational tool that stimulates the well-being of youth through an increase in positive emotion, engagement, relationship-building, meaning, and achievement (Seligman, 2011).

One of the methods that can bring Appreciative Inquiry to the classrooms is the use of the 4D Cycle (referred to in the book as four types of Power). The first part of the cycle is the Discover Cycle: Me Power. During this phase, through questioning, dialogue and reflection, we start to understand and learn about our own strengths. We start to label our strengths and to identify times in which we were at our best. Our knowledge comes through stories. Appreciative Inquiry uses narrative to discover peak moments and experiences.  In the next phase, the Dream Cycle: See Power, we start to understand our hopes and dreams. We start to think about our most preferred future for ourselves and (others) and the community. The Design Cycle: We Power, is the power to work as a team to make a dream happen. Intergenerational stakeholders are encouraged to work together (parents, teachers, students, siblings, grandparents) to produce the desired outcomes. Resources, strengths, challenges  and gaps are discussed. The 4th cycle has been called the Delivery and also the Destiny  Cycle: we call it  Do Power, the power to put the plan into place; to be who you are; and to use your strengths to create action.

Check out this TAD Talk by two co-authors, Sarah and Marge Schiller, along with Charlotte Marshall, on connecting the dots between Youth Engagement and Appreciative Inquiry.