Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach that overturns our energy-sapping predilection to see the world as a set of ‘problems-to-be-solved’. Developed by David Cooperrider in the 1980’s the approach offers a new paradigm that inquires into peak performance, rather than problem-solving, seeking to identify those moments of out-performance that are aspirational and life-giving. Appreciative inquiry goes on to analyse what makes these exemplary moments possible and whether there are opportunities to replicate, amplify or make these more ubiquitous. The method has been used by:
- The United Nations to develop the Social Compacts which became the Sustainable Development Goals;
- The Cleveland and Mayo Clinics to build world-leading medical institutions; and
- Crazy Might Work’s clients to re-imagine what is possible in every corner of health and industry.
When to use it?
A brilliant approach for innovating in complex systems, where it is easy to be overwhelmed by what is ‘broken’. Whilst critical thinking methods are still extremely valuable in this context, they need to be balanced by approaches that are energy enhancing and inspirational. In fields of human endeavour ranging from sports to space, a strengths-based approach outperforms critical evaluation by focussing on innovation and competitive advantage, rather than obsessing with errors.
A government state emergency services tender was awarded to Crazy Might Work to design to deliver a 6 module eLearning program to address inappropriate corporate behaviour, such as bullying.
Working together, we reframed this through an Appreciative Inquiry lens, developing instead a program that focused on embedding the behaviours that embody the organisation’s values (including how inappropriate behaviour is addressed).
This shift of focus from compliance to celebrating the best of best (including the stories of exemplars who directly addressed inappropriate corporate behaviour) created an instant hit within the emergency services, with the majority of staff completing the modules within the first two weeks of publication.
The program attracted so much interest across the organisation that the Board asked to be briefed on the training program. It clearly demonstrated the power of an appreciative inquiry approach that told the stories of those who epitomised the very best of the organisation’s ethos and culture in action. The stories of these remarkable human beings were captured via a combination of video, audio and acted footage, demonstrating exemplary responses and positive outcomes under even the most challenging of circumstances. The result was an arresting and powerful learning experience that has been embraced by staff at all levels (including the Board).