Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach that challenges the dominant paradigm of seeing the world as a set of ‘problems-to-be-solved’. Developed by David Cooperrider in the 1980’s, the approach offers an alternative exploration of peak performance, rather than problem-solving, seeking to identify moments that are aspirational and life-giving. Appreciative inquiry goes on to analyse what makes these moments possible and whether there are opportunities to replicate, amplify or somehow make these more ubiquitous. The method has been used by:
- The Cleveland and Mayo Clinics to build world-leading medical institutions;
- The United Nations to develop the Social Compacts that became the Sustainable Development Goals; and
- Crazy Might Work’s clients to re-imagine what is possible with a concerted focus on the development of strengths.
When to use it?
A sound approach for innovating in complex systems, where it is easy to be overwhelmed by what is ‘broken’. Whilst critical thinking methods remain valuable in this context, they need to be balanced by energy-enhancing and inspirational approaches. In fields of human endeavour ranging from sports to space, a strengths-based approach outperforms critical evaluation by focusing on innovation and competitive advantage rather than obsessing over 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, but not now limited to, how inappropriate behaviour is addressed).
This shift of focus from compliance to celebrating the best of the best (including the stories of exemplars who directly addressed inappropriate corporate behaviour) was an instant hit with employees, 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 it. It demonstrated the power of an appreciative inquiry approach that told the stories of those who epitomised the best of the organisation’s ethos and culture in action. The narratives of these remarkable human beings were captured via a combination of video, audio and acted footage, showcasing exemplary responses and 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).