Appreciative Inquiry – an Overview

Appreciative Inquiry was designed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in 1980 at Case Western University. Cooperrider studied the Cleveland Clinic’s organizational behavior by focusing just on the life-centric factors contributing to the highly effective functioning of the Clinic when it was at its best. Instead of dealing primarily with problems and seeking solutions to these problems in the organizational life of this institution, the focus was on that which could be appreciated and life-giving. The Cleveland Clinic became the first large site where a conscious decision to use an inquiry focusing on life-giving factors formed the basis for an organizational analysis.

Cooperrider and Srivastva define Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a strategy for intentional change that identifies the best of "what is" to pursue dreams and possibilities of "what could be.” This is done in the context of interactive collaborative relationships; a cooperative search for the strengths, passions and life-giving forces that are found within every system and that hold potential for inspired, positive change. This has become a revolutionary way of managing organizations and people. (See the incredible website from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.)

AI is a way of collecting and celebrating "good news stories" of a community; these stories serve to enhance cultural identity, spirit and vision. Through these positive stories, the inquiry moves that community to identifying the best and highest qualities in organizational systems, particular situations, and in other human beings. AI focuses on an appreciation for the "mystery of being" (a term coined by Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel) and a "reverence for life" (a term borrowed directly from Albert Schweitzer).

As I've studied this new way of moving organizations toward positive change, I am reminded that the gospel is about positive change. The “good news” is the story of how God is redeeming his Creation, starting with the restoration of the image of God in humanity. The strength of Appreciative Inquiry is found in its determination to find that which gives life. The focus is on identifying potential and bringing out the best in people.

I’ve been in search of a new way of doing outreach that affirms the image of God in people, encouraging them to submit to God’s grace of restoring this imago Dei through Jesus Christ.

I have found that asking positive questions that draw out the best in people and then pointing people to the glorious destiny of creation that God intends opens and encourages gospel-centered conversations more than solely negative-based proclamation about sin and judgment.

Perhaps AI is a tool we can learn from toward this end.

More on Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism:

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theologien said...

I believe that AI can be good process to understand what is good about a church, or what people dream a church can be, but see no expression of it where they are.

However, I also see a real potential for AI to descend into another buzzword process that is systems oriented and trying to rationalize the work of the Spirit without the spirit.

The genius of AI is that it can help us to see the fingerprints of the Spirit all over the people of God, and how to see where he has been at work, and is indeed now working.

Bob Robinson said...


Very insightful comment. This could indeed be another buzzword fad, using non-spiritual means to describe spiritual process.

However, as you've said, I'm willing to inquire into what God is already doing in people's lives to bring them along on the Spirit's process of change.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Bob, Quite interesting.

People need to be awakened to who they are, and this involves seeing the good (created in God's image) and the bad (but lost in sin, with the need of being renewed in God's image through Christ).

I think someone like you can take this kind of approach, and not unlike Paul, use it to draw people into a hearing of the good news of Jesus.

But I'm afraid that others would take this, others who are less informed and formed in the faith, and it could simply become an affirmation of who the person is without the need of the gospel becoming evident.

The language used in this discipline is quite interesting.

I do think we have to approach this day and age differently than people were approached 100 years ago, but of course in the end with the same gospel of God's grace for us sinners in Christ. And it's like missionary work in finding how best to reach a culture and subcultures.

Look forward to more.