Appreciative Inquiry

for Personal, Group, Organisational and Planetary development

Why Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a fresh approach to personal and organisational development, equipping people and systems with a greater capacity for change, renewal and focused performance. The director Dr Tim Saunders was a co-founder with Kate McAllister of Positive Engagement in 2005, a consultancy team based in the north west of England using Appreciative inquiry to support the public sector.

How it works

  • The key feature of AI is its positive focus. It discovers existing good practice, strengths and creativity, reaffirming people’s confidence and enthusiasm, and builds on this foundation to deliver long-term, sustainable improvements.
  • AI doesn’t focus on changing people. Instead, it focuses on what’s good about their work, creating a positive, energised state which means they are far more likely to want change and pursue it.
  • AI does not ignore past failures but encourages people to use their experiences to facilitate new ideas, change and progress.
  • Using an AI approach means you won’t be throwing out the good stuff that’s already there when you start to build your new organisation.

Co-founder of Positive Engagement

Appreciative Inquiry Practice

​In practice, AI is based on a five-step approach:

Define – specifying an issue, problem or opportunity to work on

Discover – identifying what works well in an organisation

Dream – envisioning an ideal future

Design – planning and prioritising different ways of doing things

Deliver – implementing the proposed design and making it happen

How AI differs from traditional ‘problem-solving’ approaches


  • What to fix

Appreciative Inquiry

  • What to grow
  • Thinks in terms of: problem, symptoms, causes, solutions, action plan, intervention and all too often blame
  • Thinks in terms of: good, better, possible
  • Breaks things into pieces, leading to fragmented responses
  • AI keeps the big picture in view, focusing on an ideal and how its roots lie in what is already working
  • Slow pace of change – requiring a lot of positive emotion to make real change
  • Quickly creates a new dynamic – with people united around a shared vision of the future
  • Assumes an organisation is made up of a series of problems to be overcome, creating a deficit culture
  • Assumes an organisation is a source of limitless capacity and imagination, creating an appreciative culture

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


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