Shaping positive futures with Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a social constructionist model that seeks to engage stakeholders in self-determined change. Its primary focus is to create change by identifying what is already working and doing more of it, as opposed to looking for problems and trying to fix them.  

The approach is significant in promoting change as it allows the individuals or groups implementing the approach to discover new opportunities, achieve established goals, identify existing strengths and reinforce them, and promote innovation.  

Five stages 

The Appreciative Inquiry process is commonly broken down into five stages, known as the 5-D cycle.  


During the ‘Define’ stage, the project’s purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved is defined.  


The ‘Discover’ stage is typically based on engaging in dialogue to identify ‘what is of value’, which effectively highlights the organisation or community’s successes, strengths and periods of excellence.  


The ‘Dream’ stage involves utilising the past achievements and successes identified during the ‘Discover’ stage to imagine new possibilities and envisage a preferred future.  


The ‘Design’ stage involves combining the ‘what is of value’ conclusions identified in the ‘Discover’ stage and the ‘what could be’ conclusions identified in the ‘Dream’ stage to identify ‘what should be ideal’.  


The ‘Destiny/Deliver’ stage involves identifying how the design will be delivered and how it will be embedded into the particular groups, communities, and organisations that you are trying to create positive change within.  

In practice 

The Appreciative Inquiry model has proved to be extraordinarily useful in conducting community visioning and stakeholder engagement activities. 

Phillips Group successfully implemented the Appreciative Inquiry model while working on a project for the Redland City Council.  

The project involved holding five ‘café-style’ visioning workshops, attracting more than 160 participants, three stakeholder visioning workshops, attracting 122 participants and two weekend SpeakOuts, attracting over 250 local residents.  

These events aimed to educate the local community and stakeholders about the Appreciative Inquiry process and the in-depth insights gained from conducting them successfully helped to inform the Redland City Council’s development of the Redlands 2030 Community Plan. 

Associated benefits 

There are numerous benefits associated with implementing the Appreciative Inquiry model as a means of creating positive and long-lasting change.  

One of the main benefits of Appreciative Inquiry stems from the model’s key focus on strengths, which can help create a more optimistic and positive culture within the relevant groups, communities, and organisations.  

Another key benefit of the model is its promotion of collaboration with each stage of the model requiring the bringing together of people from different areas of an organisation or community. This can encourage cross-functional teamwork, which in-turn leads to an overall increase in creativity, innovation, and identification of new ideas.  

Through involving a vast range of different people in the change process and emphasising the value of their perspectives, experiences, and insights, implementation of the model can help to create an overall sense of ownership and empowerment within the organisation or community. 


Despite the multitude of positive benefits that Appreciative Inquiry poses as a change mechanism, there are some criticisms associated with the model, predominantly stemming from the purported minimisation of problems and issues.  

Critics state that the model’s focus on only the strengths and positive aspects of a community, person or organisation leads to decisions being made based on an unbalanced understanding of the overarching issues they may or may not be facing.  

The main basis for this criticism is the notion that the model’s emphasis on positive framing can be used to shut down genuinely needed discussions of problems and issues that a community or organisation may be experiencing.  

Another limitation associated with the model’s perceived prohibition of negativity is the fact that silencing legitimate anger, frustration, and complaints is a ubiquitous feature of inequitable, discriminatory, and oppressive systems.  

This makes the approach generally unsuitable for equity-based dialogues, as it can potentially block participants from reporting undesirable aspects of their circumstances. This leads to potential issues for organisations or councils who overlook negatives that could also be improved to drive enjoyment, productivity, cohesiveness and effectiveness of services. 

The evolution of Appreciative Inquiry 

Understanding the current limitations to the approach helps guide the future development and implementation of the Appreciative Inquiry model. While it is still considered a relatively new approach to organisational and community development within the field of psychology, the model has now been practiced for over 40 years and proved to be a valuable strength-based approach to growth and strategic planning.  

To rally against the strongest limitations of the approach, it should be implemented in a way that allows those with contrarian views to remain feeling acknowledged, such as space at the end of a survey to express negatives or time in community sessions to talk to improvements that could be made. 

As technology continues to advance, it is likely that implementation of the Appreciative Inquiry model will increasingly incorporate technology in forms such as online forums, surveys, and social media to assist more participation and cohesiveness. 

Given the increase in societal emphasis on diversity and inclusion, it is likely that the implementation of the Appreciative Inquiry model will involve a greater focus on utilising diverse perspectives to create change. 

As the need for sustainability becomes increasingly important to wider society, the Appreciative Inquiry model can be utilised to directly increase sustainability practices within organisations and communities alike by focusing on shared goals and successful reform. 

In summary, Appreciative Inquiry can prove to be an extraordinarily significant and useful tool in creating positive and long-lasting change within communities and organisations.