The 4 D's of Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Model & Process for Change by Julia Menard

Team using Appreciative Inquiry in Meeting with Whiteboard

I have a dream that one day I, and those in our world, will come from an appreciative mindset most of the time.

"Appreciative Inquiry" is a way of cultivating an appreciative mindset. Used instead of traditional problem solving approaches, it's a way of asking questions and envisioning the future that builds on the basic 'goodness' in a person, situation, group or organization, enhancing a system's capacity for collaboration and change.

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to organizational change based on strengths rather than weaknesses, on a vision of what is possible rather than an analysis of what is not. Charles Elliott

So if you work with teams and groups of any kind (including within organizations), you might find the process of Appreciative Inquiry helpful.

There are four key stages, all interdependent and continuously cycling around.

The 4 Ds Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry

1) Discovery phase

In this Discovery phase we rediscover and remember our successes, strengths and periods of excellence.

"Appreciative inquiry... holds the belief that people construct their own reality. We create that which we can imagine. Thus, anticipating a positive future we are likely to create a positive future." Graham Ashford, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)1

The primary task of the inquiry and the Discovery phase is to appreciate the best of "what is". We do this by focusing on peak moments in the life of people, groups and organizations.

Organizations focus on what works well. People share stories of exceptional accomplishments, discuss essential and positive factors of their relationships and partnerships. And they highlight the aspects of their history that they value and want to preserve in the future.

Seeking to understand the unique factors that made the peak results and moments possible allows people to let go of the difficulties and focus on, and learn from, the factors that have worked well.

2) Dream phase

The next step is the Dream phase. During this phase participants are challenged to use stories, data and best practices as a launching pad to boldly envision what the future might become.

What is the future calling for? What processes and ideas would work well going forwards? What dreams, wishes, hopes and aspirations do we have for ourselves, our group or organization?

This phase involves challenging the status quo. It's about building a vision of the impact the people, groups and organizations have the potential to achieve.

Grounded in the inquiry in the Discovery phase, the participants construct a provocative proposition, which should be bold, challenging, realistic and worded in the present tense.

3) Design phase

The Design phase combines the stories from Discovery with the creativity and ideas uncovered in Dream.

During the Design phase people move on from the image they have constructed together of their desired future. Next they begin to design a structure or "action plan" which will support and carry forward their shared dream and provocative proposition. This involves agreeing the concrete actions and priorities needed to achieve the Dream.

The Design or action plan should in itself be an inquiry into the details and steps which need to be taken. In an organization this will include all the stakeholders. In this phase, individual commitments can be solicited from the parties to ensure that action is taken.

This phase also provides the data against which monitoring can be made.

4) Delivery phase

The last phase of the cycle is implementation—during which the various actions decided on in the Design phase are carried out.

Delivery is about creating what will be. It includes experimenting, learning, adjusting and integrating. How can we implement and sustain these changes?

More recently this phase is sometimes referred to as the Destiny and/or Deploy phase.

In this phase the relevance of the preceding phases are tested.

Eventually there will be a new Discovery phase when the Dream and provocative proposition is realized, thus continuing the cycle.

Wrap-up

The concepts and phases of Appreciative Inquiry can be used in teams, groups, organizations—and also in individual coaching.

Those who do not have power over the stories that dominate their lives, power to retell them, rethink them, deconstruct them, joke about them, and change them as times change, truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts. Salman Rushdie (One Thousand Days in a Balloon)

What ideas and ways can you think of to use the ideas of Appreciative Inquiry in your coaching practice?

References & Reading

  1. From p15 of Graham Ashford's Trip Report 1: Beyond Problem Analysis: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Design and
    Deliver Environmental, Gender Equity and Private Sector Development Projects (Kamasamudram, India)
  2. Watch this video from the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry
  3. Learn more about Appreciative Inquiry on Wikipedia

If you liked this article on Appreciative Inquiry, you may also like:

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Contributing Author:

This article was written by Julia Menard, PCC, M.Ed. and Professional Certified Coach. Julia has a Masters in Educational Psychology specializing in Leadership. She helps Leaders Transform Workplace Conflict through Coaching, Mediation and Training. To learn more about Julia and her work, please check out her website juliamenard.com. And if you're interested in communicating better and staying calm during conflicts be sure to check out Julia's great ecourses on how to have tough conversations and how to stay cool during conflict. Lastly, join other collaborative leaders receiving regular conflict guidance by signing-up for my newsletter here.

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Image of Team working on Appreciative Inquiry Cycles at desk with Whiteboard by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock

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