Appreciative Inquiry: It’s Why Our Approach Works

Simply put, our approach works. We use Appreciative Inquiry to facilitate lasting positive change in our students.

“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential. It mobilizes inquiry through crafting an ‘unconditional positive question’ often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.”[1]

Pioneered in the 80s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is the evidence-based methodology progressive businesses use to foster positive organizational change. At Focus Collegiate, we use it with individual students.

In most organizations, and often in life, when something goes wrong, we have been conditioned to take a ‘fix it’ mentality. Abandoning this traditional problem focus, AI instead identifies past successes, emphasizes existing talents, strengths, and resources and explores the foundations of successful outcomes. Using AI, our coaches connect to each student’s positive core “in ways that heighten their energy, sharpen their vision, and inspire action for positive, sustainable change.”[2]

Appreciative Inquiry works in a cycle. After defining the project’s purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved, we engage the Ds: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.


“Appreciating the best of ‘what is’ – Discovery is based on a dialogue, as a way of finding ‘what works’. It rediscovers and remembers the (student’s) successes, strengths, and periods of excellence.”


“Imagining ‘what could be’ – Imagining uses past achievements and successes identified in the discovery phase to imagine new possibilities and envisage a preferred future.” (Working with their coach, students co-create inspiring images of their future selves. As discussed in our previous blog post, this ‘visioning’ activates parts of the visual cortex involved in creativity. We help students begin to recognize and then schedule and take the incremental steps that will bring them closer to the achievement of their ideal.)…”Having discovered ‘what is best’. (Students) have the chance to project it into their wishes, hopes and aspirations for the future.”


“Determining ‘what should be’ – Design brings together the stories from discovery with the imagination and creativity from dream. We call it bringing the ‘best of what is’ together with ‘what might be’, to create ‘what should be – the ideal’.”


Creating ‘what will be’ – (This the project management aspect of AI in which the path to meet each student’s dream is met out in the large and small action steps of their daily schedule.)[3]

Every four weeks, or as appropriate for each student, we reassess the process and the progress it generates. This periodical reassessment provides opportunities to underscore and build upon successes and, when indicated, make iterative changes to ‘What is’ and ‘What works’.

Using Appreciative Inquiry works because it:

  • Accelerates change
  • Increases the rate of improvement and the speed of attainment of goals and results
  • Creates motivation and energy amongst the people who are changing
  • Improves communication, trust, understanding and relationships
  • Discovers, expands and sustains the best of what (a student can do)
  • Changes the basic orientation from problem-focused to possibility-focused
  • Increases curiosity and sense of vitality
  • Empower(s) and gives people the confidence to take risks [4]

AI represents a paradigm shift, from problem-solving to exploring the positive aspects of a situation or experience, in which the mind learns to view our environment as a place full of opportunities to be explored.

[1] Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D., “Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change.” In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.




Photo by Ana Juma on Unsplash

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Focus Collegiate provides innovative hands-on coaching for college students with learning differences, on campus and beyond.

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