Module 6: Appreciative Inquiry

Asset mapping and capacity inventories are tools that can be grouped under the umbrella of “appreciative inquiry,” a fundamental component of ABCD that the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) calls “a strategy for purposeful change that identifies the best of ‘what is’ to pursue dreams and possibilities of ‘what could be.’”(1)

A comprehensive overview of appreciative inquiry, or AI, can be found here. Please read this information carefully.

For a multi-media representation of how appreciative inquiry is being used to transform organizational processes and community attitudes, please follow the instructions to watch this 30-minute video. Consider why the premise of appreciative inquiry melds so well with the principles of ABCD. (Note that the “Destiny” phase about which you just read is referred to as the “Doing” phase in this video. While the terminology is different, the meaning behind the words is the same.)


  1. Click here.
  2. In the bottom right-hand corner, in the box entitled “Get the Video Feature,” click “Watch the video.”
  3. If you do not have RealPlayer, you will need to download it. A free download is available here.

Post-video wrap-up

The quoted text below indicates direct quotations from the narrator of the video. These noteworthy quotations exemplify the essence, intent, and outcome of appreciative inquiry as a transformative organizational strategy.(2)

  • "What is appreciative inquiry? It is an approach to organizational analysis and learning that is uniquely intended for discovering, understanding, and fostering innovations in social organization arrangements and processes."
  • "Let us state what usually happens when a development organization decides to work with deprived communities in any given area. It is often a fact that staff tend to begin by focusing on the local people’s problems, constraints, deficiencies, and unmet needs." Appreciative inquiry recognizes that when developers document needs instead of strengths, it creates the expectation that only outsiders can resolve community issues. Constant talk about inadequacies perpetuates a vicious cycle of discouragement and disempowerment. Emphasis on strengths, conversely, dramatically increases relational propensity.
  • "A focus on strengths and adaptive strategies, rather than problems and weaknesses, results in a far more equitable, cooperative, and positive foundation on which community work can be based. Appreciation is the ability to see beyond obstacles, problems, and limitations, and to generate hope in the human capacity to achieve potential. Appreciative inquiry is an approach that allows such a process to be set in motion."
  • "The process of discovery can be facilitated through a key question like, “Can you think of a time when your group achieved something significant? What factors contributed to this achievement?” Answers can be in the form of stories and pictorial representations. Drawing pictures is good because even non-literate people find ways of representing what is important to them, which can then become the basis for further analysis … The discovery stage is a start of the paradigm shift from problem orientation to achievement orientation. It creates good feelings and reinforces self-worth. It energizes people, and forms the basis for embarking on the next of the four D’s." In this phase, developers attempt to capture what excites and inspires community members, or what drives their organization to pursue its mission.
  • "The dream phase is important because it enables people to give a concrete shape to a vision of their future. The appreciative approach is based on an understanding of human psychology. People respond to positive images much better than negative images. It also recognizes and creates a space for emotions to be expressed and channelizes these emotions toward the achievement of their dreams." In this phase, members of the organization or community ask themselves, “What would we look like if we were always at our best? Can we envision what might be in the future?” This introspective process involves making “provocative propositions,” or challenges that can be pragmatically achieved based on past experiences. Since we construct our own realities, if we have a negative view of ourselves, these propositions will be limited. Picturing ourselves positively is the best determinant of a positive future.
  • "Appreciative inquiry does not need to end with the implementation of the action plan. Because it is designed as a continuous cycle, a new round of discovery, dreaming, and designing can be initiated at any time. Creative facilitation is an important component of good appreciative inquiries. It is what ensures that each stage builds on the last. That dreaming is based on discovery, that design is based on dreams, and that the doing stage follows the action plan created in the design phase." This relates to the article we discussed earlier on sustainability. Too often in development work, project sustainability is the goal. If organizations and communities can instead work to imbed this process of appreciative inquiry, participatory appraisal, and asset utilization into their framework for progress, process sustainability will naturally develop.

Trouble shooting

Ideally, if the questions asked by community developers are phrased appropriately, community members being interviewed will be led to respond with productive answers. For example, asking questions like, “What would you like to see done in your community? What is your favorite aspect of this community? What skills could you contribute to a successful project?” will yield much more constructive answers than, “What do you need? What is your community lacking?” Although their answers would identify problems that need to be fixed, the latter questions don't provide the type of springboard that the former set of questions does.

What if the interviewee’s goals are too lofty? Let’s examine this example of how a difficult request was navigated.(3) S = Susie, the interviewer; W = William, the community member being interviewed.

  • S: Hi. My name is Susie. What is your name?
  • W: I am William.
  • S: William, it’s nice to meet you. I am part of a group here to learn more about what is important to you and your community. Do you mind if I ask you some questions? (Note: If you are working in a different country, it might be a good idea to learn at least a greeting in the local language. Most would see it as a sign of respect in which you are not speaking as a superior, but instead as a humble equal trying to learn from the locals. Of course, you should survey early on the ins and outs of local customs and sociability patterns so as not to offend.)
  • W: Go ahead.
  • S: What skills would other people say you have? What are you good at? What do you do that gives you the most satisfaction? (Note: Here, the interviewer is attempting the “Discover” phase of the Appreciative Cycle.)
  • W: Well, I am good at farming. All my neighbors are jealous of my cassava plants. I am very good at taking care of my crops. I also love tending to my animals, and teaching my children to do the same.
  • S: Those are all very impressive skills. What would you like to see done in your community? (Note: This question pertains to the “Dream” phase of the Appreciative Cycle).
  • W: Hmmm … I would love to see our government leader ousted. Yes, that is my dream for my community. That we would not have to be victimized by his bad leadership anymore. Can your group do that for the sake of my community?
  • S: I’m glad you shared that with me, because like I said, I am here to learn about what is important to your community. But my group does not have the power to do that. Why do you want your government leader to be ousted? (Note: This answer avoids establishing a relationship of superiority. ABCD is not in the business of quick fixes; rather, it is an approach designed to encourage working with locals, not for them, to obtain a better reality.)
  • W: Because his policies have shortchanged me and my people so much.
  • S: Why do you feel he has shortchanged you?
  • W: Me and my family, we suffer. We struggle sometimes even to have dinner at night because he won’t keep his promises for villagers like me.
  • S: To which promises in particular are you referring?
  • W: I really just want the subsidized milk he guaranteed for me and my family.
  • S: I see. How do you think we can get you your milk? Who can we talk to about that?
  • W: Well, I trust my local township authority. He is a nice man, very respectable. And he listens to me and my neighbors.
  • S: And what do you think he could do for you and your neighbors? (Note: Here, the interviewer doesn’t say, “OK, how about we do X” … instead, she allows the interviewee to design solutions to the issues he sees as pertinent.)
  • W: Well, he has connections to the national government somehow. If he can do the corresponding, I can mobilize my people to express our discontent. I am very persuasive, you know, because I am the recruiter for my local church. And if my country’s president does not listen still, we will have to take matters into our own hands. Since I am good at animal tending, maybe a farming co-operative could help me and my people. I do not know how to start one of those, though.
  • S: That is great! Do you know of other people in your community who would be interested in pursuing a civic action project such as this, or an agricultural initiative as you suggested in your alternative plan? Maybe the combined expertise of your community, along with any technical support my group can offer, can make something positive happen!
  • W: Yes! Follow me … (Hopefully, the realization of William’s dream for an equitable community, one that holds its governing entities accountable, would be made feasible through the process of delineating knowledge networks, securing institutional partnerships, focusing on capacity-building, and utilizing local assets.)

Go To Module 7: ABCD Case Studies >>


(1) “Appreciative Inquiry and Community Development.” International Institute for Sustainable Development (2000). Accessed on 10 June 2010.

(2)Appreciative Inquiry: A Beginning. Director Anil Annaiah. Producer Neil Ford.International Institute for Sustainable Development & MYRADA, 1999. Film.

(3) Kretzmann, John P. Class Lecture. “The ABCD Approach & Temporary Volunteer Projects.” Northwestern University, Chicago, IL. June 2009.