Appreciative Inquiry – change and evaluation rolled into one

We are often asked about the different types of evaluation approaches.  We will try to summarise them from time to time here, on our site, and hope this helps people sort through the jargon of evaluation and get to the bottom of what suits you and your needs best.

We have started with an explanation of Appreciative Inquiry, because I was asked about it at a presentation in Melbourne to arts organisations.

What is an Appreciative Inquiry Evaluation?[1]

An Appreciative Inquiry evaluation is based on the principles of Appreciate Inquiry (AI), an organizational development method which is focused on building on what an organization does well.  The principles of AI are summarized below.

In an AI evaluation, evaluators and participants work together to share their views of the present, and “co-create” the future. An AI evaluation does not ignore problems, but approaches them as opportunities for change.

In an AI evaluation, the evaluator and participants:

  • become fully engaged in the learning journey
  • work to “co-create” the future
  • acknowledge that there are multiple, equally valid interpretations of reality
  • share their individual interpretations of reality, with an aim to gain a shared understanding of experiences
  • envision possible positive futures which build on present strengths
  • use language and foster relationships which create that positive future

In a pure AI evaluation, traditional evaluative methods – eg qualitative and quantitative research – are used only as the need arises, and are driven by participants.

Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

“Appreciative inquiry” is an approach to evaluation based on the assumption that an organization wants to improve.  Accordingly, the evaluation has a fundamentally positive focus on what the organization does well, and how it can build on this.

The core principles of Appreciative Inquiry are:

  1. Constructionist principle: people’s realities are “constructed” through their social interactions.
  2. Simultaneity principle: change and inquiry are simultaneous.  Inquiry can itself effect change.
  3. Poetic principle: the “story” of an organization is a product of the ongoing narrative of its members and others.
  4. Anticipatory principle: envisioning a positive future can help to guide people towards one.
  5. Positive principle: focusing on the positive can help create a positive energy for the future.
  6. Wholeness principle: wholeness brings out the best in people, so supporting people to share the whole story from a position of individual wholeness can build a “collective capacity for change.”
  7. Enactment principle: positive change occurs when people create the future through their words, images and relationships.
  8. Free choice principle: free choice stimulates positive change and liberates personal and organizational power.

[1] This explanation of AI is drawn from Howieson, Jill, “A Constructive Inquiry approach: blending Appreciative Inquiry with traditional research and evaluation methods,” Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 11(2) 2011.