Appreciative Inquiry

by Andy Smith

Setting up the planning team

For large scale forms of engagement, the planning team should be no more than 12 people. Depending on the change agenda, they need to be from a variety of levels, disciplines and areas within the organisation to bring diverse perspectives.

The team should include or at least be sponsored by a ‘customer for change’ – a decision-maker who is prepared to devote effort and budget to making the change happen. Without a customer for change, the intervention will peter out.

Identifying the customer for change is particularly important if you are working in an organisation as an external consultant.

The team members need to be sympathetic to the aims and values underpinning Appreciative Inquiry, and they may need some training to make sure they understand it.

The planning team has several roles:

  • Scoping the project
  • Designing the AI strategy
  • Raising awareness of the project within the organisation
  • Coordinating the various efforts that make up the project
  • Making sure everyone in the organisation benefits from the learnings of the project.

Who takes responsibility for implementing the learnings?


Like great jazz improvisation, each Appreciative Inquiry is a new creation – an experiment that brings out the best of human organising.

Some AI initiatives work brilliantly at raising morale and generating ideas, but fall down in the Delivery stage when it comes to implementing the initiatives that would work towards making the provocative propositions a reality. For example, we have heard of AI summits where everyone is fired up, but no specific person is tasked with making the initiatives happen, with the result that they are never heard of again.

Key point

Who is responsible for making sure that initiatives generated by the AI project are actually implemented? You need to identify at an early stage the person or team who will take responsibility for following through with the initiatives resulting from the AI project, and who has the power to make it happen.

If no individual or team has been made responsible, people get disillusioned with Appreciative Inquiry and see it as ‘just another approach that didn’t work’.

Design the inquiry strategy and set it in motion

This stage is about deciding what needs to be done to fulfil each step of the 5D cycle and make it happen.

Factors to be considered include

  • Timescales – when do you need the result by?
  • Logistics – for example:

    • If working with a team, is it in one location or several?
    • How many people can be spared at one time from their everyday activities to attend an AI summit or be interviewed, and for how long?
    • What systems or software platforms need to be in place to support collaboration?
  • Communication:

    • How will you communicate the findings and successes of the AI process?
    • How will you manage expectations?

Developing an interview plan

An interview plan relates to the overall scope of the Appreciative Inquiry event and covers who is to be interviewed, by whom, when, how and where. It should address these questions:

  1. Who is to be interviewed. This will depend on how extensive the overall inquiry is. You might, for example,

    • Interview a focus group of between six and12 representatives
    • Build interviews into a half or whole day AI event for 20 to 100 people
    • Train a team of interviewers to conduct a large-scale organisation-wide or community-wide survey.
  2. By whom: you could employ professional AI practitioners to conduct interviews, but you will get more engagement, understanding and skills transfer by training up a core interview team. This could be ten per cent of your total population to be interviewed. The interviewers need to be volunteers!

    Alternatively, as part of facilitated event, participants can pair up and interview each other in a group.

  3. When: decide how long you want the interviews to last. This could be from 15 to 50 minutes – either as a discovery phase to be completed before following up with dream/design/delivery phases, or as part of an integrated inquiry in one seamless session.

    If the interview process is part of an ongoing AI project, decide on the date by which you want the interviews completed, allowing time for the theme identification process to follow.

  4. How: develop an interview schedule based on the generic questions and tailored to the topic in question.

    Will the interviews take place face to face (ideally), by telephone or video link? An email-based process is not advisable because it loses the emotional information and resonance.

  5. Where: in a space conducive to uninterrupted conversation on or off the premises.