Appreciative Inquiry

by Andy Smith

The 5D Model

A 5D process, bringing together everyone involved in the change in one room, can be completed in as little as half a day. The format and the questions are carefully designed to keep participants focused on the positive, and to liberate their creative thinking.

The overall aim of the 5D cycle is to discover, build on and refine the ‘positive core’ of the organisation – its knowledge, best practices, successes and strengths, as well as the aspects of its history, present experience, and imagined future which make people proud to feel part of it and motivated to work there. At the same time, it strengthens understanding and trust between people.

This model was originally developed by the Global Exercise in Management (GEM) Initiative in Zimbabwe, as part of an Appreciative Inquiry into inter-agency cooperation.

The structure is the same, whether the inquiry is an organisation-wide project that takes years or a brief one-to-one coaching session. The aim is always to discover, strengthen and build on the best of the organisation – the elements that give life to it, that people are proud of, that motivate them, and which give rise to exceptional performance. These elements are often referred to as the ‘positive core’ of the organisation.

You may also encounter a 4D version of the model which leaves out the topic definition stage. In some books on AI you will see the delivery stage referred to as the ‘destiny’ stage, though in most organisational settings people will find it easier to relate to ‘delivery’ as a term relevant to business. There are other models (for example, the Mohr/Jacobsgaard 4Is model), but the 5D model is the most widely used.


First, we define an ‘affirmative topic’ or topics for the Appreciative Inquiry. This determines the area to be inquired into and sets a direction for what is to be achieved.

‘How do we... <desired outcome>?’ is a practical format for stating the affirmative topic.


In this stage, we inquire into people’s best experiences in relation to the topic – times when people felt alive, engaged and worthwhile, and when they produced great results and achievements to be proud of.

We can also ask what is important to people about these experiences, to discover the values that motivate them, and the factors that made these examples of exceptional performance possible.

The ‘appreciative interview’ format is the method most often used to uncover this information.


Next, the people involved in the inquiry – ideally, in a large-scale project, everyone in the organisation, plus representatives of outside stakeholders – co-create a vision of the organisation’s ideal future, without limiting themselves (at this stage) with concerns about whether it is possible or how to get there. The aim is to define a positive image of the future so that the organisation is inspired to grow towards it, and to open new possibilities for action that are not constrained by assumptions which may have led to existing problems.


We can now develop options for bringing the Dream vision, or at least parts of it, into reality. This may involve redesigning structures, processes and information flows within the organisation so that it becomes capable of supporting the vision.

Delivery (or ‘destiny’)

We commit to taking the actions we have selected from the design stage in order to make the dream happen. Depending on the scale of the project, this could involve formal action planning or just making some small changes immediately. This stage is also about actually implementing the chosen changes, and learning from the experience of implementation.

For more, see the following: