This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Defining Appreciative Inquiry.

While the 5-D Cycle for applying Appreciative Inquiry is presented as a systematic approach to organizational change, it is important to understand that variations on, or even alternatives to this model will inevitably emerge as each system takes the AI approach and makes it their own. Once grounded in the principles of AI, organizations inevitably become generative and creative, which leads to even more innovation in the use of AI itself.

1. Constructionist principle

Knowledge and organizational destiny are interwoven; the way we know is fateful. Awareness of this concept enables change. We create what we can imagine.

The Constructionist Principle states that knowledge about an organization and the destiny of that organization are interwoven. To be effective leaders in any situation, we must be skilled in the art of understanding, reading, and analyzing organizations as living, human constructions. What we believe to be true about an organization, that is the way that we “know” it, will affect the way we act and the way that we approach change in that system. The first task of any organizational change process is Discovery — learning and making sense of what is believed and said about that system. Thus, the way we know is fateful.1

2. Poetic principle

An organization’s past or present or future is an endless source of learning, inspiration, interpretation and possibility. We can inquire into anything and any living human organization.

The Poetic Principle acknowledges that human organizations are open books. An organization’s story is constantly being co-authored by the people within the organization as well as by those outside who interact with it. The organization’s past, present, and future are endless sources of learning, inspiration, or interpretation just as a good poem is open to endless interpretations. The important point is that we can study any topic related to human experience in any human system. We can inquire into the nature of alienation or the nature of joy. We can study moments of creativity and innovation, or moments of debilitating stress. We have a choice!

3. Principle of simultaneity

Inquiry is change! The seeds of change are embedded in the first questions we ask.

The Principle of Simultaneity recognizes that inquiry and change are not separate moments, but are simultaneous. Inquiry is intervention. The seeds of change — that is, the things people think and talk about, the things people discover and learn, and the things that inform dialogue and inspire images of the future — are implicit in the very first questions we ask. One of the most impactful things a change agent does is to articulate questions. The questions we ask set the stage for what we “find,” and what we “discover” creates the stories that lead to conversations about how the organization will construct its future.

4. Anticipatory principle

Habits of the collective imagination, habits of the mind, habits of the heart guide images of the future. Images are relational, public property, dialogical.

The Anticipatory Principle says that the most important resource we have for generating constructive organizational change or improvement is our collective imagination and our discourse about the future. It is the image of the future that in fact guides the current behavior of any person or organization. Much like a movie projector on a screen, human systems are forever projecting ahead of themselves a horizon of expectation that brings the future powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent. Organizations exist, in the final analysis, because people who govern and maintain them share some sort of shared discourse or projection about what the organization is, how it will function, and what it is likely to become.

5. Positive principle

Positive affect is just as contagious as negative affect. There is power in positive questions; the affective side of transformation; the dynamic of hope. Positive and grounded inquiry is an antidote to cynicism.

The Positive Principle grows out of years of experience with Appreciative Inquiry. Momentum for change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding — things like hope, inspiration, and sheer joy in creating with one another. AI demonstrates that the more positive the questions used to guide a group process or organizational change effort, the more long lasting and effective the change effort.2 Human beings and organizations move in the direction of what they inquire about. Wide spread inquiry into “empowerment” or “being the best organization in the field,” will have a whole different long term sustainable impact for positive action than a study into “low morale” or “process breakdowns” done with the idea that those conditions can be cured.


principle summary
Constructionist principle
Words create worlds
Reality as we know it is a subjective vs. objective state.
It is socially created through language and conversations.
Simultaneity principle
Inquiry creates change
Inquiry is intervention. The moment we ask a question, we begin to create change.
Poetic principle
We can choose what we study
Organizations, like open books, are endless sources of study and learning.
What we choose to study makes a difference. It describes — even creates — the world as we know it.
Anticipatory principle
Image inspires action
Human systems move in the direction of their images of the future.
The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day action.
Positive principle
Positive questions lead to positive change
Momentum for large-scale change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding.
This momentum is best generated through positive questions that amplify the positive core.


1 Gergen, Kenneth. Realities and Relationships. Harvard University Press, 1995.

2 Bushe, G. and Coetzer, G. “Appreciative Inquiry As a Team-Development Intervention: A Controlled Experiment,” Vol. 31, Journal Of Applied Behavioral Science, March, 1995, pp. 13.