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.