About strength based change

Strength based changeIn the mid-eighties, David Cooperrider, Suresh Srivastva and their colleagues at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, USA challenged the traditional problem solving approach to change management.

They introduced "Appreciative Inquiry as a form of organizational study [which] selectively seeks to highlight the 'life-giving forces' of the organization's existence. These forces may be ideas, beliefs or values around which the organizing actvity takes place." Srivastva, S., et al. Wonder and Affirmation, (undated from Lessons of the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, p.42)


Appreciative Inquiry works from a set of assumptions. These are:

  1. In every society, organisation or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organisation, or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  6. If we carry forwward parts of the past, they should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

(Above text originates from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond, The Thin Book Publishing Co.)

One approach to change is to look for what is wrong, analyse the situation and look for a solution. By taking a strength-based approach such as Appreciative Inquiry, the emphasis is on looking for what is already working in a system and build on it. This involves crafting 'uncondicitonally positive questions' that seek out those strengths and surface the potential.

We know how important it is to ask the right questions: If we focus on difficulties in the past, people become self defeating and feel that life is hopefess; and when we ask them about their successes, they become enthusiastic, feel re-affrimed and start to hope again.



The Appreciative Inquiry approach to personal or organisational change is to begin by looking for what is working. APPRECIATING the best of our experience.


This is to consider what might be. ENVISIONING RESULTS


What should be the ideal? CO-CONSTRUCTING


How to empower, learn and adjust or improvise? SUSTAINING


Appreciative inquiry has been used as the way of helping people develop their preferred future in companies, government departments and agencies, organizations and communities in Africa, Asia, Australia, North and Southern Europe, and North and South America.

It has been combined with large scale interventions such as Open Space Technology and Future Search to great effect in world wide projects such as United Religions Initative (URI) and Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB).

Business leaders, HR managers, OD specialists and consultants are using Appreciative Inquiry to address business performance and organizational change issues.

Examples include:

  • Developing an innovative leadership programme in a global company by bringing together people from different parts of the company with a wide range of leadership experiences
  • Coaching a business leader to modify his leadership style to engage everyone in improving business performance. Two years later, the business is regarded as one of the best in the company in delivering organic growth
  • Enabling a group of people from different professional fields to rediscover their interpersonal and interprofessional strengths. Using the AI principles, they identified their individual and collective contributions to their many populations and stakeholders.
  • AI is also being used in areas like mediation in the voluntary sector, internal organisational conflict and community regeneration in London's Bankside.

The purpose is to reconnect with the life giving forces - what is working - and then go beyond that to what could be.