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Ten assumptions of appreciative inquiry

Ten assumptions of appreciative inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is a popular tool in congregational development in the Episcopal Church. But those of us who are not devotees sometimes don’t understand what it is about. In this article for The Alban Institute, Mark Lau Brunson lays out “Ten Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry.” Here are the first four. Follow the link to read the rest.

What are your views on appreciative inquiry?

1. In every organization, some things work well. AI assumes that even the most challenged and dispirited organization has narratives and practices that can resource a hopeful future.

2. What we focus on becomes our reality. When an organization gives its attention to some aspects of the corporate life, those aspects tend to define the whole. The “reality” of an organization is defined by whatever participants think about, talk about, work on, dream about, or plan. AI teaches us that, while we do not need to dismiss the serious challenges we face or the lessons of previous wrong turns, we need to center our attention in our strengths. Focus has to do with imagination, conversation, efforts, and vision. Simply by refocusing attention, giving energy and priority to positive narratives, we will become a different organization.

3. Asking questions influences the group. No research is neutral or inconsequential; no consultant stays “outside” the organization. The research itself—interviewing people, using surveys, seeking opinions, and weighing votes—changes a church by influencing the thinking and conversations and images of participants. Memories, perceptions, and hopes are shaped in the midst of research questions. Change, of one kind or another, begins with the very first questions.

4. People have more confidence in the journey to the future when they carry forward parts of the past. The unknown easily creates fears. When an organization approaches change by talking about everything that is wrong and all of the innovations that are to be adopted, participants express their fears in resistance. Confidence and trust can be built when questions create direct links with the organization’s best and most appreciated narratives. The future will be a little less strange, and participants can envision their own roles in that future.


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Ann Fontaine

Lionel – weaknesses can certainly be addressed but framed in a further question about the nature of the assumptions behind the perceived weakness. What hope did you have about preaching by the rector that is not being met? What does good inspiring preaching look like? Instead of working from problem solving (problems being an endless morass) – AI works from what is working and how can we make it work even better. When confronted with something that is not working – think of what the reverse would look like. Seems like some are taking one aspect of AI and not going deeper with it. Always a problem with the “latest” thing.

Lionel Deimel

My experience with AI has not been positive, but I’m not sure if that is because of the nature of AI or because of the way AI was applied.

In my experience, AI has required participants to identify organizational strengths and refrain from identifying weaknesses. Just as problem-solving may not be an ideal approach to organizational development, I don’t believe this sort of AI is a silver bullet either.

Suppose a church has a beautiful worship space and a great nursery. What will happen, however, if no one can say that people are leaving because the rector is a dull and uninspiring preacher.

Building on strengths is only so helpful if conspicuous weaknesses are not addressed.

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