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Exploring Appreciative Inquiry

By Ozlem Aydin

As we near the end of 2021, I’ve been thinking about my lessons learned this year and what practices I’d like to bring into 2022. The concept of appreciative inquiry is one of them. Appreciative inquiry is a collaborative, strengths-based approach to change that’s utilized in organizations and other human systems such as the communities we live in. It’s a way to engage groups of people to focus on what’s working, rather than what’s not working, and leads to people co-designing their future collectively. It’s about forward movement and organizing sentences of positive questions around constructive topics and taking people from one place to the next through careful context.

As a society, we often focus on fixing the problem. We talk about our weaknesses and our shortcomings – a deficit-based approach, but we rarely pursue problem-solving through a strengths-based approach – focusing on expanding the areas that are working.

Utilizing appreciative inquiry at work and in our daily lives can significantly improve the way we show up in the world. Identifying our intention and context is a key element to constructing the dialogues we want to generate.

Our words should pique interest and curiosity. David Cooperrider made significant contributions to appreciative inquiry and laid the groundwork for the 4D model we know today. The 4D model generally refers to a visual representation of the four steps of an appreciative inquiry initiative:

1. Discovery – The best of what is. Search and identify what gives your organization life.

2. Dream – What could be? Unlock what could be by creative, constructive visions and possibilities.

3. Design – What should be? Identify what the shared vision looks like.

4. Destiny – What will we do? Construct features through action for delivery.

Each of these elements should be approached collectively through active and positive inquiry to help define a unified vision with more clarity and focus. By making meaning collectively about what the desired outcomes are, we’re in a better position to discover and design our dreams to reach our destiny. Utilizing appreciative inquiry as an alternative approach to organizational change and development focuses the inquiry on what’s right, what’s working and how to create our desired vision.

To think if we all just took a few minutes to focus on our choice of words, it would significantly affect the direction of our narratives. I recently came across a quote – “Words create our world” – and it resonated with where we are globally and how we’re individually contributing. There’s a lot of power in the words we choose. The language we use to engage and ask questions can have a substantial influence on the answers we get. We have the power to increase understanding, make more heartfelt connections and show up with kindness. We are all co-creators of our environment by the words we choose to express our thoughts and emotions that end up as actions.

Our words have the power to design the world we want to live in. Appreciative inquiry intentionally asks positive questions to encourage and ignite constructive dialogues. These discussions turn into inspired action within organizations and communities.

I’ve been managing a lot of deliverables the last few months and approaching things with an appreciative inquiry mindset has been instrumental for my motivation and focus. It has also strengthened our team dynamic, improving morale and efficiency. The positive inquiry approach provides the potential to produce deep and sustaining change that is needed for organizations to evolve and innovate. I encourage you to try appreciative inquiry in your daily interactions and notice the positive shift. Please remember to choose your words with intent as our words have a moral impact.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our summer/fall 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort and a link to their stories.

Ozlem is a senior management official currently working for the Director of the Office of Communications at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She’s been employed at the IRS for 16 years, possessing a wide range of experience from the Collections, Engagement & Retention Office and the Strategy and Organizational Improvement Office to name a few.

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