Appreciative Inquiry is an affirmative approach that makes positive and successful experiences the basis for future action. While traditional problem-solving approaches focus more on analysing problems to avoid them in the future, AI’s motto is:
Analyse what works and build on it.
While it is in essence a complete methodological approach to change processes, single elements such as the AI interview can be used separately as well.
The AI interview is generally used as a starting point in an AI process, or a future-oriented planning process, in order to generate the right energy and focus for it. It puts a focus on exploring, understanding, appreciating and valuing the best of what is possible and already has happened in an organisation. This is also known as identifying the positive core of a system. It includes clarifying those elements that people want to keep, even as their organisation changes, as well as identifying intriguing potentials for the future. The appreciative interview is usually held as a one-on-one dialogue among an organisation’s members or other stakeholders, which then later is shared with the whole group.
It roughly follows this basic structure:
- Initial involvement/experience with the organisation.
- A prominent positive experience.
- Appreciation of own work and person.
- Key supporting/enabling/vitalising factors for the organisation.
- Wonder question (e.g. ‘Imagine you wake up in the morning and your problem is solved, how would you know that?’).
- Own calling.
Goal/Learning Objective/Expected Output
Identifying the positive core of an organisation. Generating motivation and positive energy for change.
Way/level of dealing with subject at stake
Connecting with colleagues while learning about personal experiences and drivers.
Application in moderation cycle
Divergence – Early stages of participatory processes
At least 6 participants; no maximum.
Level of difficulty
Internal or external facilitator
Interview questions prepared as a hand-out.
There are plenty of online resources on AI and also specifically the AI interview.
A few others are highlighted here:
Generally introducing AI and the exercise (distribute hand-out with interview questions). Explaining the interview process and highlighting the general attitude as an interviewer:
- Encourage storytelling (e.g. please tell me more, how did it feel, what was your contribution?).
- No judgements towards stories.
- Attitude of curiosity.
- Giving time to think about answers (allow moments of silence and don’t step in immediately with new questions).
- Taking good notes including quotes.
- Accepting if interview partner doesn’t want to say more.
Group divides itself up in pairs. Ideally, pairs consist of people who don’t know each other too well or do not collaborate closely on a daily basis. Pairs take turns to interview each other broadly – the interviewer always taking good notes – following these following interview questions:
- Describe moments in your organisation when you felt most engaged and alive?
- What marked these moments of success and engagement?
- What drew you originally to this organisation and what did you find most inspiring in the beginning?
- What do you value about your work and this organisation in particular?
- Imagine your organisation ten years from now, when everything is just as you always wished it could be. What is different? How have you contributed to this ‘dream organisation’?
- What would be your three wishes to make your organisation more vibrant and successful?
After about 15 minutes they exchange roles. Facilitator should emphasise that participants don’t shift between these roles but stick to them during the interview until roles are swapped.
In small groups of eight people, the participants sit together and share the highlights of what surfaced during their interviews. They reflect together about the supporting factors and conditions in the organisation that made the positive experiences possible.
In the plenary session, these central supporting factors and conditions are then shared and collectively discussed. If time allows, some of the personal anecdotes should also be shared in the plenary.
The complete notes of the interviews should be shared by hanging them on the wall and including time for a ‘gallery walk’ of all participants.
Options for modification
Besides using the instrument of the AI interview as a stand-alone it can, of course, also be used as a starting point for a fully-fledged AI process including the phases of Dream, Design and Delivery.
One of the key aspects of using AI interviews is the final reflection about what conditions made the positive experiences that people talked about during the interview possible. This also means looking for common elements or a red thread from among the collected personal stories.
These ‘success factors’ are among the key resources to draw on throughout any further change process.