Volume 5, Number 1, Sept 2004
Using Appreciative Inquiry
to Reframe Conflict
and Solve Problems
Appreciative Inquiry is an increasingly popular approach to organizational consulting and change managment. The method focuses on finding the strengths within a group or organization and supporting positive change using this information. As explained by Cooperrider and Whitney in their introduction to AI,
"AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential. It centrally involves the mobilization of inquiry through the crafting of the “unconditional positive question” - often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people. In AI the arduous task of intervention gives way to the speed of imagination and innovation; instead of negation, criticism, and spiraling diagnosis, there is discovery, dream, and design."
The basic flow of an AI intervention revolves around the 4 or 5 step rubric of Define (sometimes skipped), Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver (sometimes called Destiny). The graphic below, from an article by AI consultant Liz Mellish, illustrates the model.
There has been some debate within the AI community as to whether a problem-solving approach (as typically practiced) falls outside of the AI framework. This is because problem-solving methods are most often focused on fixing what is broken, rather than discovering and enhancing what is working. Loretta Rose, in an article posted at the Appreciative Inquiry Canada site, does a nice job of exploring the nuances of this issue. The article, which should prove of interest to readers of the Report, is entitled Appreciative Inquiry and Problem Solving: Contradiction or Complimentary?. A more lengthy piece covering related ground is the article Generative Metaphor Intervention: A New Approach for Working with Systems Divided by Conflict and Caught in Defensive Perception
by Frank Barrett and David Cooperrider. It explores problems of selective perception and the need for metaphors that support positive change.
For readers intrigued by Appreciative Inquiry, a core resource for new and old AI practitioners alike is the Appreciative Inquiry Commons site hosted by Case Western Reserve University. The site contains a wide range of materials, including many sample presentations and handouts. Of particular interest in our context is a training outline (available as a pdf handout) that focuses on An Appreciative Approach to ReFraming Conflict.
Conflict Resolution has long been about dealing with the problem of the conflict. AI provides another way of looking at conflict and dealing with it constructively. Readers may want to add it to their toolbox!