Appreciative Inquiry: Transforming Community-Based Research

Have you ever thought about how we can create positive change in our communities? One effective approach is through a process called “Appreciative Inquiry.” This method focuses on identifying and leveraging the strengths within a community rather than just fixing problems. It’s a powerful tool for community-based research, enabling groups to envision and achieve a shared dream of a better future.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a philosophy and methodology for promoting positive change in organizations, communities, and individuals. Developed in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, it’s based on the idea that inquiring into and amplifying the positive can lead to transformative results. Unlike traditional problem-solving methods, AI focuses on what’s working well and how to build on those successes.

The 4-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry

The process of AI typically follows a four-stage model known as the 4-D Cycle:

  1. Discovery: This phase involves identifying the ‘best of what is’. It’s about understanding the unique strengths and successes of the community or organization.
  2. Dream: Here, participants envision ‘what could be’. This stage encourages imaginative thinking about an ideal future, building on the strengths identified in the Discovery phase.
  3. Design: The third phase is about planning ‘what should be’. It involves creating concrete steps and strategies to achieve the envisioned future.
  4. Destiny (or Deliver): This phase focuses on ‘what will be’. It’s about implementing the plans and ensuring sustainable change.

Application in Community-Based Research

In community-based research, AI offers a unique approach. It empowers communities by focusing on their assets and potential. For instance, when researching community health, AI would focus on existing health-promoting behaviors and resources rather than just disease prevalence.

This positive focus fosters a sense of ownership and engagement among community members. It shifts the narrative from one of deficits and needs to one of assets and possibilities, encouraging more people to participate and contribute their ideas and energy.

The Implications of Appreciative Inquiry

Building Stronger Communities

AI nurtures stronger, more resilient communities. By valuing every member’s input and focusing on strengths, it creates a sense of belonging and mutual respect. This approach can bridge divides and build trust, essential for collaborative efforts.

Sustainable Change

Change initiated through AI tends to be more sustainable. Since the process is inclusive and builds on existing strengths, the community is more likely to maintain and develop the initiatives they’ve created.

Challenges and Considerations

While AI is powerful, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires skilled facilitation, and there can be a tendency to overlook real problems in the pursuit of the positive. Balancing an appreciative approach with a realistic assessment of challenges is crucial for its success.


Appreciative Inquiry is a transformative approach to community-based research, offering a positive, strength-based framework for change. By focusing on what communities do well and dreaming of what they can achieve, AI empowers people to create sustainable, meaningful change.