Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization toward a Positive Theory of Change

David Coghlan (University of Dublin, Ireland)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Coghlan, D. (2000), "Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization toward a Positive Theory of Change", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 216-220.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Appreciative inquiry is an approach within organisation development and action research which focuses on the best of “what is” in a system, rather than problems to be solved, and works at engaging organisational members in envisioning and realising its future. It has been growing considerably both in academic status and practitioner application over the past few years. There is an increasing literature – books, papers, postgraduate dissertations and organisational experiences becoming available and the major OD texts have now included it as a significant expression of contemporary OD. Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization toward a Positive Theory of Change is a collection of seminal writings on the subject. Most of the chapters have been published previously as chapters in books, in the Organization Development Journal, the OD Practitioner, and other journals.

Appreciative inquiry is both a philosophy of change and a set of practical approaches. As a philosophy, it is grounded in action research and OD and focuses on appreciating the best of “what is” in a system in order to realise the ideal of “what might be”, the consent of “what should be” and the reality of “what can be”. This challenges approaches which see organisations as problems to be solved and which adopt a problem‐solving approach to consulting and change. As a practical approach to consulting and action research it engages clients in activities of appreciation and dialogue in order to help them change their own organisations. It is applicable to team building, large system change and more specific issues of diversity, globalisation and conflict.

Appreciative Inquiry contains both philosophical and practical material. Part I contains four chapters devoted to the fundamental epistemological and methodological principles of appreciative inquiry which are important foundational chapters laying out essential theory. This section includes the seminal 1987 appreciative inquiry paper by Cooperrider and Srivastva, and other chapters by Cooperrider, Whitney and Bushe. Part II has ten chapters on case material and resources. These address appreciative inquiry interventions with teams, in higher education, city leadership, youth gangs, a fast food organisation and appreciative inquiry as a way of getting OD started. Part III has four chapters which explore new horizons through focusing on appreciative inquiry in the light of post modernism and globalisation.

This is a collection of some of the most central writings on appreciative inquiry to date, and for that reason is a very important book. It portrays both the important theoretical and philosophical underpinnings and the practical applications in case and consulting material. Because it contains both theory and practice and reproduces important seminal material, it is now the fundamental text on the subject. It is useful to a wide range of readers, students, university teachers and consultants. It should be an essential for action research and organisation development courses.

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