Influencing others, influencing positively – Appreciative Inquiry

If you’ve been reading this series of blog posts from the start, the first thing I’d like you to do today is reach over your shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back.  Well done!  You’ve covered some pretty big territory in terms of learning the facts about WHY student wellbeing is essential to address, as well as WHAT theories you need to have under your belt.  As far as the latter goes, there is one more tool for your toolkit that will see you able to launch your Quest for student wellbeing with maximum effectiveness; something called Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry

To ensure you’re getting where you need to go, you need to be able to audit current wellbeing and associated practices and processes.  You’ll need to develop key performance indicators.  You’ll also need ways to review performance measure that so you know if you’ve accomplished what you set out to.  Recalling what we’ve learned about people potentially perceiving threat whenever here is change, each of these can be a minefield – just the words carry a freight of intense emotional baggage for most people; audit, KPIs, performance review.  All three are necessary.  So how do we do it in a way that is affirming – that enhances staff and student PERMAH levels, that keeps the influential, motivating communication elements of SCARF in mind?

Enter Appreciative Inquiry.  The difference between traditional auditing and appreciative inquiry is actually a significant internal shift.  Instead of looking at the scenario like a problem to be solved, we’re looking at it like a work of art or a sunset – to be appreciated.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an ‘action research’ method – or a change management method – with a focus on strengths.  As the name suggests, AI [1] aims to appreciate the strengths of an organisation using a guided inquiry process, which serves to capitalise on and build on what’s working well and channel it into positive future directions.  You can see how this is a brilliant fit for your school if you’re introducing character strengths, as it underlines the message that the school is practicing what it preaches at an organisational level, not just at the level of individuals. So, what’s involved?

As described by the founder of the process, David Cooperrider [1], four principles guide this AI process:

  1. That the inquiry begin with appreciation of the best of what is already in place in your school,
  2. That the inquiry is relevant to the school and validated in past actions, (these two principles are often referred to as ‘DISCOVER’)
  3. That the inquiry is provocative, creating a compelling and inviting picture of the future – namely something people will care about and be motivated by – (this principle has been called the ‘DREAM’ phase) and finally,
  4. That the inquiry is collaborative in design (DESIGN) and execution (‘DELIVER’) [2]. e. Everyone needs to come along for the journey.

This is the bare bones of Appreciative Inquiry, but you can already see clear differences with traditional processes of audit and review; most likely you can also see overlap with the SCARF model.  (E.g. by starting from a point of appreciating what is working well, we are inherently acknowledging the existing Status of those who’ve toiled away at student wellbeing already.  And so on and so forth for every element of SCARF.  You could think of AI as SCARF being applied to the whole system).

So much for the theory – how does it look in practice?  I’m so glad you asked.  For an answer, let’s move on to the next section, the HOW of leading a quest for student wellbeing.

Next post in the ‘How to lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’ series:

‘DISCOVERING student wellbeing – a positive needs analysis.’

  1. Srivastva, S. and D. Cooperrider, Appreciative Inquiry into Organizational Life. Research in organizational change and development, 1987. 1.
  2. Bushe, G.R. and A.F. Kassam, When is appreciative inquiry transformational? A meta-case analysis. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2005. 41(2): p. 161-181.

Nahum Kozak | Psychologist

Nahum is a Psychologist who uses the power of story, humour, and data to help improve organisations.  Nahum has a wealth of experience from school and corporate contexts – as Head of Positive Education and Senior School Counsellor (John Paul College), Corporate Coach (including experience with Griffith’s Work and Organisational Resiliency Centre) and Youth Minister (in Catholic Schools across Australia). He holds a B.A.(Psychology), M.Ed.(Educational Research: Theory and Practice), and is currently undertaking a second Masters in Organisational Psychology. He has presented at schools and conferences around Australia, and has had his research on wellbeing, social connection and sleep quality published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry. Nahum is passionate about building healthy, happy organisations.