Carolyn Cohen on Appreciative Inquiry: Small Scale Use

Hello, I am Carolyn Cohen, owner of Cohen Research & Evaluation, LLC, based in Seattle Washington. I specialize in program evaluation and strategic learning related to innovations in the social change and education arenas.  I have been infusing elements of Appreciative Inquiry into my work for many years.  Appreciative Inquiry is an asset-based approach, developed by David Cooperrider in the 1980s for use in organizational development. It is more recently applied in evaluation, following the release of Reframing Evaluation through Appreciative Inquiry by Hallie Preskill and Tessie Catsambas in 2006.

 Lessons Learned:

Appreciative Inquiry was originally conceived as a multi-stage process, often requiring a long-term time commitment. This comprehensive approach is called for in certain circumstances. However, in my practice I usually infuse discrete elements of Appreciative Inquiry on a smaller scale.  Following are two examples.

  • Launching a Theory of Change discussion. I preface Theory of Change conversations by leading clients through an abbreviated Appreciative Inquiry process.  This entails a combination of paired interviews and team meetings to:
    • identify peak work-related experiences
    • examine what contributed to those successes
    • categorize the resulting themes.

The experience primes participants to work as a team to study past experiences in  a safe and positive environment. They are then  able to craft  strategies, outcomes and goals. These elements become the cornerstone of developing a Theory of Change or a strategic plan, as well as an evaluation plan.

  • Conducting a needs assessment. Appreciative interviews followed by group discussions are a perfect approach for facilitating organization-wide or community meetings as part of a needs assessment process.   AI methods are  based on respectful  listening to each other’s stories, and are well-suited for situations where participants don’t know each other, or have little in common.

Using the resources listed below, you will find many more applications for Appreciative Inquiry in your work.

Rad Resources:

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2 thoughts on “Carolyn Cohen on Appreciative Inquiry: Small Scale Use”

  1. Thank you, Carolyn for this post. It encourages me to keep using Appreciative Inquiry in small scale. I have also used partial elements of AI, specially to design questionnaires, in evaluation of gender interventions where advances are very slow and it is imperative to identify peak stories and what have contributed to success. Cheers.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. We love Appreciative Inquiry and also have found it very effective in small amounts to help create a positive learning environment. I love getting new ideas about how to use it.

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