5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry

The 5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry is a framework for a positive approach to change and growth in organisations.
5Ds of Appreciative Inquiry
Download a free 5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry template

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a model that seeks to engage stakeholders within an organisation in self-determined change. Rather than focusing on negativities and deficiencies, it is a shift towards a more positive perspective, concentrating on strengths and potentialities. It is a journey of exploration, discovery, and visualisation of the best in people, their organisations, and the world around them.

AI operates on the premise that organisations change in the direction in which they inquire. If an organisation inquires into problems, it will keep finding problems. However, if it inquires into what is working well, it will discover more and more of what works well. This method of inquiry aids in creating a positive core which the organisation can build upon.

The premise of AI revolves around the idea that our reality is subjective and can be influenced by how we observe it. This means that if we focus on the positive aspects of our situation, we are more likely to have a positive outcome. On the flip side, if we concentrate on the negative, we are more likely to encounter problems.

History of Appreciative Inquiry

The concept of Appreciative Inquiry was developed at the Case Western Reserve University’s department of organisational behaviour in the late 1980s. Professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva were the pioneers who proposed a shift from traditional problem-based approaches to a theory that was grounded in the affirmative and the generative.

They argued that human systems are constructions of the imagination and are, therefore, capable of change. Over the years, AI has evolved and been adopted by numerous organisations worldwide as a powerful tool for organisational change. It is now recognised not just as a methodology, but also as a perspective and a way of life that can fundamentally transform organisations.

AI has successfully been used in various sectors like healthcare, education, the corporate world, and even in peace-building efforts. It is seen as a powerful tool to effect positive change and to build on the strengths of individuals, teams, and organisations.

How can Appreciative Inquiry be used in creating positive organizational change?

Appreciative Inquiry can help foster a positive mindset within an organisation. It helps individuals focus on strengths rather than weaknesses, opportunities rather than threats, and what can be rather than what can’t be. This positive focus can lead to increased motivation, creativity, and innovation.

AI can also help create a more inclusive organisational culture. By involving all stakeholders in the inquiry process, it ensures everyone’s voices are heard and valued. This democratic process can foster a sense of ownership and commitment towards the organisational goals.

Moreover, AI can help organisations deal with change better. Instead of resisting change, people begin to see it as an opportunity for growth and improvement. It helps create a shared vision for the future, making the process of change smoother and more manageable.

Using Appreciative Inquiry as a Leadership Tool

As a leader, using Appreciative Inquiry can help you foster a positive and inclusive work environment. By focusing on the strengths and potentialities of your team, you can boost morale and productivity. It is an effective tool for team building, conflict resolution, and strategic planning.

AI can also help you as a leader to inspire and motivate your team. By focusing on the positive, you can help your team envision a better future and work towards it. It can help you build trust and rapport with your team, as you show them that their voices are valued and their contributions are appreciated.

Moreover, AI can help you navigate change better. By involving your team in the change process, and focusing on the opportunities that change brings, you can make the transition smoother and more manageable. It can help you build a resilient team that is capable of adapting and thriving in the face of change.

The 5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry

The 5D model of Appreciative Inquiry is a process that guides the application of AI. The five D’s stand for Define, Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver.


5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry - 1 Definition

The Define stage is about identifying the area of focus. It is about deciding what is the topic that the inquiry will revolve around. It is crucial to be clear and specific in this stage to set the right direction for the inquiry.

For instance, if you are a leader of a team that is undergoing a major transition, you might choose to focus on ‘How can we make this transition smoother and more manageable for everyone involved?’

Some of the questions you can ask in this stage include:

  • What are the key issues we need to address?
  • What are the strengths we can build on?
  • What is the desired outcome of this inquiry?


5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry - 2. Discovery

The Discover stage involves appreciating the best of ‘what is’. It is about recognising the strengths, successes, values, and potentials that are already present in the organisation or the team.

In the example mentioned above, you might involve everyone in the team and ask them to share their experiences of successful transitions they have been through. You could also ask them to share their strengths and how they can be utilised in the current situation.

Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • What are some of the successful transitions you have been a part of?
  • What worked well in those situations?
  • What strengths do you bring to the table?


5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry - 3. Dream

The Dream stage involves envisioning ‘what could be’. It is about imagining a future where the issue identified in the Define stage is successfully addressed.

In the example mentioned above, you could ask your team to imagine a future where the transition has been successfully managed. You could ask them to visualise what it would look like, how it would feel, and what it would mean for them and the organisation.

Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • What would a successful transition look like?
  • How would it feel?
  • What would it mean for us as a team and for the organisation?


5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry - 4. Design

The Design stage involves determining ‘what should be’. It is about creating strategies and action plans to realise the dream envisioned in the previous stage.

In the example mentioned above, you could involve your team in creating a detailed action plan for managing the transition. You could discuss various strategies, allocate roles and responsibilities, and set timelines and milestones.

Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • What strategies can we employ to manage this transition?
  • Who will be responsible for what?
  • What are the timelines and milestones we need to set?


5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry - 5. Delivery

The Deliver stage involves implementing ‘what will be’. It is about putting the action plan into practice and making the dream a reality.

In the example mentioned above, you and your team would start executing the action plan. You would monitor the progress, provide support and guidance where needed, and celebrate small wins along the way.

Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • How are we doing on our action plan?
  • What support or guidance do we need?
  • What are the wins we can celebrate?

Examples of using the 5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry

  1. Team Building: You can use the 5D model to build stronger and more cohesive teams. You could focus on the strengths and potentials of each team member, create a shared vision for the team, design strategies to leverage the strengths and realise the vision, and then put the plan into action.
  2. Conflict Resolution: You can use the 5D model to resolve conflicts in a positive and constructive way. You could focus on the positive aspects of the relationship, envision a future where the conflict is resolved, design strategies for conflict resolution, and then implement the strategies.
  3. Strategic Planning: You can use the 5D model for strategic planning. You could focus on the strengths and potentials of your organisation, envision a future where your organisation is thriving, design strategies to leverage the strengths and realise the vision, and then put the plan into action.

Limitations of Appreciative Inquiry

While Appreciative Inquiry has many benefits, it also has its limitations. It is not a magic bullet that can solve all problems. It requires a genuine commitment from all stakeholders and a willingness to focus on the positive even in challenging situations.

AI also requires a shift in mindset. For those who are used to problem-solving approaches, it might be difficult to shift to a strength-based approach. It requires patience, practice, and persistence.

Moreover, AI is not suitable for all situations. For instance, in crisis situations where immediate action is needed, a problem-solving approach might be more appropriate.


Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful tool for organisational change and leadership. It helps focus on the positive, create a more inclusive culture, and manage change better. The 5D model provides a framework for applying AI in various contexts. However, like any other tool, it has its limitations and should be used judiciously. Nonetheless, when applied with commitment and persistence, AI has the potential to bring about profound and lasting change.

5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry Template

Click the link to download this template and use it to explore in your organisation.

5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry


 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

Other Change Models

T7 Model for Teams

T7 Model for Teams

The T7 Model of Team Effectiveness is a framework that identifies seven key factors that contribute to high-performing teams.
Cynefin Framework

Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework is a decision-making tool that helps individuals and organizations better understand the complexity of a given situation.
DIagram of the OODA Loop by Colonel John Boyd


The OODA Loop is a decision-making process designed to help individuals and organisations react quickly and effectively to changing circumstances.
Scroll to Top