Below are words and terms often referenced in the field of Appreciative Inquiry. The words/terms are listed in alphabetical order. Please click the word of interest and the definition for that word will appear (click word again to close). We are continuously adding to this list as new ideas and thoughts emerge. If you come across a word or term you believe should be added to this list, please contact us and we would be happy to add it. Thank you!

Appreciative Inquiry Glossary

5D’s of Appreciative Inquiry

The Appreciative Inquiry cycle: Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny/Delivery (Cooperrider and Srivasta)

Action Research

An organization development term that, traditionally, describes a process used to diagnose what’s working and what’s not working in an organization or group. In Appreciative Inquiry, action research focuses on what’s working and co-creating more of that.

Appreciative Inquiry

A theory of human systems change developed by David Cooperrider and others at Case Western University in the mid-1980’s. Cooperrider first used the term in a footnote in a report he made to the Cleveland Clinic.

Appreciative Inquiry Summit

A three-to-four day Appreciative Inquiry that seeks to gather the whole system (all stakeholders, or representatives of all stakeholders) in one room to collectively go through all five generic processes (Definition, Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny/Delivery); can involve hundreds of thousands of participants; typically used in Large Systems Change effort.

Appreciative Interview

An interview, usually paired, that uncovers what gives life to an organization, department, group or relationship when it is at its best.

Appreciative Learning Culture

An organizational culture that fosters and develops four competencies to create an appreciative learning system: affirmative, expansive, generative, and collaborative competencies (Barrett & Peterson).

Appreciative Paradigm

A unique perspective of the organizational world that views organizations, like life itself, as mysteries to be appreciated and embraced.

Bold Ideas (AKA: strategic intentions, strategic initiative, or pilot projects)

Co-created intended actions that grow out of an Appreciative Inquiry designed to actualize the provocative propositions.


A view of reality that recognizes more possibilities than “either/or”


A way of organizing; a term coined by Dee Hock of Visa USA and Visa International that describes a system that is functioning on the edge of chaos with enough order to give it a pattern.


According to Margaret Wheatley, an essential process by which natural systems, including organizations, renew and revitalize themselves.

Co-construct or Co-create

A term used to describe a collaborative construction of the organization’s future state. It is developed out of social construction theory, which states that human systems create their social reality by the words they speak, i.e., words create worlds.

Commitment, Offers, and Requests

During an Appreciative Inquiry, individuals are asked to make a commitment (an action that can easily be taken by an individual, without a commitment from others), offers (a “gift,” for instance, access to a resource that he or she controls), and requests (what one person or group needs from another person or group) in order to realize the provocative proposition.

Complexity Science

Complexity science is not a single theory; rather it encompasses more than one theoretical framework and is highly interdisciplinary, seeking the answers to some fundamental questions about living, adaptable, changeable systems.

Deficit-based change

The traditional problem-solving approach to change.


The first D of an Appreciative Inquiry, during which the overall focus of an inquiry is determined, i.e., a positive topic that is important to the organization or group.


The fourth D of an Appreciative Inquiry, during which people innovate and improvise ways to create their preferred future.

Design Elements

Also known as social architecture or socio-technical architecture; those aspects of the organization that need to be re-Designed in order for the Dreams or Provocative Propositions to be realized: e.g., attitudes, processes, and/or structures.


The fifth D of an Appreciative Inquiry, during which people innovate and improvise ways to create the preferred future by continuously improvising and building AI competencies into the culture. It also includes noticing and celebrating successes that are moving the system toward the preferred future the organization or group co-created.


The second D of an Appreciative Inquiry; a two-part phase that includes inquiring into exceptionally positive moments, and sharing the stories and identifying life-giving forces.


The third D of an Appreciative Inquiry, during which people create shared images of a preferred future; typically involves a visual image and a word image.


A view of reality that limits the possibilities to two ways of seeing it, as contrasted to “both/and” or “multiple/and” views.


The topics we choose to study or inquire into and the questions we ask determine the events and answers we find.

Generic Processes (also see 5-D’s of Appreciative Inquiry)

Choose the positive as the focus of inquiry; inquire into exceptionally positive moments; share the stories and identify life-giving forces; create shared images of a preferred future; and innovate and improvise ways to create that future (Mohr & Watkins, 2002).

Generative Inquiry

When successful, AI generates spontaneous, unsupervised, individual, group and organizational action toward a better future. My research suggests that when AI is transformational it has both these qualities: it leads to new ideas, and it leads people to choose new actions (Bushe).

Goose Egg

A framework that can be used in the Design phase of AI to identify stakeholders and design elements relevant to a particular macro Provocative Proposition; it also can be used to identify design elements for which micro Provocative Propositions can be developed (Mohr & Watkins, 2003).


Standard approaches to change in which attempts are made to implement centrally or consensually agreed upon targets and plans.


Approaches to change that are self-organizing and flow from new ideas rather than implementation of centrally or consensually agreed upon targets and plans.

Interview Guide

The set of questions developed around a positive topic or topics that is used to conduct an appreciative interview, most desirably face to face and paired.

Large System Change

An organization, a community, or any human system made up of an entire organization, or community; it can involve hundreds or thousands of people.

Life Giving Forces (LGFs)

Those elements or experiences within the organization’s past and/or present that represent the organization’s strengths when it is operating at its very best. A life-giving force could be a single moment in time, such as a particular customer transaction, or it could be large in scope. It can be any aspect that contributes to the organization’s highest points and most valued experiences or characteristics.


A way of being organized; self-generating networks of communications such as the Internet; according to Fritjof Capra, a human organization will be a living system only if it is organized as a network or contains smaller networks within its boundaries.

New Sciences

Includes quantum physics, chaos theory, self-organizing systems, and complexity theory.

Organizational Development

A way of bringing about change in an organization that relies on action research.


The generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline, theory or mindset at a given time.

Positive Core

This is what makes up the best of an organization and its people; often a hidden and underutilized core of strengths.

Positive Image

An Appreciative Inquiry theory that posits that the more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present day action.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology revisits “the average person,” with an interest in finding out what works, what’s right, and what’s improving.  It asks, “What is the nature of the effectively functioning human being, successfully applying evolved adaptations and learned skills?  And, how do we explain the fact that, despite all the difficulties, the majority of people manage to live lives of dignity and purpose?” Kennon M. Sheldon, University of Missouri, and Laura King, Southern Methodist University, 2001.

Provocative Propositions (AKA: Possibility Statements)

Statements that bridge the best of “what is” with the organization’s vision of “what might be.” It becomes the written articulation of the organization’s desired future that is written in the present tense to guide the planning and operations in the future. Also known as possibility propositions, possibility statements, or vision statements, they create a positive image or images of the ideal organization.


To take an issue or problem or gap (what we want less of) and re-frame it into a positive topic (what we want more of) for inquiry; an essential skill in Appreciative Inquiry.

Social (or socio-technical) Architecture

Addresses the design elements critical to an organization to support the positive core. The first step in the Design phase is to identify this architecture.

Social Constructionism

The notion that words create worlds, that reality as we know it is a subjective vs. objective state; it is socially constructed, through language, conversation, and story-telling.

Sociotechnical Systems (STS)

In organizational development is an approach to complex organizational work design that recognizes the interaction between people and technology in workplaces. The term also refers to the interaction between society’s complex infrastructures and human behavior.

Small Systems Change

A sub-group within a human system, such as a department or work group, or a relatively small organization.


A strengths-based approach to strategic planning that allows an organization to plan for and create its future through collaboration, shared understanding, and a commitment to action. SOAR stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results as an alternative to the traditional SWOT strategic planning.


The people who hold a stake in what happens in the organization; the people who need to be involved and/or represented in an inquiry.

Strength-based change

An approach that focuses on the strengths, successes, core competencies, assets, etc. of a human system in order to create more of them.


The patterns, high points, life-giving forces brought forward during appreciative interviews. They are used to develop provocative propositions.


Changes in the identity of a system and qualitative changes in the state of being of that system. According to the research of Gervase R. Bushe and Aniq Khamisa, examples of organizations that have been transformed through Appreciative Inquiry include: Avon of Mexico, Cleveland Clinic, GTE (now Verizon), Hunter Douglas, Loghorn Western, Southview West Agency, and United Religions. In all seven of these cases, the Destiny/Delivery phase focused on “improvisation” rather than “implementation” which resulted in new ideas and knowledge and a generative metaphor that transformed the accepted beliefs of system members.


Having the power or tendency to transform. To change a system in nature, disposition, heart, character, or the like; to convert. Appreciative Inquiry can transform an organization or group or community, especially when it supports self-organized improvisation, rather than standard implementation.


A thing or idea perceived vividly in the imagination; a clear mental picture of a result you want to create; a compelling image. It answers the question: what would it look like if our organization or group were ideal or always at our best? According to Margaret Wheatley, we need to embrace vision as the invisible field that can enable us to recreate our workplaces, and our worlds.

Whole System Change

A term used to refer to the ultimate goal of Appreciative Inquiry to transform an entire organization at one time; all stakeholders are involved in the change effort or, if that is not feasible, representatives of all stakeholders involved in the change effort.