Appreciative inquiry as a strategic planning tool

May 19, 2022


Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was pioneered in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

It is a way to engage groups of people in self-determwined change. It focuses on what’s working rather than what’s not working and leads to people co- creating their future

Appreciative Inquiry is process for facilitating positive change in organizations, groups, and communities.

Its assumption is that every human system has something that works right i.e things that give it life when it is vital, effective, and successful.

AI begins by identifying this positive core and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy, sharpen vision, and inspire action for change.

Most of the models used by consultants for strategic planning focus identifying problems and ways to eliminate the problems.

Such exercises result in organisations failing to realise the positives residing in their systems.

On the other hand AI accepts and builds on that which the organization is doing well no matter how minor it may appear.

The beauty of this model is its ability to accommodate as many participants as possible in the strategic planning process taking a collaborative approach across all hierarchical structure.

This collaboarative approach is key in harnessing the thoughts of a cross section of those in the organisations resulting in the core-creation of sustainable solutions for the organization.


Soar analysis in appreciative inquiry

Traditional strategic planning uses tools such as the SWOT analysis which main focus

is half strengths and half opportunities for the organisation. Its key benefit has been the ability enable us to see the whole organization in the context of the future. However, AI has brought in a tool that has been successfully used in strategic planning, the SOAR model ( Strenghts, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results)

Key questions are asked in each of the quadrants of the tool which I will highlight below:

Strengths: Participants to the strategic planning session need to ask the following key questions — What are we most proud of as an organization?

How does that reflect our greatest strength?

These questions awaken the participants to the key areas of strength the organization need to focus their energies towards.

Opportunities: Under this quadrant the following questions are critical — What are the top three opportunities on which we should focus?

How can we reframe challenges to be seen as exciting opportunities?

These questions enable the participants to reframe their thinking by removing the negative thoughts of being weighed down by the challenges the organization is facing.

Instead, their mindset is refocused to towards the opportunities that come with challenges.

Aspirations: This quadrant ignite participants’ curiosity about the organization’s values which drive their attainment of their vision.

It is by asking this question that this curiosity is triggered — When we explore our values and aspirations, “what are we deeply passionate about?”

Results: What matters at the end of the day are the results.

This quadrant helps participants deduce the anticipated results along the way. So it is critical to ask these questions.

What are the measurable results that would indicate we are on track to achieve our objectives?

Use of this tool with AI strategic planning has proved to bring positive results planning for organizational success.

Using the AI model in strategic planning will indeed bring in an exciting dimension.

Paul Nyausaru is an OD Practitioner and leadership coach. For all your OD interventions and leadership development training you can get in touch with him on whatsapp/call +263774062756 or Email


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