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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Appreciative Inquiry Process

Appreciative Inquiry is a facilitated process to discover past and current practices that inform and inspire participants as they strive to collaboratively create and implement an ideal future. Unlike many decision-making processes that focus on what is not working, Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what is already working or and where people want to increase what is working. It does not focus on the identification or solving of problems, but rather envisioning and creating a positive future. It involves selecting topics of shared interest for inquiry, conducting structured interviews to bring out stories that reveal the best of the past – or what has worked – and identifying themes to help plan the future. Appreciative Inquiry is a systematic process that uses the art and practice of asking questions and building upon stories to foster innovation and imagination.


  • Solicits the full participation of stakeholders in mission or vision development, strategic planning, and community development.
  • Builds support for change as an ongoing process and not just a one-time event.
  • Promotes heart-felt inquiry, discovery, and renewal.
  • Supports organizations in transition.

Challenges to Consider

  • Because this process is intended to bring the “whole system” together, when using Appreciative Inquiry at the community level it is important to make sure participants are representative of the entire community and that very broad access is created to include as many people as possible.
  • Not appropriate where predictable, linear processes and outcomes are required or where the problem identification and problem-solving method for change is preferred.

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Provide Appreciative Inquiry training/experience to all team members and decision makers to make sure they are comfortable with the process and open to possible outcomes.
  • Convene a coordinating committee that is representative of the public to develop the theme or question to be considered.
  • Follow the 4-D cycle for implementing the Appreciative Inquiry process.
    • Discovery: craft questions, develop interview guide, train interviewers, conduct interviews, share stories from interviews about best practices, map the core of the findings.
    • Dream: reflect on a focal question, engage in a dream dialogue, clarify the collective dream, creatively enact the dream, determine common themes, create an organizational dream map and document the dream.
    • Design: identify a meaningful social architecture, select relevant and strategic design elements, identify organizational design preferences, craft provocative propositions.
    • Destiny: review, communicate and celebrate accomplishments, generate a list of potential actions, and self-organize for inspired action.

Resources Needed


  • Facilitator trained in the appreciative inquiry process
  • Logistics staff (number needed will depend on group size)


  • Optional laptop computers, printers, copy machine
  • Easels and flipcharts (1 for every 6-8 participants)
  • Overhead projector
  • Microphones for larger groups
  • Interpreters, if necessary

Planning Time

  • Substantial time may be needed to assemble representative coordinating committee and train committee members in Appreciative Inquiry method
  • Planning requires time to develop a detailed schedule of events and organization and advertising for each individual event

Implementation Time

  • Vary in length depending on the purpose, organization, and process design. A full four-step process can take several months
  • A large Appreciative Inquiry process can be accomplished in a summit-style meeting that gets the “whole system” in the room and lasts a few days

Group Size

  • Varies depending on system size. Can accommodate up to 1,000 people.


  • Can vary wildly depending on the size of the group or “system.” Most significant expenses are staff time and facility costs.

Most relevant participation levels:

  • Collaborate

For More Information:

Appreciative Inquiry Commons Exit

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460