Building Better and More Positive Community Engagement

Appreciative Inquiry, consultation, integrated care

 Are you part of an organisation that wants to engage with community members to inform the way you do business?

If you are looking for an engagement strategy that is positive and actively encourages people to work with you, then an appreciative approach may be just what you need.

In this post we will share with you our experience of using a strength-based leadership framework for a community engagement strategy that really works.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative inquiry (A.I.) is a strength-based leadership framework, developed in the USA by Dr David Cooperrider for his doctoral dissertation in 1985.  The A.I. framework is applied in the corporate world, public service, education, economics and many other organisations have also adopted the philosophy of the framework.

The Appreciative Inquiry method is a positive approach that encourages participants to express their ideas based on their personal experience, discuss system and process redesign and is a call to action when considering the way forward.

The conceptual elements of the approach are simple but elegant. The process starts with a  focus on identifying what the inquiry is about or what the ‘affirmative topic’ is.  

AI is then a facilitated journey through four conceptual phases, discover, dream, design and destiny.


  • Participants recall a past good experience and through reflection identify what made it good


  • Participants are asked to dream of a future state that is an ideal, using all of their senses to identify what the dream would feel and look like?


  • Having visualised a future state, the participants design the systems and processes for the future


  • Pose the question about what each participant could contribute to making the dream state and design happen in reality

Whilst the literature about Appreciative inquiry focusses mainly on the inquiry and information gathering, our experience with using this method in community engagement is that there a body of underlying work that is the secret to success

6 Top Tips for using appreciative inquiry in your community engagment process

  1. Focus on topic; The focus needs to be clear to inform planning as to who should be involved, how the strategy should be implemented and when you may host an event. 
  2. Invitation; Consider who would be interested in having their voice heard. In the instance of chronic disease for example this would include not only people who have a diagnosed condition but also their family / carers and special interest groups and associations.
  3. Preparation; Thorough preparation for a focus group using appreciative inquiry starts with a mindful approach, that is people centred, respectful and open to the inputs from the group
  4. Time is precious; Given that the interaction time is relatively brief one of the keys to success is to become fully engaged with a group quickly, which actually starts before the session 
  5. Creating safety; For a group of relative strangers to express their experience and desires in the focus area it is an imperative that they feel safe
  6. Reporting; The information gathered needs to be true to the group and a summary of the consultation event should be reviewed by the participants prior to their information being used.

Community engagement is an important investment into the future for any organisation.

Appreciative Inquiry is a great positive community engagement strategy which looks simple when you look at the framework, but its success is dependent on thorough and thoughtful planning, facilitation and delivery.

If you or your organisation is interested in exploring Community Engagement using this framework then contact us. We can help and guide you to develop more confidence in engaging with your community.

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