Sunday, July 12, 2009

Change Model 1: The 4D Model (Appreciative Inquiry)


The 4-D Model is based on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) which is a larger framework for human or organizational change. Like AI itself, it is based on a shift in paradigms on human interaction. The core can be captured in the idea that we create the world as we describe it. If many people in an organization think that this is a torture chamber, they will feel physical pain when they enter the door of this organization. If the same people think this is a great place to work, it will be.
Alana Karran writes about the difference between problem and outcome orientation approaches:

The other primary orientation is the Outcome Orientation, also known as the Collaborative-Creating Orientation. The focus of this orientation is the vision of the organization. What is focused on has a great impact on the emergent experience. Focus, or intention evokes an emotional response that drives behavior. This behavior reinforces the intention. Because systems are circular and feedback loops return to their point of orientation, this cycle continues indefinitely unless there is a change of focus. The principle of feedforward also applies, as the focus influences the future.

In the Collaborative-Creating Orientation, focusing on the vision engages passion and desire to manifest the intended outcome. When members of an organization have a shared vision and shared meaning this passion infuses the entire system because what affects a part, affects the whole. Biological systems are creative in nature and creativity happens collaboratively, most often in some form of community. Highly functioning organizations with a deep sense of community thrive from this orientation as the vision sparks passion, which creates authentic action moving the whole system closer to the vision exponentially.

Creators of the Model:
Suresh Srivastva, Ron Fry, and David Cooperrider, 1990

Phases of the Change Process: (taken from
Discover—people talk to one another, often via structured interviews, to discover the times when the organisation is at its best. These stories are told as richly as possible.

Dream—the dream phase is often run as a large group conference where people are encouraged to envision the organisation as if the peak moments discovered in the ‘discover’ phase were the norm rather than exceptional.

Design—a small team is empowered to go away and design ways of creating the organisation dreamed in the conference(s).

Destiny—the final phase is to implement the changes.

Does the Model Relate to Complexity Theory?

AI and the 4D-Model are deeply rooted in complexity theory. The underlying principle of simultaneity (change of mind and change of organizations happen at the same time) and the principle of poetry (the story of organizations can be recreated in conversations) relate to a basic systemic process: organizations can not be described as the sum of its parts but only as a whole.


The model has been applied to many different kind of organizations, from the profit (e.g., British Airways) and non-profit (United Nations) sectors. It is suitable for a wide range of transformation processes, including quality management, vision/mission/value creation, improvement of collaboration, etc.

  • The 4D-model works with what exists already in organizations. People can easily relate to their past success stories and link them to what they want for the future.
  • It is highly participatory and inclusive and respects different views and values.
  • The results of a 4D process are directly action oriented.
  • It creates energy and enhances motivation of people involved.
  • The model is more related to the past and present than to the future.
  • It does not include a wake-up call. Problems and challenges, although not denied, do not receive the same attention than visions.
  • The quality of results varies and depends on many factors. AI requires a highly skilled facilitator to make sure that the output of the process satisfies the expectations of the process owner.

More resources:

Website of Appreciative Inquiry Commons
Case Study: AI at World Vision
Timeline of Appreciative Inquiry

Photo of David Cooperrider: Ovationnet



Hans said...

Excellent overview, brief and compehensive. Brief comment on problems and emphasis on past vs. future. Personnally I do not have a problem with "problems". AI is very "American": Focus on the positive. Europeans don't mind to dive deeply into problems, they need to really feel them - almost physically - in order to cope with them; to develop the sense of urgency. The redefinition of "problem" (emphasis on the past) into a "challange" (emphasis on the future) is something we often discuss in workshops with particitpants from different cultures.

Anonymous said...

My experience was that AI had a very strong whiff of 'cult' about it - especially as the (well-regarded) practitioner spent a lot of time getting us to appreciate AI itself.

Jim S. said...

Any workable alternative to established belief is regarded as cultish by those who are "true believers." I suggest to Anonymous that suspending disbelief and engaging thoughtfully in an appreciative inquiry will be useful -- perhaps even enlightening.

Anonymous said...

AI is related to the past and present in order to reframe them -- thus allowing a different perception of the future.

Problems and challenges can be integrated into questions based on input from interested parties - e.g. customers, management, other departments. This isn't usually done, but it should be defined as a best practice for AI.

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