1. Discovery – best of what is and what has been
People talk to one another, usually via structured interviews, to discover the times when the organisation is at its best. These stories are told as richly as possible and from them people start to discover the ‘positive core’ of the organisation, what gives life to it when it is at its best. People appreciate themselves and their colleagues and significant transformations begin to occur.
2. Dream – what might be
The dream phase is often run as a large group conference where a cross-section of the organisation is encouraged to imagine and co-create the future. They are encouraged to envision the organisation as if the peak moments discovered in the ‘discover’ phase were the norm rather than the exception. “What would things be like if…?” Working in small groups, they try to put as much ‘flesh’ as possible on their visions as possible. These are then creatively presented to the rest of the group and worked on further.
3. Design – what should be
In the early days of Appreciative Inquiry the design phase was delegated to a small team which was empowered to go away and design ways of creating the organisation dreamed in the dream conference(s). Although this still happens, Gervase Busche has found that transformational change is more likely to occur if the design phase is undertaken by as wide a group as possible. In this collaborative design approach the group first derive a design possibilities map, which contains, in three concentric circles, the dream for the organisation, the key relationships which have an impact on the dream, and key organisational design elements that will be needed to deliver the dream.
In small groups participants then ‘sign up’ to explore particular design elements which they have energy for and these groups craft ‘provocative propositions’ which challenge the organisation to adopt a new and healthier future. These are shared with the large group and further refined.
4. Destiny – what will be
The final phase is to deliver the dream and the new design. Because the term ‘deliver’ has implications of closure, many AI workers prefer the term ‘Destiny’ which continues the future-facing theme. Whichever term is chosen, the final phase is one of experimentation and improvisation, sometimes described as ‘organisational jazz’. Small implementation teams will be formed to follow up on the design elements and to continue the appreciative process. The Destiny phase may itself contain more small-scale Appreciative Inquiries into specific aspects of organisational life.