Appreciative Inquiry: starting with the 5D cycle

People encountering appreciative inquiry for the first time often think it’s simply about the 4D or 5D cycle. The 5Ds is a tried-and-tested strength-based organisational development and strategic planning tool, which reaps particular rewards when used in creative organisations. It naturally integrates creative strands into its methodology – tools like visioning and collaging – which is great for harnessing the passion and commitment of staff and management in creative businesses, who often work within a small group environment.

The 5Ds cycle is one of the core tools of appreciative inquiry and a great way to start. It’s used to focus on the positive in any group or organisation, and identifies ‘what works’ to create a positive, inclusive future. The 5Ds are cyclical, and you can refer both backwards and forwards around the cycle throughout the process.

But Appreciative Inquiry is about so much more – including a much wider approach and philosophy, and an appreciative mindset. Over time, it changes the way you think, and process information. That’s why journaling is so important for AI.

appreciative inquiry - illustration of The 5D cycle, Appreciating People, UK experts


What is the inquiry? Definition is used to clarify the area of work to be considered. In spite of being the starting point of the cycle, it’s a recent addition – the 5Ds were originally the 4Ds, including discover, dream, design and destiny. Definition defines the project’s purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved. Originally AI consultants used the definition stage to help define the project, agree outcomes and contract details. Now it’s used by the majority of practitioners as a way of defining what to study/ inquire into.
Appreciating the best of ‘what is’ Discovery is based on a dialogue, as a way of finding ‘what works’. It rediscovers and remembers the organisation or community’s successes, strengths and periods of excellence.
Imagining ‘what could be’ Imagining uses past achievements and successes identified in the discovery phase to imagine new possibilities and envisage a preferred future. It allows people to identify their dreams for a community or organisation; having discovered ‘what is best’. They have the chance to project it into their wishes, hopes and aspirations for the future.
Determining ‘what should be’ Design brings together the stories from discovery with the imagination and creativity from dream. We call it bringing the ‘best of what is’ together with ‘what might be’, to create ‘what should be – the ideal’.
Creating ‘what will be’ The fifth stage in the 5Ds process identifies how the design is delivered, and how it’s embedded into groups, communities and organisations. In early appreciative inquiry development, it was called ‘delivery’, based on more traditional organisational development practice. The term ‘destiny’ is more prevalent now.



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