Philosophical Foundation of Appreciative Inquiry
- Appreciative Inquiry is based on Social Constructionism
- What we focus on becomes our reality
- Social reality is created by the stories we tell about ourselves
- Communities grow in the direction of the questions they ask
Social Constructionism and Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry relies on Social Constructionism as its fundamental understanding of the way that people and organizations perceive their reality and structure their existence. Social constructionism is part of a post-modern understanding of the nature of reality and owes significantly to the work of Ken Gergen.
In essence social constructionism postulates that our perception of reality is a social construction. This perception of reality, or the meaning we ascribe to reality, in turn is generative in that it leads to activity. In many situations the results of the activity are confirmatory of the original meaning. Arising from this social constructionist viewpoint is one of the assumptions of appreciative inquiry:
"What we focus on becomes our reality."
From Sue Hammond
Social Constructionism provides an understanding of the Pygmalion phenomena. When a group of equally talented children is divided into two and given to two equally talented teachers who are told that one group is bright and intelligent while the other is slow and dull, by the years end the supposed intelligent group will out perform the supposed dull class on measures of academic achievement. The perception of reality is self-fulfilling.
Likewise if we view congregations as dysfunctional, co-dependent, or troubled and seek to intervene in the congregation's life from that perspective we will only confirm our negative perception and further add to the congregation's problems. Alternatively if we see congregations as places where God is at work, loving and redeeming God's people then we will become enfolded in and part of that redemption.
Social Constructionism and Story Telling
People and communities create their self understanding and their understanding of others by the telling of stories. These narratives in turn shape what is perceived from reality. The telling and retelling of the Biblical narratives of the People of God, or Creation and Redemption are classic examples of social constructionism.
At a day-to-day level people tell stories that shape their reality of who they are. They can perceive of themselves as victims or survivors of events. While the event cannot be changed, the way it is perceived can be change. Telling the story of an event from the perspective of being a victim or from the perspective of a survivor will have a profoundly different impact on both the teller of the story and the hearer of the story.
At its heart Appreciative Inquiry pays great attention to the questions we ask, which in turn evokes the stories people tell. We want to have people telling stories in ways that calls forth their best and empowers their future. For examples of Appreciative Inquiry questions please see
Appreciative Inquiry Interviews