25th September 2015

What is AI? Part 1

Here’s a blog from Simon Blake, from the Learning from Excellence team.  This is the first of a series of blog posts about Appreciative Inquiry (AI):

The National Health Service we work within, use, support and care about has changed immensely since its foundation in the 1940s.  Perhaps it is proof positive that broad-based transformational change can and does happen.  Change clearly also occurs on a smaller, but no less significant scale;  on the shifts on which healthcare professionals work, and in the wards, units and departments that you lead, manage and operate within.

Lurking within many approaches which attempt to understand such change – whether it is incremental or transformational – is a persistent expectation that, for things to get better, we must focus upon and learn from our mistakes.  Further, such a logic of thinking seems to suggest that in order for us to meaningfully change we must break with the past and build anew.  You can guess where this is heading, yes?

For a long time, it has been evident to some that there is an alternative approach. Helen Bevan wrote in 2004 that instead of always focussing upon problems, by “asking questions and having conversations that were intentionally positive…(researchers have found), even in organisations with the greatest performance challenges, potential to transform them in ways previous unimagined.”. Helen is now the Chief Transformation Officer for NHS Improving Quality.  And it is in this role that she was recently part of the Challenge Top-Down Change Panel (a collaboration between the Health Service Journal, Nursing Times and NHS IQ) which identified Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a key solution to engendering successful change in the NHS.

A key element of AI is that it doesn’t require us to jettison what we are currently doing, in order to create successful change.  Rather, as the Change Challenge identified, “the focus (of AI)  is on strengths, solutions, what is already working, what looks good, and what people want more of”.

At the heart of AI is a positive way of thinking.  A perspective which says that whilst healthcare professionals experience and attempt to workaround everyday problems, the seriously untoward incidents that garner the headlines are unique, infrequent and not everyday.  Empowering professionals to enhance their identification of and learning from these everyday successes requires a different way of thinking and understanding the work that you do.

This is the first of a short series of blogs about the appreciative inquiry approach.  It is but one approach among many which derive their energy and force from a positive psychological perspective and movement.  To understand a little more about the roots of this movement, and of AI itself, please dip into the next LfE blog.


Helen Bevan (2004) ‘What Works:  Appreciating Our Assets’.  Available from:  http://www.institute.nhs.uk/quality_and_value/introduction/article_1.html

HSJ/NT/NHSiQ (2015) Challenge Top-Down Change.  Available from: http://m.hsj.co.uk/5083743.article

Simon Blake

September 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *