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Teaching Appreciative Inquiry

Fitzpatrick, Joyce J.

Nursing Education Perspectives: July/August 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 4 - p 188
doi: 10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000050
DEPARTMENTS: From the Editor


Everyone within the academic community feels buoyed by the positive energy that accompanies graduation ceremonies. But what if we could find ways to maintain that joy and enthusiasm throughout the academic year?

With its focus on positive ways of behaving to achieve organizational goals, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is taught and practiced as a model of organizational behavior in a wide range of organizations and business environments, replacing problem-based organizational behavior. The basic components of the AI model constitute a 4-D cycle of discovery: of the positives within the organization, of dreams of what could be, and of a preferred future, whose design is based on the discovery of positive components and shared dreams. The fourth component is destiny, the empowering of the creativity inherent in the individuals within the organization to achieve that which has been designed based on positive change (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005).

Recently, AI has been implemented as a model of organizational change in a number of health care environments, including the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System. May and colleagues (2011) provide a comprehensive view of how they took a positive and creative approach to change the conversation in the UVA health system environment. These authors provide 12 specific ways in which AI can be used to improve health care environments, from enhancing the patient experience, to inspiring healthy behaviors in patients, to building interdisciplinary teams, and to functioning in collaborative teams. With the current emphasis on teaching team building and interdisciplinary care and communication, AI is a model of organizational behavior that can reframe the structures and processes of care provision.

Leaders and clinicians in health care environments are constantly seeking solutions to problems that are often viewed as overwhelming and insurmountable. AI represents a change in culture, a focus on positive energy, and the creation of a healthy work environment. It helps health care providers harness the creative energy in a learning environment.

I have introduced AI as a model of enhancing the nurse-patient relationship in care delivery in hospitals. Although we do not yet have definitive, quantified outcomes of care, we do have a number of scenarios that nurses use to describe the care they provide. When asked about the positive aspects of their work with each other, the positive nurse-to-nurse interactions, clinical nurses describe specific behaviors and ways in which they communicate with colleagues. These nurses appreciate one another, the opposite of the incivility that nurses often claim characterizes our profession.

I am not aware of AI being taught or practiced within schools of nursing. But what would happen if we created learning structures that focused on the positive behaviors of all our faculty and students? The academic environment is bound by rules and expectations of a transactional model of functioning. We expect our faculty to meet certain expectations for teaching, service, and scholarship and our students to meet minimum grading and professional expectations. Too often, problems become the focus of our deliberations in faculty meetings and the primary drivers of organizational functioning.

The celebrations that we have in nursing education are evidence of the positives: We celebrate graduations, progression from one stage of professionalism to another through pinning ceremonies, honor awards, and the professional scholarship of faculty and students.

Let’s think about how we can acknowledge the creativity of our students and faculty. Bulletin boards are often used to display the publications of our academic teams. We could, for example, acknowledge clinical practice accomplishments or creative teaching models in a similar manner.

AI requires us to engage all stakeholders in designing a shared vision and creating a place for all within the shared vision. It requires continuous organizational commitment to craft roles and responsibilities for all involved and innovation to effect change in a learning environment (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005). We characterize our schools of nursing as learning environments and strive to be both inclusive and empowering. The AI model would be valuable in achieving the changes in education we so desire.



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Cooperrider D. L., Whitney D. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
May N., Becker D., Frankel R., Haizlip J., Harrison R., Plews-Ogan M., …, Whitney D. (2011). Appreciative inquiry in healthcare. Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing.
© 2016 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.