Using Appreciative Inquiry for Evaluating Organizations

Posted on March 19, 2012 | in Uncategorized | by CRC

Typically our blogs focus on evaluation techniques that are specific to program evaluations. But what about the organizations executing the programs? Is there a way to evaluate an organization with the goal of improving how it functions?

Coghlan and colleagues (2003) suggest that the appreciative inquiry method can be a constructive approach to evaluating the function of an organization. Appreciative inquiry is used more often in the private sector, but is being seen more and more as an evaluation approach with applications in the public sector as well. In a nutshell, appreciative inquiry involves working with members of an organization to determine the aspects of their work that are going well, why they are going well, and what they would like to see more of.

Notice I didnt say see less of. Some suggest that this approach denies that problems exist in an organization; however, proponents of the approach would suggest that problems are reframed in a more positive, constructive manner. The focus of appreciative inquiry is admittedly on a programs strengths, but asking individuals in the organization what they want to see and having them describe their vision addresses current limitations in the organization that need to be improved.

The 4-D model, based on an appreciative inquiry framework, shows the connections between the following:

  1. Discovery: what is the best of what is? (appreciating what is best in the organization at this moment)
  2. Dream: what might be? (envisioning results for the organization)
  3. Design: what would be the ideal? (constructing the future of ideals for the organization)
  4. Destiny: how to empower, learn and adjust/improvise? (sustaining the change)

This model can also be adapted to evaluating programs within an organization, not just the organization itself. It isnt difficult to imagine a situation where you discuss with a client what is working in their organization and end up discussing what is working in a specific program and what else is needed in that program.

In the case of evaluating a one specific program instead of an entire organization, the model can be used as weve described it, or it can be tailored to the programs specific needs, which is also a great approach and a more likely one, given that the method is newer to evaluation of individual programs, and, as such, specific guidelines are not yet available.

Are you aware of an organization or program that seems like it could benefit from an appreciative inquiry evaluation? It is a flexible approach that may even fit in tight budgets.

Resource: Coghlan, A. T., Preskill, H., & Catsambas, T.T. (2003). An overview of appreciative inquiry in evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 100,5-22).