Houston Independent School District Spotlight on Wellness

Team work

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a whole-system positive change process for moving an organization toward its highest potential. It is the search for the best of people, their organizations, and their world. It involves exploring and questioning a system in order to create more positive potential for that system. It achieves this by emphasizing imagination and innovation and assuming that every system has untapped positive practices in place that - with the right ‘change agenda’ - can lead to ideas, practices and opportunities that were never thought possible.

Appreciative Inquiry builds on strengths (what works and how to do more of it) rather than deficits (what’s broken and how it can be fixed). Essential to this method is “whole system” involvement. During the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools Summit, community leaders, students, teachers, principals, food service professionals, parents, administrators and national leaders were all joined – for the first time - in this effort to build on the positive.

For the past 20 years, AI has achieved results in numerous business, industry, government and nonprofit settings. The original theory of AI was developed by Dr. Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in 1987. Since then, scholars, leaders and students have been involved in co-creating new concepts and understanding around AI, and using it as a tool to create positive change. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools Summit marks the first time that the Appreciative Inquiry method was used in a major school district. The hope is that the Houston ISD will become a leading example of how effective and rejuvenating the positive change process can be to a school district.

Appreciative Inquiry method utilizes four phases known as the 4 D’s - Discovery, Dream, Design and Deployment. With the "whole system" in the room, engaging in inquiries to identify organizational strengths (“Discovery” phase) the Summit stage is then set for co-creating visions for the future (“Dream” phase), crafting propositions that will guide their future together (“Design” phase), and, finally, forming teams to carry out the work needed to realize the new vision and design (“Deployment” phase).


With the rapid prototyping done during the Design phase, the AI process has been shown to create big changes quickly, accomplishing months of work in a few days and creating momentum toward implementation. Equally important, the process builds nurturing relationships and cooperation among diverse groups of people, offering opportunities for relationship building across functions and levels in the organization as well as with industry, parents, government, and community interest groups.

Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University, recognized internationally as the pioneer of the AI method, led Summit participants in developing solutions that built on the existing strengths of the Houston Independent School District. In this video he provides an overview of the Appreciative Inquiry method that he created and its 4-D cycle.