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The adapted application of Appreciative Enquiry as a qualitative research methodology. Exploring academic staff experiences of engaging in learning and teaching development interventions, and the ways in which these have enhanced pedagogic practice and student learning.

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The adapted application of appreciative enquiry as a qualitative research methodology l.jpg

The adapted application of Appreciative Enquiry as a qualitative research methodology

Exploring academic staff experiences of engaging in learning and teaching development interventions, and the ways in which these have enhanced pedagogic practice and student learning.


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Appreciative Enquiry: Background qualitative research methodology

  • It began in the 1980s as group discussion/teamwork methodology

  • to improve organisational systems without being too critical

  • by focusing on what is already working well in an organisation

  • and exploring possibilities in terms of improvement

    (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987)


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The unconditional positive question qualitative research methodology

  • Traditionally, in the context of a research interview, questioning techniques were used to elicit only positive responses in relation to the respondents’ experiences and perceptions

  • The research thus focuses on:

    “The most life giving, life-sustaining aspects of organisational experience”

    (Ludema, Cooperrider and Barrett, 2001)


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Appreciative Enquiry in qualitative research methodologyan educational context

  • More recently appreciative enquiry has been increasingly applied in educational organisation

  • As a means of monitoring and evaluation

    (Baume, 2008)

  • In this context it attempts to give collective and organisation wide ownership/ authorship for positive transformation

  • Evaluation becomes a collaborative means of improving organisational systems

  • And is negotiated, not imposed

  • Consequent changes are more likely to be accepted by staff

  • Since they have jointly been involved in evaluating themselves and their organisation


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When is Appreciative qualitative research methodologyEnquiry considered most effective?

  • When high levels of participation and cooperation are required

  • The change process needs to be accelerated

  • The work requires innovation among diverse groups in a high stakes environment

  • Multiple change initiatives need to be synthesized

    (Fitzgerald, Murrell and Newman, 2002, p12)


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Traditional Appreciative Enquiry methodology qualitative research methodology

  • Focus groups

  • The four stages of appreciative enquiry:

    (Ludema et al., 2001, p192)


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Description of the 4 stages of Appreciative Enquiry qualitative research methodology

Through facilitation of a moderator focus group participants discuss:

  • Discovery: the most positive aspects of experience

  • Dream: ideal future development based on this positive experience

  • Design: affirmation and consolidation of plans to work towards this ideal

  • Destiny: plans created in the context of the focus groups are translated into action outside the focus group, and are owned by the participants

    (Ludema et al., 2001, p192)


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Appreciative Enquiry in practice: qualitative research methodology

  • How was this methodology applied in 2 different research projects exploring the experiences of academic staff at the University who have engaged in learning and teaching development interventions?

  • Lecturers’ engagement in Pathfinder, and the e-learning development programme, and its impact on the application of new technology in pedagogic practice. A qualitative case study based on the experience of academic course staff at the University of Brighton.

  • Lecturers’ experience of learning and teaching fellowships within a community of practice at the University of Brighton: an exploration of the ways in which being a learning and teaching fellow has enhanced the teaching practice of fellowship holders; and their students’ learning experience.


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Why adapt the traditional Appreciative Enquiry methodology in the context of the research projects I am conducting?

  • The unconditional question....

  • But not always... positive

  • A true and balanced research picture will only be created if

  • Negative responses and opinions are not stifled by a moderator’s positive questioning

  • Negative views should be allowed

  • The moderator should then probe to see how participants think barriers or problems can be overcome

  • It is argued that this is the only way to truly generate positive change through Appreciative Enquiry.

    (Bushe, 2007)


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Ownership by the researcher in the context of the research projects I am conducting?

In the context of these research projects the Appreciative Enquiry was owned by the researcher rather than the participants for the following reasons:

  • These research projects were not intended to be a formal evaluation of staff; they were rather a means to explore their experiences, and ways in which learning and teaching development interventions affected, and would continue to affect their students’ learning, their teaching and their professional development.

  • There was no obligation that staff should follow up the research interviews or focus groups with an action plan. However, they were asked to consolidate ideas and plans they discussed a the end of the interview/focus group. Some staff may have then put these plans into action, but this may have been something they would do anyway.

  • Individual in depth interviews, paired interviews and focus groups were conducted. In the case of individual or paired interviews, ownership by participants is more difficult than in focus groups. However, in the focus groups the participants had greater ownership over the discussion. In all cases, open ended questions were used allowing participants complete freedom to express themselves.


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Putting participants at their ease in the context of the research projects I am conducting?

At the beginning of each interview or focus group the moderator emphasised that :

  • although the research was seeking to explore positive aspects of their experience of learning and teaching interventions, that they should feel free to express themselves freely, and talk about negative aspects if they wished to. In this way the research would be balanced, and not biased towards the positive.

  • Moreover, it was also emphasised that this research was not a staff evaluation, but rather an exploration of their experiences.

  • In both projects the research data and findings would provide vital information for the University of Brighton, identifying further staff and student development needs, and successful strategies to support staff and student learning.


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Design of moderator’s guide in the context of the research projects I am conducting?

Phase 1: Discovery

  • What did you get out of the intensive course redesigns?

  • What did you find exciting about it?

  • What made it a good experience?

  • How do you think it affected your and your colleagues’ success in using e-learning in their work?

  • What made this success possible?

  •  How do you think the sessions affected students learning?

  •  What has made this development possible?

    Phase 2:Dream

  • In an ideal world how would you like e-learning to develop in the university ?

  •  In your work?

  •  And in colleagues’ work?

  •  How do you think your ideal e-learning goals could be realised?

  •  As a result of engaging in the sessions, how do you really see

    e-learning developing in the future in your work?

  • How do you see e-learning continuing to develop as a sustainable process?

  • Prompt if necessary


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Phase 3 in the context of the research projects I am conducting?: Design

  • How will e-learning developments in your work and your colleagues’ work be achieved?

  • How will sustainable e-learning development in their and your work be achieved?

  • What are the most important factors which will help realise the goals you have described?

    Phase 4:Destiny/ Delivery

  • What are your action plans for achieving your goals?

  • How will this action plan be carried out?

  •  Who will be responsible?

  •  What resources will be needed?


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Was Appreciative Enquiry effective? in the context of the research projects I am conducting?Case study: E-learning development research

  • Because the moderator emphasised that this was not a staff evaluation; and that participants were free to talk about negative aspects of their experience, most staff were very honest about what they felt was positive, what had worked for them, and what hadn’t worked for them.

  • When they did talk about what hadn’t worked or wasn’t developing, with probing from the moderator, the participants talked about factors which would help overcome a problem or issue in the future.

  • This was very helpful, and without always focusing on the positive, Appreciative Enquiry was very effective in identifying the very positive experiences that participants commonly mentioned in relation to the intensive course redesign sessions they attended; and the sustained positive effects these sessions had on their development of e-learning within their courses and practice.


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  • When participants talked about factors which hindered their development of e-learning, they were able to give reasons, and talk about possible solutions.

  • Although such solutions may not be always within their control, and may be things which need to be addressed at an institutional level, the Appreciative Enquiry will now pass ownership of positive organisational change to those people in the institution who have the power to address issues raised by this research, and summarised in the research findings report, once it is written.

  • In addition, some participants have been able to develop their e-learning plans as discussed in the focus groups and interviews. Others have found it more difficult to develop e-learning quickly and need more time to initiate development.


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Appreciative Enquiry has been very effective in identifying the most positive and negative aspects of participants’ experience, and this sense has created a very honest research picture. It has provided useful data and findings which may be used to confirm that the intensive course redesigns work very well; but that there are still problems at institutional level which need to be addressed in order to facilitate e-learning development further.


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Continuing concerns the most positive and negative aspects of participants’ experience, and this sense has created a very honest research picture. It has provided useful data and findings which may be used to confirm that the intensive course redesigns work very well; but that there are still problems at institutional level which need to be addressed in order to facilitate e-learning development further.

Despite the fact that most respondents were honest about both positive and negative factors in focus groups and interviews, the focus of this methodology on the positive still means that the research may be considered biased or skewed. Therefore, can we call it research? Or should we simply call it Appreciative Enquiry? Academics I have talked to about this are still sceptical about it as a valid research methodology?


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What do you think? the most positive and negative aspects of participants’ experience, and this sense has created a very honest research picture. It has provided useful data and findings which may be used to confirm that the intensive course redesigns work very well; but that there are still problems at institutional level which need to be addressed in order to facilitate e-learning development further.


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References the most positive and negative aspects of participants’ experience, and this sense has created a very honest research picture. It has provided useful data and findings which may be used to confirm that the intensive course redesigns work very well; but that there are still problems at institutional level which need to be addressed in order to facilitate e-learning development further.

  • Baume, D. (2008) “An overview of Monitoring and Evaluating Staff and Educational Development.” RED-U,http://www.uclm.es/organos/vic_docencia/innovacion_educativa/congreso_red_u/Evaluation%20Summary.pdf

  • Bushe, G.R. (2007) “Generativity and the Transformational Potential of Appreciative Inquiry.” Organizational Generativity: Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Vol.3

  • Bushe, G.R. (2007) “Appreciative Inquiry Is Not (Just) About The Positive”. OD Practitioner, Vol. 39, No.4, pp30-35

  • Cooperrider, D. L., and S. Srivastva (1987). Appreciative inquiry in organizational life, in R. Woodman and W. Pasmore (Vol. Eds.), Research in organizational change and development, Vol.1, pp129-169, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press Inc.

  • Cooperrider, D. and F.J.Barrett (2002). “An Exploration of the Spiritual Heart of Human Science Inquiry.”Reflections, Vol.3. No.3, pp56-62

  • Fitzgerald, S.P., Murrell, K.L. and H.L. Newman (2001). Appreciative inquiry – the new frontier, in J.Waclawski and A.H. Church (Eds.), Organization development: Data driven methods for change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp203-221

  • Ludema, J.D, D.L.Cooperrider and F.J. Barrett (2006). Appreciative Inquiry: the Power of the Unconditional Positive Question, in Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury Eds., The Handbook of Action Research, Sage, pp155-165

  • Wright, M. and A. Baker (2005). “The effects of appreciative inquiry interviews on staff in the UK National Health Service.” International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 18, No.1, pp41-51