The 4-D Cycle

Most Appreciative Inquiry initiatives begin with the selection of an Affirmative Topic, then progress through a process called the 4-D Cycle: Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny

Affirmative Topic(s)

The Affirmative Topics are the focus of an AI initiative.  The topics represent areas where an organization wants to learn and grow.  Because people and organizations grow in the direction of the their persistent focus, the careful crafting of “life-giving” Affirmative Topic(s) is of critical importance.


During the Discovery phase, people have conversations, usually via interviews, to recollect times when individuals, teams, or organizations were at their best. Success stories are recreated with rich detail.  People begin to cultivate a deepened appreciation of themselves, their teams, and their work.  Already in this stage transformation begins to occur.


Groups within the company are gathered together and encouraged to co-create an inspired vision of the future, in which the peak moments from the Discover phase become the norm rather than the exception. Teams begin to speculate: “What would it be like if…?” Groups work together to add as much real-life detail to their visions as possible. These visions are then brought to life as presentations for other groups, to inspire cross-pollination and further expansion of the collective vision.


The Design phase is used to create practical plans to fulfill the visions conceived during the Dream phase.  The Design phase can be conducted among small teams or by an entire company.  The Design team links dreams to the resources and organizational structures needed to carry them out.


In the final phase, actions are taken to carry out or ‘deliver’ the plans from the Design phase.  This final phase invites improvisation and innovation, as smaller teams are encouraged to create and conduct their own mini 4-D cycles.   In this way, Appreciative Inquiry becomes an integral part of the organizational culture, driving inquiry and appreciation at every level of the enterprise.

Illustration from The Appreciative Inquiry Handbook by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney (2008), p.5