Appreciative Inquiry

Ask powerful questions to improve learning

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is the attempt to cultivate success within a team by using powerful questions that provoke learners and interprofessional team members to reflect on their own potential, and discover ways in which they can improve their own performance and the performance of their team.

Creating a Powerful Question
Characteristics of powerful questions include generating curiosity in the listener, stimulating reflective conversation, channeling attention and focusing inquiry, and evoking further questions.

Asking Questions
Is the question

  • Yes/No
  • Either/Or
  • Interrogative

Interrogative questions will inherently create greater opportunities for learners to reflect on their experience. Consider these debriefing questions, following a simulation:

  • What did you do wrong during that scenario?
  • How could your performance during that scenario have been better?
  • Looking back on that scenario, why did you make the decisions that you did?

Is one of these questions more powerful than the rest?

All three questions hint at the same thing—getting the student to recognize the reasons why certain decisions were made during the simulation and what team members, the student included, have done to improve the performance and outcome. However, the way in which the questions are asked prompt different responses from the student.

The scope of the questions you are being asking should be appropriate to the learning and/ or performance objectives that you would like the team members—and the team itself—to meet. Learners and group members will be able to reflect on different aspects of their care delivery, as the facilitator expands the scope in question. Consider the following questions:

  • How does this patient benefit from a collaborative approach to care?
  • How do our diabetic patients benefit from a collaborative approach to care?
  • How do all of our patients benefit from a collaborative approach to care?

Be aware of the scope of the question, as a scope that is too narrow or too broad can hinder the power of the question. For instance, consider the following questions:

  • How does this patient’s condition benefit from a collaborative approach to care?
  • How does the world benefit from collaborative care?

The scope of the first question is too specific to allow room for reflection, and the scope of the second question is too broad to be meaningful.

All questions inherently have assumptions, and beliefs that we hold, built in to them. Consider the following question:

How do we get this patient to take their depression medication regularly?

Assumptions of the questioner that are present in this question include:

  • The patient is either refusing, or forgetting to take their medication
  • The patient is better off taking the medication, than without taking the medication
  • Either consciously or subconsciously, the patient either does not want to take the medication, or is indifferent to taking the medication
  • Medication is the best way to treat this patient’s chronic depression
  • The patient and care team have the same definition of “regularly”
  • The patient is not suffering from any side effects of taking the medication (either reported or unreported)

The better question may be

What if we could collaborate with, and empower the patient to explore methods to manage their depression in an effective way that most closely fits their lifestyle and needs?

Using Appreciative Inquiry to construct powerful questions is an effective way to encourage learners to reflect on their interprofessional experiences. These methods should be used in team huddles, debriefings following learning activities, and during group activities.
Powerful questions can be a mechanism to provoke deeper learning and insightful thoughts about their abilities, and to cause spontaneous moments of discovery—emergent lessons that learners take away from a learning activity/intervention.

Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Appreciative inquiry: asking powerful questions. Community Organizing Toolkit. Retrieved from
Vogt, E.E., Brown, J., & Isaacs, D. (2003). The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation, and Action. Mill Valley, CA: Whole Systems Associates. Retrieved from


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