Presentation and handout explaining one research method

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EDUC 792

Applied Research In Education

University of New England, NSW, Australia

Assignment 2

Presentation and handout explaining one research method
Date Due: 11 July 2007
30% - 3,500 words (for handout)


Terry Fogarty


Table of Contents

Table of Contents 2

Introduction 3

Appreciative inquiry 3

The underpinnings of appreciative inquiry 4

Appreciative inquiry methods 6

Defining - affirmative topic choice 7

Discovering 8

Dreaming 8

Designing 9

Destiny/Delivery 9

Iteration 10

Strengths of appreciative inquiry 10

Weaknesses of appreciative inquiry 12

Appropriateness of appreciative inquiry 13

Scale 13

Alignment with co-researcher’s worldviews? 13

Context 14

Content 14

Perspective lenses of interpretation 14

Critical reflection on appreciative inquiry 15

References 17


This paper:

  • Defines and explores the key aspects of appreciative inquiry with emphasis on its methods;

  • Considers the strengths and weakness of appreciative inquiry;

  • Examines why appreciative inquiry is appropriate for a specific research study; and

  • Suggests a critical reflection for appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry

Traditionally, appreciative inquiry is seen as an evolutionary form of action research (Fitzgerald, Murrell and Newman, 2001; van der Haar and Hosking, 2004) - ‘one of the more significant innovations in action research.’ (Bushe, 1995). The original precepts of appreciative inquiry were first articulated by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivasta of the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University in 1980 (Watkins and Mohr, 2001). Cooperrider and Srivasta’s (1987) promotion of appreciative inquiry was as an alternative to what they term ‘paradigm 1’ action research - ‘organising as a problem to be solved’. They reflect mainly on action research practices as they evolved during the nineteen seventies and eighties. Masters (2000) who posits ‘Type 1 (action research) as a ‘scientific-technical view of problem solving’ reflects a similar view that the early forms of action research focused primarily on problem solving.
Cooperrider and Srivasta (1987) introduce appreciative inquiry as a refiguration (sic) of traditional (paradigm/type 1) action research. They state that for action research to achieve its potential as a vehicle for social change it ‘needs to begin advancing theoretical knowledge of consequence’ on the basis that ‘good theory may be one of the best means human beings have for affecting change in a postindustrial world’. They also criticise action research’s ‘steadfast commitment to a problem-solving view’ as acting as ‘a primary constraint on its imagination and contribution to knowledge’ and reflect that ‘the primary limiting potential of action-research has been its romance with “action” at the expense of “theory”.’ In espousing appreciative inquiry as a more powerful alternative to action research, Cooperrider and Srivasta (1987) also introduced the power of an appreciative mode, that, more than a method or technique is ‘ a way of living with, being with, and directly participating in the varieties of social organization…’
In opposition to action research’s ‘problem’ focus, Coooperrider and Srivastva (1987) posit as their first principle of appreciative inquiry that ‘research into the social (innovation) potential of organizational, life should begin with appreciation’ on the basis ‘that every social system “works” to some degree’. This focus on appreciation (rather than problems); on ‘what works’ or the positives of a context is the facet of appreciative inquiry that seems to have struck a cord with many of the practitioners that followed in their footsteps. For instance, Hammond and Hall (no date) define appreciative inquiry as a ‘complex philosophy that engages the entire system in an inquiry about what works’. The focus of appreciative inquiry on the power of the positive (at the expense of its initial promise for generative theory development0 is also reflected by Bushe (2007) who suggests that many appreciative inquiry practitioners ‘seem to get blinded by the “positive stuff”’; ‘they get entranced with “focusing on the positive” and equate this with AI.’ In Bushe’s view (as in Cooperrider’s initial vision) a core of appreciative inquiry is ‘about the generative, not the positive’. Bushe (2007) suggests an alternative name for such inquiry: ‘Generative Inquiry’. Along with their first principle of ‘appreciation’, Cooperrider and Srivastva (1987) posit a pragmatic ‘Principle 2: Research into the social potential of organizational life should be applicable’, as praxis. Their ‘Principle 3: Research into social potential of organizations should be provocative’ …’ to the extent that the abstracted findings of a study take on normative value for members of an organization…’ They link ‘provocativeness’ to a concept of vision and evolution in a clear bridge to the ‘action’ genesis of appreciative inquiry. Cooperrider and Srivasta’s (1987) final principle is that appreciative inquiry research should be collaborative.
Cooperrider and Srivastva’s (1987) appreciative inquiry as a ‘refiguration’ of traditional action research does appear to clearly divert from the evolutionary path of action research. By contrast, Masters (2000) articulates ‘Type 2: practical-deliberative action research’ (citing Grundy, 1982) as being ‘practical action research (that) seeks to improve practice through the application of the personal wisdom of the participants’.

The underpinnings of appreciative inquiry

Masters (2000) characterises ‘Type 1’ action research as grounded in a positivist perspective, whereas Type 2 action research she suggests follows an interpretivist perspective. Cooperrider and Srivistva (1987) argue that appreciative inquiry is a ‘sociorationalist’ view of science that grants ‘preeminence to the cognitive processes of mind and the symbolic processes of social construction’. They spend considerable effort (a ten point explanation) hermeneutically articulating the meaning that they ascribe to ‘social construction’. Their interpretation of social construction, in the author’s opinion, closely aligns with many of the precepts exposed by Guba and Lincoln (2005) when describing the constructivist inquiry paradigm. Cooperrider and Whitney (1999) posit that appreciative inquiry is about a coevolutionary search; systematic discovery; and building a constructive union.
The essence of appreciative inquiry is articulated by Cooperrider and Whitney (1999) in what they describe as their five basic principles:

  1. The Constructionist Principle: Simply stated— human knowledge and organizational destiny are interwoven

  1. The Principle of Simultaneity:Inquiry and change are not truly separate moments, but are simultaneous.

  1. The Poetic Principle: An organization’s story is constantly being co-authored. Moreover, pasts, presents, or futures are endless sources of learning, inspiration, or interpretation

  1. The Anticipatory Principle: One of the basic theorems of the anticipatory view of organizational life is that it is the image of the future, which in fact guides what might be called the current behavior of any organism or organization.

  1. The Positive Principle. Building and sustaining momentum for change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding.’

Cooperrider and Whitney (1999) report that appreciative inquiry has been described by commentators in many ways, including:

    • ‘as a paradigm of conscious evolution’;

    • ‘as a methodology that takes the idea of social construction of reality to its positive extreme with its emphasis on metaphor and narrative, relational ways of knowing, on language and on its potential as a source of generative theory’; and

    • ‘as a model of a much needed participatory science’.

They also characterise appreciative inquiry as being a process that can democratically mobilise people. This is reminiscent of Guba and Lincoln’s (2005:195) characterisation of a participatory inquiry paradigm as ‘political participation in collaborative action inquiry’. Recall that Cooperrider casts appreciative inquiry as fundamentally ‘collaborative’. We will further consider the ‘participatory’ implications of appreciative inquiry later in this paper.

Appreciative inquiry methods

Cooperrider (1996) portayed appreciative inquiry as an action research cycle her termed the ‘4 “D” Cycle’ as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Appreciative Inquiry – 4 “D” Cycle

Source: Cooperrider, 1996
Cooperrider and Whitney (1999) further evolved their inquiry cycle as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2: Affirmative topic choice

Source: Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999
More recently Fitzgerald, Murrell and Newman et al., (2001) slightly revised the original ‘4 D’ cycle recasting the ‘affirmative topic choice’ core as an initiating phase (Definition) as shown in Figure 3:

Figure 3. Appreciative Inquiry – 5 “D” Cycle

Source: Donnan, 2005

Defining - affirmative topic choice

This is seen as the most important aspect of the appreciative inquiry process on the basis that it contends that knowledge and organizational destiny are closely intertwined. It is suggested by Fitzgerald, Murrell and Newman et al. (2001) that ‘what we focus on becomes our reality’. They argue that this conversation and selection should be collaborative. It should include representatives from all stakeholder groups in a process of ‘defining’ the topics for the inquiry. Here again, the appreciative inquiry process exudes overtones of a political, ‘participatory’ inquiry process. The conversations around the selection of topics are envisioned as being ‘value-rich’
As a rule of thumb, Cooperrider and Whitney (1999) suggest focusing on three to five broad topics: words such as ‘empowerment, innovation, sense of ownership, commitment, integrity, ecological consciousness and pride are often articulated as worthy of study’. The chosen topics form the basis from which interview questions can then developed.

In developing questions to ground the inquiry, Bushe (2007:4) suggests that such questions should be generative. He argues that whilst a focus on the positive is useful, the fundamental purpose of the inquiry is to ‘generate a new and better future’.

Bushe (2007:4) describes such generative questions as:

  1. They are surprising:

  2. They touch people’s heart and spirit.

  3. Talking about and listening to these stories and answers will build relationships.

  4. The questions force us to look at reality a little differently’.


This phase grounds the ‘appreciative’ aspects of the inquiry. The generic question focus is ‘what gives life?’. According to Donnan (2005) the ‘discovery phase of an appreciative inquiry is an extensive and collaborative search for “the best of what is”.’ Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:8) clarify that ‘the process of doing interviews is as important as the data collected’. Bushe (12007:4) reaffirms the significance of catholic engagement and posits that a lot more ‘interest, engagement, excitement, relationship building and on-going conversation’ is enhanced the more people are involved in interviewing as well as being interviewed. He encourages ‘getting the stories of marginalized members the system can sometimes be the most generative thing you can do’ as it often exposes new ideas. Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:7) suggest that the core task of the discovery phase is to ‘discover and disclose positive capacity’ of the organization. Donnan (2005) suggests that a key result of the discovery process is ‘a rich description of the organisation’s positive core – it’s tangible and intangible strengths, capabilities, resources, and assets’.


The dreaming phase of an appreciative inquiry is an exploration of ‘what might be’ or ‘what is needed in the new world?’. It is about collaboratively envisioning potential outcomes. During the process, co-researchers explore their aspirations and ambitions relevant to the phenomena of the study. According to Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:9) ‘during the dream phase the interview stories and insights get put to constructivist use’. They suggest that the focus on interaction amongst stakeholders leads very rapidly to the development of outlines of new ways of acting in relation to the phenomena being researched.
According to Donnan (2005) the outputs of the dreaming phase include creative images of the future and broad-brushed possibility statements. Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:9) suggest that some organizations turn the information coalesced during the dreaming phase into a commemorative report: a celebration of the successes and exceptional moments of the organisation. Alternatively, other organisations develop ‘thematic analysis’ where they document the rich co-researcher stories comprehensively. In Cooperrider and Whitney’s (1999:10) view the articulated ‘dream’ should consist of three elements:

The outputs of the dreaming stage serve as essential resources for the visioning stages of the inquiry.


During the design phase, attention is cast toward developing a framework of the ideal organization and the sociality of the system (the actual design of the system in relation to the world of which it is part). At this phase in the process, Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:10) suggest that there may be need for ‘back-and-forth’ iterations between ‘dreams’ and ‘designs’ (although why this is so is not clearly articulated). Donnan (2005) suggests that the design phase is about ‘co-contsructing the “grounded” vision of the future created in the Dream phase’. She suggests that the ‘key outputs of this phase are “micro” possibility statements that articulate the organisation’s dream for each of the organisation’s ongoing activities’.


Originally, the final stage of the appreciative inquiry cycle was called ‘delivery’. However, according to Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:11) the concept of ‘delivery’ did not go far enough – it did not convey the sense of liberation they were seeking. According to Donnan (2005) the destiny phase of an appreciative inquiry ‘focuses specifically on personal commitments, organizational commitments and paths forward for innovating “what will be”.’ In migrating their thinking around this phase to one of ‘destiny’, Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:12) emphasise an inherently transformative approach based on the political energy of the participants. They term such action ‘positive protest’ or a strategy for ‘positive subversion’. Others might term it motivating and empowering the participants within the context.
Bushe (2007:5) reflecting on generative action studied twenty cases of successful appreciative inquiries. Of these, only seven were transformational. But of those seven, six did not use action delivery, instead that adopted what he calls an ‘improvisational approach’ where new ideas rapidly emerged and were just as rapidly accepted as the basis for transformational change - ‘leaders looked for where people were innovating and helped them along’. Bushe produced a model for what he terms ‘improvisational destiny’ see Figure 4 below:

Figure 4 – Improvisational Destiny

Source: Bushe, 2007
Bushe’s (2007:6) ‘improvisation model’ is predicated on four elements in his recipe for a generative destiny phase:

  1. Creating collective agreement on what is to be accomplished;

  2. Ensuring that people believe that they are authorized to take actions to move the organization (or themselves) in the direction of the design;

  3. Creating commitments by everyone to take some kind of initial action; and

  4. Looking for any and all acts that move the organization (and individuals) in the desired direction and find ways to support and amplify those efforts.


Unlike contemporary forms of action research where iteration (the interacting spiral of inquiry) is a fundamental process of the inquiry (Stringer,1999:19; Kemmis and McTaggart, 2005:564) this is not necessarily the case for appreciative inquiry. Donnan (2005) mentions that at the end of a Destiny phase, many organizations begin an appreciative inquiry anew. Bushe (2007:7) mentions that the generative capability of appreciative inquiry can be enhanced by making the lessons and outcomes of one appreciative inquiry the focus for the next inquiry – however a ‘cycle of inquiry’ is not promoted as intrinsic for success. Similarly,

Strengths of appreciative inquiry

According to Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:3) the intrinsic strengths of appreciative inquiry include its ability:

  • To speedily engender imagination and innovation and replace the arduous task of planning interventions;

  • To use efficiently its processes of discovering, dreaming and desiging to negate protracted spiraling diagnosis;

  • To build a constructive union between co-researchers;

  • To link the energy of its core directly to any change agenda; and

  • To inspire and motivate changes never thought possible, suddenly and democratically mobilsed.

As a gestalt, Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:3) cite appreciative inquiry’s ability to ‘tap the rich and inspiring accounts of the positive’.

Troxel (2002:3) posits that within the context of action research which is tasked with producing a theory (or theories) of change, appreciative inquiry is ‘grounded theory building’ in the tradition of Glasser and Strauss (1967), in the sense that ‘the operating framework and images of the future of the organization emerge from the stuff of the organizational life itself’. Bushe (2005; 2007) echoes the theory building capability of appreciative inquiry. Rather than ‘grounded theory building’ he uses the term ‘generative theory’. Bushe (1998) identifies five inherent theories of change embedded in an appreciative inquiry:

  • Socially constructing reality;

  • The Heliotropic hypothesis – a thesis that social systems evolve toward the most positive images they hold of themselves;

  • The organization’s inner dialogue – by changing the organisational ‘stories’ you change the ‘inner dialaogue’ and ultimately the organisation;

  • Resolving paradoxical dilemmas; and

  • The appreciative process as a ‘change agent’ technique.

Other strengths of appreciative inquiry that have been mentioned in the literature (van de Haar and Hosking, 2004:18) include:

  • Releases great amounts of positive energy;

  • Produces outcomes that exceed everyone’s expectations;

  • Changes organizational cultures; and

  • Sets innovative changes in motion.’

Some final strengths of appreciative are articulated by Grant and Humphries (2006) citing Rogers and Fraser (2003): - ‘suits long standing programmes which may require an infusion of positive energy’ and suits ‘when the purpose of the evaluation is not to identify problems.

Weaknesses of appreciative inquiry

There is sparse criticism or even critical evaluation of appreciative inquiry. This is not unexpected given appreciative inquiry’s common focus on the positive (rather than problems) and given it is often promoted as a way of life and a way of thinking and doing. According to Grant and Humphries (2006:401) ‘appreciative inquiry remains a research method with little self-reflection or critique to evaluate the process as an action research method’. They summarise a variety weaknesses identified by a number of researchers. These include:

  • A common critique of this style of action research method is that it is ‘too Pollyanna-ish’ or excessively focused on ‘warm, fuzzy group hugs’ (Fitzgerald, Murrell & Newman, 2001);

  • To honour the multiple and undivided realities of human experience in organizations’ Pratt (2002:119);

  • The ‘danger of ignoring the shadow’. Reason (2000;

  • Questions whether Ai encourages ‘unrealistic and dysfunctional perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour’ Rogers and Fraser (2003:77;

  • The fact that appreciative inquiry is currently under-evaluated and discourages analysis Golembiewski (2000); and

  • The possibility that the increased popularity is evidence of a ‘management fad’ such as those considered by Collins (2000, 2003).’

Fitzgerald, Murrell and Newman (2001:17-18) ‘slay …(some) Mythical Dragons’ that have been leveled at appreciative inquiry. These include the ‘Warm-Fuzzy Dragon’; the ‘Scared-Cat Dragon’ – an illusion that appreciative inquiry hides behind the positive and therefore is unsuited for addressing difficult challenges and the ‘Wildly Imbalanced Dragon’ that ‘thunders’ the process is ‘danerously lop-sided in its unwavering devotion to the affirmative’.

A number of issues for consideration for action research projects identified by Laws et al. (2003:59-60) are logically also candidates as potential weaknesses for any appreciative inquiry. These are:

  • The reasons behind participation of the co-researcher;

  • Deciding who should participate;

  • Deciding on the nature of the participation;

  • General issues associated with peer research; and

  • Deciding how much participation (by co-researchers) is appropriate.

Kemmis and McTaggart (2000: 591) identify a weakness action research that likely applies equally to appreciative - the ability (or lack thereof) of participants (co-researchers) to develop ‘the specialist epistemological and methodological knowledge that seems necessary to conduct this type of symposium research in a way that could satisfy the criteria of excellence’. There is also one final, but in the author’s view perhaps critical weakness of appreciative inquiry. The lack of a reflective cycle within the process. Other commentators reflect that the lack of an embedded reflective practicum in the traditional “4 D” cycle limits an appreciative inquiry’s ability to ‘inspire the most transformational change’ (unpublished: Donovan L., 2007, ailist - discussion post).

Appropriateness of appreciative inquiry

The author proposes using an appreciative inquiry for one of the ‘pillars’ of research study for a portfolio-based Doctor of Education. The phenomenon of the research is Disruptive Pedagogy: the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the secondary classroom in New South Wales. The purpose of the research is to develop a better understanding of teacher perceptions of the phenomenon. The research will be school-based. The dimensions of appropriateness considered are scale, alignment, context, content, and perspective lenses


Appreciative inquiry has a heritage in organizational development and change management. As such, there is evidence of some focus toward large-scale implementations of the process. Cooperrider and Whitney (1999:8) describe one case involving over 400 partners in an an accounting firm and the fact a hospital in Canada did over three thousand interviews in preparation for an appreciative inquiry summit and that there is talk of over one million interviews being considered for a Chicago-based case. Such scale is far removed from the likely scale of a school-based inquiry. However, there is also evidence in the literature of far successful implementation of appreciative inquiry in far more modest proportion. Cockle (2005) describes a three stage appreciative inquiry for a Doctor of Education that engaged just four co-researchers.

Alignment with co-researcher’s worldviews?

The author’s paradigmatic inquiry worldview is heavily biased toward constructivist / participatory perspectives. As outlined above, appreciative inquiry is heavily biased toward a constructivist world view with overtones (and underpinnings) that are also quite participatory. Under consideration, by the author, is the intent to engage with teacher innovators / early adopters of technology within the classroom via an appreciative inquiry on the presumption that such teacher most likely share a similar worldview.


Similarly, many appreciative inquiries have been conducted within a commercial context. However there is also evidence of (particularly on the Appreciative Inquiry Commons – appreciative inquiry being used within school and educational contexts.

This includes studies such as:

  • Revitalizing schools… (Lemmerman et al., 2007)

  • … Learning Assessment (Mohr et al., 2000)

  • West Springfield School (Positive Change Corps, 2002)

  • Harmony Union School… (Szecesey, 2002)

  • Heathside School (Samuels, 2002)

  • North East Catholic School (Burskirk ,cited Fry, Barrett, Seiling & Whitney, 2002)

  • Sedgwick High (Laptops) (Niles, 2006)


There is also evidence of appreciative inquiries being used for technology-related inquiries. Studies such as:

  • Networks, connections and community: Learning with social software (Evans, 2007)

  • Designing professional development for the knowledge era (Staron et al., 2006)

The second of the above studies seems particularly ‘aligned’ with the proposed research on Disruptive Pedagogy. Staron et al. (2006) identified conversations, appreciative inquiry, disruptive technology and positive deviance as four of five key emerging strategies for capability development. They researched the ‘lived experience’ of participants using a qualitative research approach. The critical lenses they employed drew from phenomenology, hermeneutics and dialogue and also via document analysis drew on a number of prior case studies.

Perspective lenses of interpretation

Appreciative inquiry research often employs one or more perspective lenses on the particular phenomenon or case pursued, typically philosophical, knowledge or learning theories. Some of the perspective lenses have been:

  • Transformative learning (Cockle, 2005);

  • Conversations, appreciative inquiry, disruptive technology; phenomenology, hermeneutics, and dialogue (Staron et al., 2006);

  • Philosophical perspectives based on the work of Foucault (Boxer, 2006); and Friere (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1998; Grant & Humphries, 2006).

The author is considering a number of similar perspective lenses.

Critical reflection on appreciative inquiry

It appears to the author, given the crucial importance of a cyclic process of continuous reflection inherent in contemporary participatory action research, the lack of such in appreciative inquiry poses a significant weakness when appreciative inquiry is used within an academic, rather than commercial or organizational development framework.
It may be that cyclic reflection can readily be accommodated in conjunction with a typical ‘5 D’ appreciative inquiry approach in much the same way that it is built-in to participatory action research (PAR). As exemplified by Kemmis and McTaggart (2000 and 2005).

the reflective cycle of PAR is demonstrated in Figure 5:

Figure 5 - The Action Research Spiral

Source: Kemmis & McTaggart (2000 and 2005)

We could perhaps term a similarly conceived approach for appreciative inquiry as ‘The Appreciative Inquiry Reflective Spiral?’, as shown in Figure 6:

Figure 6 – The Appreciative Inquiry Reflective Spiral?

(Perhaps within an appreciative inquiry ‘D’ methodology, reflection could be termed Deconstruction?)


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