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Appreciative Governance

The beginnings of Appreciative Governance

In 2011, Sallie Lee, Cheri Torres and Bernard Mohr invited a small group of leading AI practitioners (Neil Samuels, Dan Saint, Joep De Jong, Patti Millar, Joan Hoxsey, and Bob Laliberte) to co-research the following question:

“What governance processes, structures or practices help your organization with inclusion of external stakeholders and internally with people at all levels, in guiding the organization?”

What they found were a variety of strategies being used by a variety of organizations. While none of them claimed to have fully implemented an alternative governance model, each of them provided significant insight. From these insights emerged what this group has termed Appreciative Governance (AG): a form of governance that sits at the intersection of shared decisions, collaborative innovation and the alignment of strengths.

How does Appreciative Governance differ from traditional forms of governance?

  1. First, there is an intentional commitment to distribute decision-making throughout the organization.
  2. Second, AG capitalizes on individual and collective strengths to achieve an organizational vision and mission.
  3. Finally, AG is grounded in human systems theory, social constructionism and the theory of self-organizing systems.

Why a New Governance Model?

Neil Samuels writes: In our conversations, experience, and research, the idea that major change is afoot was evident; there seems little doubt that we are in the process of a significant global paradigm shift. Our current structures and systems have clearly shown their limits. And new possibilities are emerging – even as the old are collapsing around us. Our growing understanding of complexity and intentional living systems is changing the basic premises for what it means to organize, to be human, to work and live on our planet. This new paradigm reinforces that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and that rather than objective in nature, knowledge and action are subjective, contextual and interwoven. Attention to relationships, processes, networks, growth and development (evolution) is important: these are the essential elements of vitality and sustainable value.

Which of the following views prevail in our schools and organizations?

Traditional View of Governance Appreciative Governance
Emphasizes controlling or preventing behavior that is illegal, unethical, or detrimental to the interests of shareholders. Emphasizes mobilizing or encouraging behavior that is legal, ethical and positive to the long-term interests of shareholders and stakeholders while maintaining a posture of deterrence of behavior antithetical to those interests. AG illuminates and more broadly accesses the organization’s strengths, resources and assets.
Views the board of directors as the key actors in governing. Acknowledges that governance is carried out by all the people in the organization—the board of directors, management and all employees.
Focuses on board activities of senior management selection and compensation, advising senior management, and reviewing accuracy of financial reporting and adequacy of compliance efforts. Focuses on the range of behavior available from all employees, includes the four AGIL** functions of governance and operates with a social constructionist frame.
Begins with a problem-prevention point of view and is advocacy-driven. Begins from a strength-based perspective and is inquiry-driven.

Appreciative Governance Design Principles

Samuels & Torres in the AI Practitioner (November, 2011) provide principles, that together they believe create the fabric of the system as they are interdependent and mutually inclusive. They are:

The Strengths Principle: People and teams are working from strengths maximize productivity, engagement, and creativity – identify, magnify, and connect individual and organizational strengths.

The Personal Choice Principle:  People choose the nature and extent of their action – make full engagement and accountability a successful and rewarding choice.

The Learning Principle: Generating, collecting and transferring new information and knowledge creates value for the organization – practice collaborative inquiry, develop transparent feedback systems, and engage in cycles of action and reflection.

The Uncertainty Principle: The future is ambiguous and uncertain – Improvise using diverse input and collective sense-making.

The Wholeness Principle: We are both whole and part of a greater whole at the same time – maximize connections, ensure transparency and integrate stakeholder perspectives.



Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner – International Journal of AI, November 2011 dedicated to Appreciative Governance

Appreciative Governance: Engagement and Innovation Throughout the Organization (slideshare)


GUIDING QUESTIONS: What would the fit of Appreciative Governance be in our schools? What differences would it make?


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