The 4D Approach in Education

What is an effective way to make change happen?

Managers, senior leaders, teachers all have to lead change and one way to do it is use the approach called Appreciative Inquiry?

This is a critical appreciative process that involves the 4Ds: Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver.

The process was developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University and Suresh Srivastava in the 1980s. It is now a recognised practice which is used all around the world.


Identify and appreciate what works.

This stage involves exploring the current strengths of your school and describing how it functions when it is performing optimally. This is done by means of structured interviews, which include questions that are designed to identify positive aspects.


Imagine what might be.

This phase is often carried out as a whole school staff meeting where staff are encouraged to envision their school as they would want it to be based upon the previously identified strengths and peak moments.


Develop systems, structures leveraging the best of what was and what might be.

Smaller teams and departments go away and plan how the visions of the dream phase can be brought about, e.g. by formulating a number of positive statements that describe what the school will be like after the development process has been completed.


Implement or deliver the proposed design.

In this final phase, action plans are formulated and teams are formed in order to deliver the new design. This step may involve experimentation and improvisation, as well as additional small-scale appreciative inquiries into specific areas.

This 4-D cycle acts as a process for whole system changes by stimulating creativity, building energy and a commitment to change.

AI can be applied to many parts of a school where there is potential for development and change, this includes:

  • Overarching organisational development
  • Self-evaluation
  • Thematic reviews (e.g. partnership working)
  • Efficiency drives
  • Performance management / supervision processes
  • Continuing professional development

Appreciative inquiry provides a positive way forward shifting from problems to solutions offering a new way of doing things and it is a powerful way to revitalise a school setting.

For a a great introduction on what appreciative inquiry is and how to apply it then see Sue Annis Hammond’s classic book The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry.

The 4D approach is an innovative approach to school change that can be used as a model for delivering service improvement.

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