Appreciative Interview

The Appreciative Interview is an exercise that brings out tacit knowledge and hidden resources in a group around a certain topic or theme. I have used it many times to get people to articulate what good team work and collaboration is. Pick a positive subject: good learning, good leadership etc.

By activating and articulating our positive experiences from the past we can identify the key elements that made it positive and learn from that.


You need a stack of post-its and a pen for each group of three.


Part 1

Divide the group into smaller groups of three. There are three roles in the exercise: 1) resource person 2) interviewer and 3) observer. The exercises is usually repeated three times to allow everyone to try each role.

_The role of the resource person is to tell a story from his life as an example of the chosen topic. The resource person’s job is not to reflect on the topic or tell his opinion, just tell a story in great detail, e.g. about his physics teacher in high school who would climb up on the desk and jump to illustrate Newton’s third law. Provide the context and details.


_The role of the interviewer is to listen to the resource person. If needed the interviewer can ask open ended questions to help the resource explore the story in even more detail. Questions could be “and what happened next?” or “can you tell me more about XX?” The interviewer is not supposed to relate to her own experience and she should not try to take over or control the conversation.


_The role of the observer is to look for the hidden resources in the story. When the resource person is talking about the crazy physics teacher the observer might note that illustrating with your own body is a strong resource in good learning, and she can write down “body illustration” on a post it and save it for later. The observer is mute.

Allow five to six minutes for the interview.


Part 2

After the first part of the interview, the roles change a bit. Now the observer is asked to give the resources she discovered in the story back to the resource person. She takes one post it at a time, briefly explains the meaning and attaches it to the resource person. The resource person may only say “thank you.”




It is a good idea to debrief with the whole group after each part, also the second and third round of interviews. Ask partipants what it felt like to be the resource. How was it to tell your story to someone who didn’t interrupt you? How was it to be interviewer and just listen to someone else’s story? How was it to be observer and be mute? A lot of insights happen at this stage.



Group of people doing Appreciative Interviews at a recent workshop.


Updated on Nov 16 2011.

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