Journal Article

What Are You Looking At? The Potential of Appreciative Inquiry as a Research Approach for Social Work

Avril Bellinger and Tish Elliott

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 4, pages 708-725
Published in print June 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online May 2011 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
What Are You Looking At? The Potential of Appreciative Inquiry as a Research Approach for Social Work

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Appreciative inquiry (Ai) is an under-used research method within social work yet has the potential to make a significant contribution to research practice and its consequences for service delivery. It offers a congruent philosophical approach to research at a time when a comprehensive reform programme is planned for the profession, employers and social work educators in England ( Department of Health, 2010). Concerns about the quality of social work practice and a move towards reflexivity as a mark of professionalism raise questions about the utility for service improvement of investigations that overemphasise deficits and failures. The research presented here was predicated on defining, locating and promoting examples of good practice in supporting student practice learning. This paper begins with a review of the arguments for and against Ai as a robust methodology. A brief account of the research process and findings is followed by a critical analysis of the potential for research activity to influence a desired cultural shift through its process as well as outcome. The authors explore conditions in which Ai may make a distinctive contribution to social work knowledge and practice.

Keywords: Appreciative inquiry; constructionist approach; research; strengths

Journal Article.  6827 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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