Purpose: To obtain preliminary data on the short- and medium-term effects and personal acceptability of appreciative inquiry (AI) in staff development in health care.
Design/methodology/approach: AI is a non-problem-solving management approach focusing on developing current successes into the future through reflection at individual and group level. Individual one-hour interviews were undertaken with nursing staff on a national paediatric liver in-patient ward. They were asked to recount stories based on their experiences of successful delivery of health care, with active listening, followed by reflection on the process. A total of 32 staff members took part with only two refusals. Data were written and analysed by an open coding method. Follow up was obtained two years later using a written, open question method.
Findings: The process was emotional-but well received. Staff described quality in interpersonal interactions, preventing errors and engaging their personal values in their work. No improvement in recruitment or retention was shown but a high level of sickness absence fell significantly during the period of the project. Two years later, significant positive effects were recalled and attributed to the interviews by many respondents. AI appears a cost-effective way of connecting professionals' motivation toward quality in their work with strategic intentions.
Research limitations/implications: The interviewer was a medical consultant and ward manager, implying either that the interviews could have worked as a form of managerial supervision or improvements could be a Hawthorne effect. Other unknown influences were likely to be occurring on the ward during the study period.
Practical implications: Short AI interventions on an individual basis can change sickness absence, at least while the interventions are continuing. It is an important tool for staff motivation with the potential for connecting strategic with micro-operational levels. AI is an approach to NHS management with wide application including appraisal, personal development and mentoring. It can be a positive introduction to reflective practice.
Originality/value: AI is gaining recognition for its value in staff and service development in health care. The paper shows service and personal effects, cost-effectiveness and illustrates how to use AI for these purposes.