Appreciative Inquiry as a Developmental Research Approach for Higher Education Pedagogy: Space for the Shadow

Jennie Jones, Rachel Masika

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores arguments for adopting appreciative inquiry (AI) as an action research approach that generates pedagogic development in UK and international higher education. An overview of AI considering the methodological dilemma of focusing only on positive experiences is discussed. Findings from focus group discussions in a post-1992 UK university are presented that demonstrate AI’s efficacy as a developmental pedagogic research approach. This AI research was part of the wider UK retention and success project, ‘What Works?’, which aimed to support first year undergraduates’ belonging during HE transition in order to enhance their engagement, retention and success. These focus groups explored first year undergraduates’ experiences of learning, teaching, assessment and support, incorporating retention interventions in Business, Social Science and Digital Media courses. Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and capital and Wenger’s community of practice model are applied as an analytical lens to illuminate the role of structure and agency relating to students’ experiences. The findings show how AI focus groups were a way for participants to explore and discuss positive perceptions and experiences of starting university. They also enabled participants to discuss problems, solutions, and ways to enhance pedagogy and support, contributing to educational development at course, institutional and sector-wide levels. We argue that embracing the ‘shadow’ (Fitzgerald, S. P., Oliver, C., & Hoxsey, J. C. (2010). Appreciative inquiry as a shadow process. Journal of Management Inquiry, 19(3), 220–233) in AI is a commitment that should be shared by a variety of stakeholders in order to gain a holistic understanding of what is needed to facilitate transformative change in HE development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-292
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Higher Education Research & Development on 14/04/2020, available online:


  • higher education
  • Pedagogy
  • appreciative inquiry
  • Developmental Research
  • Action Research
  • Transformative change
  • higher education development
  • action research
  • transformative change
  • Appreciative inquiry


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