Doing ‘strengths-based’ research: Appreciative Inquiry in a probation setting

Published: January 2013


This article considers the application of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a research methodology in the field of probation research. Although AI has previously been used in prisons research it has not to date been applied to research on probation. In this article we describe why and how AI was applied in an exploratory study of ‘quality’ in probation practice. The article includes some reflections from us as researchers and from the participants in our study (staff in three English Probation Trusts). It is argued not only that AI served our project well (in terms of furnishing us with a wealth of relevant, good quality data) but also that our choice of methodology rendered visible aspects of contemporary probation culture which, we believe, would have remained hidden had we not chosen to explore quality through an ‘appreciative’ lens. It is further argued that in organizations experiencing challenging times, an appreciative stance has ethical as well as instrumental advantages. There are, thus, both instrumental and normative rationales for recommending AI as a suitable approach in probation research.

Keywords: Appreciative Inquiry, methodology, probation, quality, research

Authors / Editors

Prof Fergus McNeill

University of Glasgow