The Appreciative Inquiry Process

The appreciative inquiry process uses a SOAR analysis, an environmental scan around key Strengths and Opportunities, but with an intentional focus on Aspirations and Results – outcomes most desired that propel strategic visions forward – and with results-driven clarity so “we know it when we see it”. SOAR engenders a spirit of inquiry (openness to what can and should be) and inclusion (engaging key stakeholders in a manner that enriches buy-in and ownership of the way forward). This collaborative, asset-based and future-focused approach allows people to tap into strengths, affirm core principles for success, and explore still greater possibilities—opportunities for improvement. The result: innovative ideas for moving forward; decisions grounded by participants’ proven, positive past; and the seeding of new ideas informed by strengths, aspirations, and practical (yet bold) ideas for innovation. Pockets of cynicism and resistance are replaced by a renewed sense of possibility, shared commitment, and positive action.

Appreciative Inquiry Process

  1. Hold Listening Sessions. These workshops are intended to engage stakeholders in SOAR analysis through conversations with individuals from various sectors. Ideally, each workshop would have several different types of stakeholders in order to foster more idea generation. At the end of each workshop, the Alliance will synthesize key themes from the discussion. Click here to see the listening session schedule.
  2. Host a Strategy Retreat. The strategy retreat builds on the themes developed in the listening tour strategy workshops. The goal of the retreat is to engage a diverse group of stakeholders in developing strategic goals and commitments that can guide the Alliance’s strategic thinking and decision making. The outcome of the strategy retreat will be a living strategy that can be translated to a strategic plan.
  3. Draft Strategic Plan. Using the report from the strategy retreat, the Alliance will draft a strategic plan. This plan will be shared with Leadership Alliance coordinators for feedback before it is finalized.
  4. Share Final Strategic Plan. The final strategic plan will be reviewed at the Fall 2019 Business meeting. The Executive Office will present the goals, key initiatives, and measure outlined in the strategic plan to coordinators.

Strategic Planning Vision and Goals

The Leadership Alliance used the process of Appreciative Inquiry to assess our strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results at listening sessions across the country. Review themes from the listening sessions. Based on the themes we heard from over 150 stakeholders, we have developed a new vision statement and four goals for the 2020 Strategic Plan.

Vision Statement

To accelerate the diversification of the research workforce through sustainable collaborations and thought leadership on inclusive excellence

Strategic Planning Goals

  1. Develop new regional organizational networks that promote awareness of academic and professional development opportunities and connect students and professionals to diverse mentors and role models in research careers.
  2. Expand programs and resources to ensure seamless education and career transitions.
  3. Build strategic national and international partnerships to accelerate the development of a diverse and inclusive research workforce.
  4. Lead national and international discussion to advance knowledge on inclusive excellence in the research workforce.

Results of the Strategy Retreat


On April 26-28, 2019, we convened faculty, program administrators, industry scientists, government researchers and leaders from non-profit organizations at our first ever Strategy Retreat. During this event, we charged them to work together to develop outcomes and initiatives for the next strategic plan for the Leadership Alliance.  Through the process of Appreciative Inquiry, these stakeholders built a draft strategic plan, which will lead us to realize our vision to accelerate the diversification of the research workforce through sustainable collaborations and thought leadership on inclusive excellence.

The plan focuses on four goals to move the Leadership Alliance forward:

  1. Develop regional, organizational networks to promote awareness of academic and professional development opportunities
  2. Expand programs and resources to ensure seamless education and career transitions
  3. Build strategic national and international partnerships to accelerate the development of a diverse and inclusive research workforce
  4. Leverage the collective knowledge of the Alliance to advance national discussions on research workforce diversification.
Summary graphic of the the outcomes for each of the strategic goals that were developed at the strategy retreat.
Figure 1. Summary of the vision, goals, and outcomes that will be incorporated into the strategic plan.

At the strategy retreat, participants worked together in a generative process that allowed for ideas from multiple perspectives to be refined through group discussion to create outcomes for each goal (Figure 1). The strategic plan development will continue through the summer, with committees creating operational plans based on the ideas from the strategy retreat.

Our Progress Since 2010

For the last nine years, we have been guided by our ten-year strategic plan, A Decade of Distinction, which was developed in 2010. This plan set goals to expand the summer research opportunities, develop data infrastructure to support systematic outcomes and evaluation reporting, and to build the visibility of the consortium. We have met and exceeded these goals thanks to our dedicated partners who are committed to our success. Take a moment to review our progress below.

Stakeholder Engagement Process

The Leadership Alliance reached out its partners to hear from stakeholders across the country in listening sessions. These sessions gave us a chance to learn from current and future stakeholders about best practices, opportunities to collaborate, and ways that the Alliance can broaden its scope and reach to support underrepresented researchers. Below are the dates and locations where we held listening sessions to gather feedback, which informed our strategic planning goals.

Harvard University, Boston, MA – September 22, 2018
University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, CO – September 26, 2018
Montana State University, Bozeman, MT – September 28, 2018
American Society for Microbiology, Washington, DC – October 2, 2018
UNCF Mellon Conference, Atlanta, GA ( – October 6, 2018
North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, NC – October 19, 2018
New York University, New York, NY – November 9, 2018
Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Scientists (ABRCMS), Indianapolis, IN – November 14, 2018
Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia – November 29, 2018
Dillard University, New Orleans, LA – December 5, 2018
University of Chicago, Chicago, IL – January 22, 2019
California State Long Beach, Los Angeles, CA – January 23, 2019
Stanford University, Stanford, CA – January 24, 2019