Eliciting user requirements using Appreciative inquiry

Carol K. Gonzales, Gondy Leroy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


For decades and still today, software development projects have failed because they do not meet the needs of users, are over-budget, and abandoned. To help address this problem, the user requirements elicitation process was modified based on principles of Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry, commonly used in organizational development, aims to build organizations, processes, or systems based on success stories using a hopeful vision for an ideal future. In four studies, Appreciative Inquiry was evaluated for its effectiveness with eliciting user requirements in different circumstances. In the first two studies, it was compared with brainstorming, a traditional approach, with end-users (study 1) and proxy-users (study 2). The third study was a quasi-experiment comparing the use of Appreciative Inquiry in different phases in the software development cycle (study 3). The final (fourth) study combined all lessons learned using Appreciative Inquiry in a cross-case comparison study of 3 cases to gain additional understanding of the requirements gathered during various project phases. In each of the four studies, the requirements gathered, developer and user attitudes, and the Appreciative Inquiry process itself were evaluated. Requirements were evaluated for their quantity and type regardless of whether they were implemented or not. Attitudes were evaluated for commitment to the requirements and project using process feedback. The Appreciative Inquiry process was evaluated with differing groups, projects, and project phases to determine how and when it is best applied. Potentially interceding factors were also evaluated including: team effectiveness, Emotional Intelligence, and perceived stress. Appreciative Inquiry produced positive results for the participants, the requirements obtained, and the general requirements eliciting-process. Appreciative Inquiry demonstrated benefits to the requirements gathered by increasing the number of unique requirements as well as identifying more quality-based (non-functional) and forward-looking requirements. It worked best when there was time for participants to reflect on the thought-provoking questions and when the facilitator was knowledgeable of the subject-matter and had extra time to extract and translate the requirements. The participants (end-users and developers) expressed improved project understanding. End-users participated consistently with immediate buy-in and enthusiasm, especially those users who were technically-inhibited. We conclude that Appreciative Inquiry can augment existing methods by presenting a positive and future aspect for a proposed system resulting in improved user requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-772
Number of pages40
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Action research
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Case study
  • Participatory research
  • Requirements elicitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


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