AI History and Timeline

by Jane Magruder Watkins and Bernard Mohr, from their book Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination
  Please note that this only goes to 2000. There are many more exciting developments and case studies in the past 13 years. In addition to the aicommons there are many reported in the Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner

To submit an Appreciative Inquiry milestone to this timeline, please email: for review. We would like to include major advances, shifts, and events.

Date Event

Cleveland Clinic Project is initiated.The birthplace and co-founding of AI happened in the doctoral program in Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University in the collaboration between David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in 1980. As a young 24 year old doctoral student David Cooperrider was involved doing a conventional diagnosis or an organizational analysis of “what’s wrong with the human side of the Organization?” In gathering his data, he becomes amazed by the level of positive cooperation, innovation and egalitarian governance he sees in the organization. Suresh Srivastva, Cooperrider’s advisor notices David’s excitement and suggests going further with the excitement-making it the focus. Having been influenced by earlier writings by Schweitzer on the idea of “reverence for life”, David obtains permission from the Clinic’s Chairman Dr. William Kiser to focus totally on a life-centric analysis of the factors contributing to the highly effective functioning of the Clinic when it was at its best. Everything else was ignored.


The Cleveland clinic became the first large site where a conscious decision to use an inquiry focusing on life-giving factors forms the basis for an organizational analysis. The term “Appreciative Inquiry” was first written about in an analytic footnote in the feedback report of “emergent themes” by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva for the Board of Governors of the Cleveland Clinic. The report created such a powerful and positive stir that the Board called for ways to use this method with the whole group practice. The momentum set the stage for David Cooperrider’s seminal dissertation, the first, and as yet, one of the best articulations of the theory and practice of Appreciative Inquiry.

1982 Ken Gergen publishes Toward Transformation of Social Knowledge, and it has a major impact on Cooperrider’s thinking. It offers a powerful critique of conventional scientific metatheory, pointing to a whole new way of thinking about theory. He calls this new method “generative theory,” described by Cooperrider as “anticipatory theory that has the capacity to challenge the guiding assumptions of the culture, to raise fundamental questions regarding contemporary life, to foster reconsideration of that which is taken for granted, and thereby furnish new alternatives for social action.” (AI Listserve, 1999)
1984 NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science holds international conference in Tampa Fla. with a focus on applied behavioral science. John Carter makes a presentation Appreciative Inquiry for OD practitioners.
1984 Cooperrider makes the first public presentation of his still evolving ideas about AI to the Academy of Management where, he reports, his ideas are met with great challenge (e.g. it is Pollyannish), debate (e.g. there are such “things” as problems), and even laughter (e.g. organizations as “miracles” of human interaction, dialogue, and infinite imagination).
1986 Cooperrider completes his doctoral dissertation “Appreciative Inquiry: Toward a Methodology for Understanding and Enhancing Organizational Innovation” at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. What began as a study of the development of generative theory had evolved into a strategy for organization change. This paradigm shifting work laid out the principles and logic of Appreciative Inquiry, the phases of AI (e.g. affirmative topic choice, discovery, developing provocative propositions, etc), and provided a social constructionist meta-theory arguing the need to go beyond the deficit or problem focus of the field. The inspired dissertation, written at a cabin where Cooperrider retreated in silence for five weeks, became the basis for much of the writing to follow.
1986 Suresh Srivastva and Cooperrider publish “The Emergence of the Egalitarian Organization,” a case history of work at the Cleveland Clinic (during 1980 -1985) that started out as an organizational diagnosis of pathologies and problems, and became instead the first major large- scale AI project.
1987 Cooperrider and Srivastva publish “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life.” This marks the first time that the term Appreciative Inquiry appears in a professional publication. For many the article is considered the classic statement on AI calling for a shift in the field from its deficit-based theory of change to a positive, life-centric theory. Organizations, Cooperrider and Srivastva argue, are not “problems to be solved” but are centers of infinite human capacity-ultimately unpredictable, unknowable, or, a “mystery alive”. They offer the hypothesis that human systems grow in the direction of what people study, therefore, let us all search for the true, the good, the better and the possible in human systems. The article is noteworthy not only because it makes public the term Appreciative Inquiry but because it represents the beginning of the transition from thinking of AI as just a theory-building approach to seeing its potential as a full blown intervention framework.
1987 The first public workshop on AI, promoted by two MBA students, is held in San Francisco with David Cooperrider as the key presenter.
1987 The Roundtable Project at a Canadian accounting firm (with John Carter as the external lead) becomes the first large-scale change effort in which AI is conceived of as a comprehensive intervention framework from data gathering to implementation. After four years of collaboratively searching for the right organization-wide intervention, John Carter offers his client Appreciative Inquiry as a possible framework for change and brings in David Cooperrider to create a video tape explaining the idea of AI for all partners of the firm. Within less than three months and without any coaching from Carter, the client selects AI as the way to ensure the future of the firm. Over a one- year period, Carter, Cooperrider and the client system plan and implement a 12- step process that starts with the establishment of a philosophically congruent project structure, incorporates the systematic design of a customized AI protocol, and includes widespread interviews followed by the development of provocative propositions (PPs), followed in turn by widespread consensual validation of the PP’s and an organic, rather than mechanistic, implementation process. Some 400 partners came together with Carter and Cooperrider in large group format “the roundtable” and used the AI data and stories to help create a plan for the future. A major innovation in the use of AI – having members of the organization interview each other – was piloted by Carter and has become a major part of AI methods for organization intervention. Note however that although this project was highly collaborative, the data analysis (the meaning making) was still in the hands of the external consultants.
1988 The Appreciative Research Carnival, an innovation that resulted from Tojo Joseph Thatchenkery’s dissertation research, marked the first incidence in which clients took over the “meaning making” (analysis) with the data. As part of his dissertation research at Case, Thatchenkery begins a major 3-year AI based data gathering process with the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in the USA. Much to his surprise members of the client system wrest from his control the data analysis and the process of developing future plans based on the data. Thatchenkery calls the process, that had been initially designed to gather data to build more grounded theory, “The Appreciative Research Carnival”. The following year Thatchenkery experiences the same phenomenon again. ICA inadvertently becomes the most “fully blown” collaborative use of Appreciative Inquiry for organizational change to date.
1988 Frank Barrett and David Cooperrider team up to extend AI approach-“generative metaphor intervention”– as a way to work with a Hotel management team locked in seemingly intractable conflict. Breakthroughs occur. A paper they write on the use of AI wins the “Best Paper of the Year” Award in 1988 at the National Academy of Management in the OD Division.
1989 SIGMA Program for Global Change is founded by The Weatherhead School of Management at Case as a center for research and education dedicated to the study and development of worldwide organizations and leaders capable of addressing the most complex and pressing global issues of our time. Committed to the premise that there are no limits to cooperation, the center mandate asserts that virtually every item on the global agenda for change can be dealt with given the appropriate forms of effective management and organization. SIGMA focuses its attention on innovative organizations that are pioneers in building a healthy and vibrant world future. AI is the theory building method. Highlighted are organizations from across sectors (public, private, non-profit, cross-sector partnerships) that take a lead role in advancing positive global change. Issues of focus include (1) intelligent environmental policy and practice, (2) people-centered approaches to sustainable economic development, (3) the growth and support of local and global civil society, and (4) the emergence of a global ethic or set of higher values that inspire human action in service of the widest possible good.
1989 Social Innovations in Global Management Conference, held at Case Western in November of 1989 highlighted studies of five global social change organizations, one of which was ICA. Articles from these studies, along with papers on the subject of social innovations in management in the global arena were subsequently published in “Research in Organizational Change and Development,” Volume 5. From JAI Press Inc and a special series of articles in Human Relations. This marked the first major activity of SIGMA and laid the groundwork for what in 1990 developed into a role for SIGMA in the Global Excellence in Management initiative for management of international development agencies.
1990 Suresh Srivastva, Ron Fry, and David Cooperrider team up in SIGMA to work with Romania’s Health Care System after the collapse of communism, and create a model to describe Appreciative Inquiry in more poetic and simple terms. It was the beginning of the 4-D model– describing the cycle of AI as “Discovery, Dream, and Destiny”.
1990 Suresh Srivastva and David Cooperrider publish Appreciative Management and Leadership: The Power of Positive Thought and Action in Organizations. This book contains Cooperrider’s much quoted research on the power of the positive image, an article entitled “Positive Image; Positive Action.”
1990 The Taos Institute is founded by Ken and Mary Gergen, Diana Whitney, David Cooperrider, Suresh Srivastva, Sheila McNamee, and Harlene Anderson and becomes a major center for AI training and learning.
1990 The Organizational Excellence Program (OEP), a pilot project to create ways for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to offer innovative management and leadership training to US Private Voluntary Organizations – PVOs – in the US, was founded under the leadership of Ada Jo Mann. Case Western Reserve was chosen as the University partner for the pilot because of the work of David Cooperrider and his colleagues with Global Social Change organizations. At the end of the pilot phase, the OEP became the Global Excellence in Management Initiative (GEM) operating under a USAID grant given to SIGMA/Case Western Reserve University. GEM’s goals are to (1) Promote organizational excellence in development organizations in the US and abroad; (2) Create new forms of global cooperation; and, (3) Sustain excellence, develop capacity to continually learn, adjust and innovate over time. AI provides the foundational operating principles. The OEP and the GEM Initiative have fostered major innovative ways to use AI in the global arena, creating approaches and models that are being used in all organizations today. It was in this work, with Save the Children, that the 3-Ds were transformed and elaborated into the “4-D” cycle.
1992 Imagine Chicago is created. This is a major community development effort based heavily on AI principles and practice. Here Bliss Browne invents an intergenerational way of doing AI, with children doing hundreds of AI interviews with adults and elders.
1993 NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science initiates an internal Appreciative Inquiry based diversity project to discover and promulgate the innovative and effective lessons that NTL learned from nearly 20 years of work with organizations on ways to value diversity. Cathy Royal is the lead consultant for the project. In preparation for the year long diversity study project, Jane Watkins, Cathy Royal, David Cooperrider and John Carter offer a three day AI lab for NTL members.
1994 NTL’s Professional Development Workshop in Appreciative Inquiry is offered for the first time, trained by Jane Watkins and Cathy Royal. Subsequently, the team of Watkins, Royal, Bernard Mohr and Barbara Sloan staff yearly workshops in basic AI, and AI practicum workshop.
1995 Cooperrider is elected as president of National Academy of Management (OD Division).
1996 The Organization Development Practitioner publishes two issues devoted completely to AI.
1996 The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry is published by Sue Annis Hammond, providing the first widely available, basic introduction to AI as a philosophy and methodology of change.
1996 AI is successfully applied to Diversity Work In a continuing expansion of AI to new applications (in this case Diversity) Cathy Royal and Alexsandra Stewart lead the first and only statewide Citizen’s Summit and Public Dialogue on Building Communities that Work, Emerging from this success in 1997, Imagine South Carolina, becomes recognized (in two publications, Interracial Dialogue Groups Across America and Bridging the Racial Divide, DuBois and Hutson) as one of the nations most effective programs on improving racial dialogue.
1997 AI list Serv is established by Jack Brittain at University of Texas, Dallas. It serves as a forum for practitioners at all levels to share and learn from each other.
1997 GTE corporation recieves the ASTD “Best Organization Change Program” in the country for the work done for two years with AI guided by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney.
1998 Lessons from the Field, edited by Sue Hammond and Cathy Royal, is published. It is the first widely available book of case histories of organizational development projects done from an appreciative perspective.
1998 The electronic AI Newsletter is established by Anne Radford in London.
1999 Appreciative Inquiry: Toward a Positive Theory of Human Organization and Change, is published by David Cooperrider, Peter Sorensen, Diana Whitney, and Therese Yaeger
1999 Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction To Appreciative Inquiry, written by Dr. Charles Elliott, Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, is published .
1999 Work with the Dalai Lama: David Cooperrider is asked to facilitate and to bring Appreciative Inquiry into a program started by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in an effort to have religious leaders, across the world’s great religions, create new levels of cooperation and peace. This effort highlights the essence of AI practice-the crafting of “the unconditional positive question”. An article is written called “The Surprise of Friendship”.
1999 Ed Schien and Richard Beckhard invite David Cooperrider to join them at the Academy of Management on symposium titled “The Past, Present, and Future of Organization Development”. As it turns out it was Beckhard’s last major talk at the Academy before his death later in that year. Beckhard said this of AI: “appreciative inquiry is creating a powerful and enduring change in the way OD will be conceptualized and practiced now and in the futureā€¦it is changing the way we think about change itself.”
2000 The OD Practitioner does their millenium special issue on AI. Peter Sorensen of Benedictine University argues, as editor, that AI is more than a method; it is a paradigm change uniquely created for the opportunities of the 21st Century whil

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