Appreciative Inquiry: Past, Present and Future – Celebrating with Jane Magruder Watkins in Colonial Williamsburg

David Cooperrider, Jackie Kelm and Jane Magruder Watkins (L-R)

David Cooperrider, Jackie Kelm and Jane Magruder Watkins (L-R)

From the 19 to 21 February this year at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia, AI practitioners from all over the world will assemble to celebrate and share the contribution Jane Magruder Watkins has made to the world wide development of Appreciative Inquiry. She will be there with her husband Ralph Kelly, and many other expert AI practitioners – all of us sharing stories of her contribution.

If David Cooperrider is the father of AI, then Jane is the mother and her biggest contribution has been to make AI practical and accessible. Jane trained us and all of the Appreciating People associates. I first had the opportunity to meet Jane at an AI retreat at Bore Place in the UK, in 2006. My AI journey had just started and in the intervening years she has both trained and guided me. Her friendship and support of both Suzanne and myself as we developed Appreciating People has provided one of the foundations to our success. 

Our publication ‘Taste of AI’ is dedicated to Jane and Ralph. I would like to share one story about our work with Jane. Suzanne and I were participants on the Lincoln series AI foundations course prior to the Nepal World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in 2009. At the training, Jane told us ‘you must come to Nepal,’ and we did. Prior to the event, we received an email from Jane inviting us to train with her and Ralph if we were arriving before the conference. We did – it was great fun, a privilege, and we made many Nepali friends. It was inspiring to see her honoured at the Nepal conference for her contribution to AI and its development.

Jane – with Ralph Kelly and Bernard Mohr – wrote one of the best books on AI – Appreciative Inquiry: change at the speed of Imagination, published by Pfeiffer. In the second edition, some of our work was included as a case study.

Ralph has also made a great contribution to AI, and to our journey, in a quiet and positive way.  When we were planning the next stages of Appreciating People’s publications, I told Ralph that I was in the process of writing a book on strategic planning and AI. His advice was to stop and concentrate on what we do well – producing practical AI publications. The result is the beginning of a range of AI-influenced journals, including How to Be More Awesome – a journal for young people. If we were going to name a publication after Jane, the title would be ‘Just Awesome’. 

You can find our more about the Taos institute event here.

My visit to Williamsburg provides an opportunity to visit colonial Williamsburg, one of the biggest heritage museums in the world. Recently, Appreciating People has begun working in an AI and heritage context, and we have been commissioned by the UK National Waterways Museums (part of the Canal and River Trust) to co-develop an appreciative journal for 8 to 13 year olds, based on the museum experience.

With the help of our friend Joan Shafer, my visit now includes time with the Williamsburg Heritage education staff – an opportunity for some appreciative education, and to learn from another museum’s experience and see how they work with living history.

Find more information on Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, here. That the Future May Learn from the Past.