History of SAVI
(The System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction)
SAVI emerged in the 1960s, in an exciting and innovative university climate. The field of group dynamics was still young, the focus on education was growing, and the theoreticians Kurt Lewin and von Bertalanffy had pioneered two important new ways of thinking: field theory and general systems theory. The General Systems Committee of the American Group Psychotherapy Association was exploring an emerging recognition — that if you looked at a group of people (a business, a family, a country, etc.) as a system, rather than a collection of individuals, you could understand, explain, and make predictions about that group in a very different way.
Within this world of ideas, two graduate students at Temple University — Yvonne Agazarian and Anita Simon — united around a complementary set of interests. Agazarian began with a focus on theory. A member of the General Systems Committee, she primarily investigated big-picture questions about groups: What is the difference between a collection of people and a group? How can you describe the properties of a group in a way that lets you compare it to other groups, to research it, and to experiment with it? What she lacked was a concrete way to implement this theoretical work.  Meanwhile, Anita Simon was in the process of studying observational systems, tools used to analyze what was actually happening in specific classroom interactions. She founded the Classroom Interaction Newsletter (still going 40 years later!) to help educators in researching the effects of teacher behavior on students’ learning, values, and behavior. To get a complete picture of what was happening in a classroom, it was critical to be able to tie observational assessments together with theory. 
What both Agazarian and Simon needed was a system that would allow them to describe how a group was working in specific, objective terms, and then connect that assessment to outcome measures — productivity, morale, efficiency, cohesion, and so on. The system they developed was SAVI.
Originally called the Sequential Analysis of Verbal Interaction, SAVI was designed as a research tool for examining the communication patterns of groups of people. In contrast to many other observation systems, which limit their focus to a particular context (like a classroom), SAVI categorizes all types of verbal behavior. Moreover, since these categorizations are based upon information theory, SAVI does not rely on subjective judgments about which behaviors are good or bad; instead, it offers an objective, unbiased way to measure the actual effects of different communication patterns on group functioning.
Since its development, SAVI has been used in a wide range of settings to improve communication for individuals, couples, groups, and entire organizations.
Click here for a bibliography of SAVI-related publications.
1. Dr. Agazarian continued to explore these questions throughout her career, and created an innovative approach to bringing about change in human systems. For an introduction to her Theory of Living Human Systems and its systems-centered practice (SCT), and for a list of publications, visit www.systemscentered.com.
2. Dr. Simon later went on to create the 33-volume Mirrors for Behavior, a compendium of every observation system in the educational literature at the time. Since then she has been committed to bringing SAVI into broader clinical and consulting use, developing materials and workshops to make the ideas and skills accessible to a wide range of professionals and non-professionals alike.