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Art of Hosting - interesting meta-method of emergent change approaches

As a practicing consultant, coach and facilitator I always try to keep developing myself by attending trainings and other events from time to time. Within the SF world this is not always easy – after 17 years I feel as if I’ve seen quite a lot. Some of you will know of my recent work on developing the idea of Leader as Host, and part of my research led me to the Art of Hosting group (www.artofhosting.org).

Art of Hosting (AoH) is a movement that started – by this name – some five years ago. It is not a new approach or method of change. Rather, it is an approach which emphasises the importance of getting people into a good space with good ‘wicked’ questions that they care about – and then getting out of the way as much as possible and allowing useful dialogue to emerge. This is explicitly a part of the post-modern strand of thinking – change happens in dialogue, dialogue is emergent, people don’t need help so much as a space in which to help themselves. If this all sounds rather like SF… that’s because the overall philosophies have a good deal in common. AoH is now being used in some very interesting places., including the European Commission.

The event I took part in was a four day training at Hazelwood House, Devon. It was very cunningly structured on a multi-level learning basis, so that there was an excellent mix of doing it, learning about it, reflecting on it, and thinking about our own interests and questions. There are 44 participants, ranging from the very experienced (the ‘hosting team’ were 6 of the most experienced you could wish to meet) to some who had never experienced this kind of relatively large-group work. Our hosting team were from Denmark, Greece, the US and UK, with a balance of British and continental participants.

AoH uses a number of methodologies, including Open Space Technology (familiar to SOLWorld conference participants!), Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe (as seen at SOLWorld 2006 in Vienna) and Circle practice. These are combined with ideas about calling people together around wicked questions, designing and holding space for emergence, an interesting design process called the ‘five breaths of design (www.artofhosting.org/thepractice/5breaths/) and ‘harvesting’ the results of the event, to ensure it goes forward in a good way. This is all positioned on what they call the ‘chaordic path’ (and what I call emergence) – where the boundary of order and chaos produces interesting things. Experience SF practitioners will see lots of parallels with what we do, combined with lots of options – one strength of AoH in my view is that all these different methods give many possibilities, especially when combined in interesting ways that fit the situation.

I was able to do a little spreading of SF ideas amongst this – small tiny steps and ‘who is prepared to act’ (customer for change) were particularly well received. I think we have something else to learn too – I found broadly little appetite for hardcore linguistics, and lots of enthusiasm to do something useful. While I am still very convinced about the usefulness of the SF approach, I think we can be trying to get it into this kind of situation as well. Any thoughts on a large group SF model, anyone?

AoH run trainings world wide – a very interesting bunch. I intend to keep up with them as things move forwards. They certainly seem to be getting into some really interesting and challenging work, which is something I’d like to do more of in the coming years.

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