Part of a series.
Part two: Where did this come from?
Something Harrison Owen said to me somewhere along the line drove me to understand that facilitating Open Space Technology meetings required a tremendous amount of personal practice. He talked about rising at 4am the day of his Open Space meetings and meditating for an hour. The work of actively letting go takes a tremendous amount of energy, especially if, like most of us, you have control instincts to overcome. When one is facilitating an Open Space meeting the desire to control things, even the little things, burns throughout the day. It takes active and constant personal work to deal with that instinct and to continually and kindly return responsibility for the quality of the day to the participants.
In seeking to learn more about this intersection between personal practice and facilitation I connected to Birgitt Williams during the years when she was beginning to develop the Genuine Contact program. I brought her to Vancouver a number of times in the early 2000s and also co-hosted the World Gathering of Open Space Technology facilitators in 2001 at the University of British Columbia. I found myself more and more in care of a simple method that nevertheless had profound effects on the groups with which I was working. Birgitt’s work very explicitly extended facilitation and leadership practice into spiritual practice and it was she who drove home the point that Harrison had made earlier, that one needed a strong personal practice in order to hold space well. Michael Herman, whom I met in person at the OSonOS in 2001, influenced me to begin to think about facilitation as practice, rooted as it was in his own meditation practice. He also was the one who helped me to draw the lines out from methods to context, concentrating on supporting the core mechanic of self-organization: the invitation. In 1998 he had already mapped out where all of this was going with his profound little e-book “The Inviting Organization Emerges.” Suddenly my own practice lit up. I understood that in order to be good at this stuff I was going to need to develop both a personal practice and get good at using maps and frameworks to help the clients I was now working with as a consultant.
By the time I met Toke in 2003, and he uttered those words, I was keen to find the next level of my facilitation practice.
Years later I learned that my friend Maria Scordialou had uttered the phrase “the river beneath the river” to name what many of us were feeling at that time in the late 1990s. The phrase referred to the sense that there was something happening beneath the surface of the organizational change initiatives methods that had sprung into the world in the 1980s and 1990s. Although already well known in many community development contexts, participatory work was coming into its own as organizations became more and more interested in the complex parts of their operations: the people and networks and markets and environments in which they existed and to which they could exert no explicit control. Chaos theory was beginning to come into organizational life and influence leadership and management and the rise of the internet was holding great promise for enabling horizontal and self-organizing networks. Many of us began to experience the powerful results of well hosted participatory meetings and we began to see that the ability to facilitate these
The origins of the Art of Hosting as a field of practice, as a framework and as a workshop are not completely clear. Back in 2007 an online discussion sought to discover the origins of the Art of Hosting and indeed it had multiple tributaries that flowed together at a few specific gatherings. A small group of people primarily based in Europe who had been working with participatory methods in the 1990s began to meet and discuss the question of “What could the Art of Hosting also be?” Although Toke, Monica Nissen, and Jan Hein were the first to offer an Art of Hosting workshop in San Jose in 1999, many of the people that have now become close friends and colleagues over the years were a part of these initial discussions. These folks include Tim Merry, Tatiana Glad, Maria Scordialou, Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, Bob Stilger, Teresa Posakony, Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, Tenneson Woolf, and Meg Wheatley.
As befits a practice that was beginning to emerge from a variety of streams, the Art of Hosting took shape at a number of gatherings at which like-minded practitioners were meeting. These happened primarily in Europe, at Castle Borl in Slovenia, Hazelwood House in the UK and a little later at the Shambhala Institute on Authentic Leadership in Halifax, Canada. The conversations at these places were deeply influenced by the sense that leadership was practice and that “hosting” was a form of facilitation that was radically participatory in its nature. The Art of Hosting, as a collective inquiry, was finding a home in some influential networks including the Pioneers of Change, the Kaos Pilots, The Berkana Institute and the World Cafe community, all of whom were seeking to develop dialogue, conversation and participation as a key skill to make sense of the complexity of the world’s 21st-century problems. These networks were responsible for the rapid global spread of the Art of Hosting, especially amongst young leaders and social entrepreneurs who were taking on a massive piece of work in which community building and collective co-creation were essential.
None of this history explains exactly what the Art of Hosting is, but it does explain why the simple generative framework contains four practices: hosting oneself, hosting others, participating, and co-creating. It is a framework that is widely adaptable to spiritual practice, entrepreneurship, leadership, citizenship and governance, development work of all kinds, and facilitation for complex challenges. Its simplicity combined with its adaptability has mean that the “Art of Hosting” has found a home in all kinds of diverse contexts from the European Union to a 20-year experiment in intentional living in Zimbabwe, to decolonization efforts in Canada, enterprise development in the USA, the regeneration of faith communities, land and local economies. It shows up in equity and justice work, academic leadership contexts, governments and parliaments. Anywhere human beings need to work together, make sense together, and act together around complex challenges where traditional command and control leadership is not appropriate has been a context in which the Art of Hosting as a practice has shown to be useful.
So what the heck is it? That’s the next part.