The Art of Hosting

Inspiring Harvests - Principles for creating the world we want to live in

This week I've been on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, working with a team that's holding an initiative called "Family Law Pathways".  The bottom line is keeping kids safe.  The government has put aside money to enhance the support for children from separated families.  This group is doing something entirely unique — asking the community to be part of the conversation and co-creation of what to do about it.


We had a full day Collective Story Harvest, where people from the community were invited to learn the tool, and the initiative could gain feedback.  We had a look at these arcs:

  • Inclusiveness & Openness:  How has the initiative maintained its integrity and focus while at the same time being open to new input and new people?  How have we created a strong centre/strong story, and also been open to contribution?  How have we encouraged the whole system to come in and stay in?
  • Moving from network to Community of Practice:  How have we moved from being a network to a Community of Practice?  How has this initiative supported the community to practice?  What can we harvest from this story about putting learning at the centre of our work? 
  • Leadership:  What is the focus on leadership in this story?  How has leadership shown up?  Where do you notice new forms of leading or leadership?
  • A safe space for experimenting:  How has this initiative created a safe enough space for experimentation?  Where have we made space for reflection and learning from our experiments?
  • Creativity & Playfulness:  We’ve had an intention to embrace creativity and playfulness in this initiative.  Where has it shown up?  How have we encouraged it?  How has it balanced “efforting” and supported learning and innovation?
  •  Opportunities & edges:  Listen carefully while the story unfolds.  What edges and opportunities can you hear showing up within, underneath, and behind the story?

Their harvesting of the systemic story fed into a full day with the Core Group, where we crafted a core calling question and a set of principles to hold their work going forward.  We used the Flow Game to sharpen our core question and to question each of the Core Group’s roles within the initiative.  Here’s what we came up with:


Core Calling Question:  What if the Sunshine Coast is a place where we learn, love and play community together so our kids can too?



  • We support each other to be courageous in discovering new pathways for being a child-centered community.
  • Hosting cuppas and conversations builds the generous relationships we need to be successful together.
  • We practice the art of invitation.  There's an open invitation to anyone who wants to play in this field.
  • We actively cultivate a safe space for experimentation. Children are our role models for being committed to curiosity, play and learning.
  • Creating a space for us to practice as a community, changes the way we all practice for children.

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In a very different context, here are the principles developed by the Elise core team that hosted Interinstitutional Workshops for translators to raise awareness of a communication tool for translators, in the context of translating EU legislation into 23 languages - a mammoth task that involves the European Commission, the EU Council and the European Parliament, and more thousands of translators than I care to contemplate..

"Our principles speak of the way we wish to work together.

  • Our relationship is based on trust
  • We sense, then we act, then we sense, then we act... When we don't know what to do, we stop and sense until the next step becomes clear (OK, we might have a little panic, first... )
  • Awareness is important: we pay attention to each other and to the process
  • We trust each other to act when needed
  • We pay attention to what is in the centre
  • We have fun together, doing challenging, meaningful work
  • Our mandate is to succeed, and we do whatever it takes
  • We have a clear goal that makes sense to us
  • We interact: we work together, we take each other's advice, we are peers
  • We are flexible and we support each other to become ever more flexible"

A reply from Tenneson:

These are lovely stirrings -- thank you.

A  bit of what showed for me this morning as I reflected on Helen's offering and this thread.

My experiences is that when these kind of principles are created together in a well-held social process, they transition from just words to activated energetic centers. A difference that comes to mind is that “just words” (though usually very lovely maxims) need a lot of push behind them to keep them alive. A kind of rote memorization to perpetuate more of their life. Whereas, “activated energetic centers” have a sustaining life of there own. A kind of imprinting and embodiment in the gut. I suppose in older terms, the activated energy is a deep level of buy-in.

Greetings from Utah.

Thank you so much, Tenneson, for voicing this.

I'd like to share the story of how we came to these principles. We used a process that I learned from various AoH trainings - first the 1st training in Belgium, where I learned the Rope Game (collectively creating a knot with 4 ropes and 8 people, then having to untie the knot afterwards - all without talking and without letting go of the rope). The second half I learned at the AoH Integral lead by Tim and Peter Merry, Tatiana Glad and Arjen Bos in the Netherlands - which was to use the rope game as an experience in collaboration, and then to distill principles together afterwards.

This is the process that I used with the Elise team. We spent a good hour in experience and conversation to distill the principles and then pulled them out regularly when we got stuck - particularly in run-ins with the interinstitutional hierarchy that kept trying to reduce the conditions of the project until it was impossible to achieve its ends.

In the end, though the project was unable to fulfill its true potential because of the restrictions imposed by the institutional sponsors, the experience of the core team in collaborating together using these principles was a powerful and memorable one, and the relationships have stood the test of time.
The five core principles of Pioneers of Change are as pertinent now as they were when they were developed over a decade ago:

1. Be yourself.  It is up to each of us, as moral beings, to decide how to act and to freely form our contribution to the whole. We must think this reality through, and not hide from it. This means looking inside oneself and asking "What are the basic principles which help me decide what is good?", being able to listen to one's intuition, even when it contradicts the social structures around us. We are all a part of life, and we all have a unique contribution to make. What is it?


2. Do what matters.  The world needs us more than ever. It needs pioneers to be treating problems at the root causes, not just the symptoms, to be making change at a systemic level. Doing what matters requires a capacity to diagnose the problems we face, to understand the underlying patterns, to remove barriers, to find the leverage points and make the change there. It requires us to be conscious of the consequences of our actions, and to choose to do good, not harm, according to the deeper values and the higher ideals we each hold.


3. Start now.  The future is created by how we live now. It is not necessary to compromise who we are in the present, or to wait to take off the lid that is keeping us from allowing our creative expression to be put to use in areas that matter to us and the world. We don’t focus on all the reasons why it might not work - if the platform and tools do not exist to make our dream possible, we get going in creating them. Learning comes with action.


4. Engage with Others.  Connect with something bigger than yourself. Search for those who are working on similar or related things, share ideas with them, ask them for help and work with them where useful. Be willing to offer them help when they need it as well. Engaging with others is about engaging with those who share your visions, but also about engaging with those who think differently from you and are doing something that may seem completely different and unrelated. Engage across diversity, for that is how we learn.


5. Never Stop Asking Questions.  Understanding is constantly evolving, and there is always the possibility of future discovery. While committing to our current intentions, we have to continue to question our own views as we continue to question others and listen to their answers. As we start to view the world from the perspective of life, more and more practices around us simply do not make sense. We are surrounded by paradoxes in a phase when established systems no longer meet our needs. We need to perceive and question these paradoxes, daring to appear naive, while developing the capacity to transcend them. As Einstein said, no problem is solved from the same consciousness that created it.

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